Wednesday, December 29, 2004

One point of clarification on the limited atonement debate

If anyone thinks for one minute that the lack of a quick response in this dialogue indicates a "gotcha" (something I warned against in my lastest response), he should think again. Most of us have many responsibilities throughout the day, in addition to engaging in these kinds of discussions. It would be an error to assume that the side that delivers the response the quickest is somehow the "winner" (as though there is such a thing in this kind of dialogue).

On the other hand, nor should anyone assume that a quick response necessarily entails a lack of quality over quantity, or a lack of precision, clarity, or sense of importance and sacredness of the issue. As I mentioned in my last response, I have the advantage this week of having a lot more disposable time on my hands than I will the entire coming year. In the interest of economics, it is better for me at the present time to spend twelve hours at a time researching, developing, reading, re-reading, and rewriting responses that define the major issue going forward than it would be for me to wait until next week to do this when I will have to scratch out a sporadic hour here and there. In fairness, it also needs to be mentioned that only one side of this dialogue has had the advantage of thinking through the 4.5 position for fifteeen years; and that side will obviously be able to anticipate the responses from a known position to a greater degree than the other side will. But that says absolutely nothing about the relative abilities or strength of either side's position.

All the comments I have personally received about the dialogue so far have been positive toward both sides, and no one to my knowledge has "declared a winner"--and if they have, they should cease. This dialogue still holds a lot of developments that have not yet been put on the table.

Postmodernism and the Reformed Catholics

The troops are now coming out in defense of a "postmodernist theology" (link). Funny thing is, TGE (one of the owners of that blog) has always chided me in the past for referring to him as a postmodernist. He viewed that particular nomenclature as a derogatory and offensive epithet. One or two short years after the fact, his colleagues not only embrace it, but are coming to its defense! In light of the epistemological conflict brewing between the recent comments of his mentor (Doug Wilson) and those of his colleagues on his blog, I wonder if TGE will now overtly embrace the postmodernism he has always implicitly held, and come out in defense of his colleagues; or if he will now see it as the hideous "creature of the night" that it is (sorry, I just saw Phantom of the Opera), shun it as he ought, and chalk up the whole experience as an experiment gone bad. Stay tuned.

Is the camp imploding?

Doug Wilson wrote a blog entry on postmodern evangelicalism a couple of days ago (see link). Here's an excerpt:

At the end of the day, any theologian who defends the truth as an objective reality apart from our experience of it will be charged with epistemic arrogance and hubris. This charge will be made regardless of his personal demeanor, grace, or graciousness. This charge will be made because the use of language in this debate is all about who will "have the center." The pomos [postmodernists] want it, and they will lie to get it.
While I don't necessarily agree with the use of the language employed in the entry (which I have purposefully decided not to include as part of the excerpt above), I completely understand why Wilson included it, and agree with the points he makes based on that language. The interesting thing is, this article seems to be targeted at the Reformed Catholic crowd--or at the very least is directly applicable to that crowd. Nor has it escaped the notice of the Reformed Catholic crowd--they themselves are under the impression that they are the targets (see link).

In another blog entry, I included Wilson among the Reformed Catholics--or one who is at least sympathetic to that cause, albeit a milder, decidedly more reasonable form of it. I will be happy to recant my prior categorization altogether if he keeps this up : )

Limited Atonement or Intentional Atonement? The Ongoing Dialogue

James White has offered his comments in response to my last entry on this. Here are my thoughts:

I do not know about Dr. Svendsen's schedule, but I begin teaching a Jan term class for GGBTS next week, so I know that the 1000 words-->3,300 words-->6,700 words-->12,000 words-->something certain verbose RC apologists would start to notice routine won't work for me.
Well, it will work for me for exactly three more days. As many of you have noticed, I have been posting a barrage (comparatively speaking) of blog entries over the past couple of weeks. I almost never have the time to do those kinds of things outside of my (supposed) vacation time. Yes, I’m officially on vacation until the end of this week, at which time my life will again be reduced to multiple red circles on monthly calendars. That should explain why I was able to put up a response to Dr. White’s last entry so quickly—and why this one is almost as quick. That won’t happen once we hit the New Year. (Rest easy James : )

In any case, I will need to break this response into two pieces. Dr. White has made quite a few noteworthy comments in his blog entry, but he has also asked that I interact specifically with his work on this issue in The Potter’s Freedom. I’ll devote this blog entry to responding to the points on his own blog, and the next one to the task of critiquing the arguments in TPF.
I honestly have not encountered Dr. Svendsen's position before, at least not as he is defining it. Hence, while my position is a known element, I cannot assume anything regarding his. That means I run the danger of speculation, which is poison to any meaningful discussion.
I truly can appreciate Dr. White’s predicament here. He is dealing with a position he has not before encountered (that’s no wonder since I know of no published work representing my position on this either). That makes his task difficult because he must evaluate my position afresh, and do so without assuming that I hold to the same tenets of other positions he may have encountered in the past (such as four point Calvinism, or Geisler’s “Modified Calvinism”). I think recognizing this point will go a long way toward a constructive dialogue. So while I will respond to Dr. White’s specific question regarding TPF (in the next blog entry), I think I need to bring clarification to a few points he raised in the blog itself. In response to my statement that there is no necessary dependence between the category of men God elects and draws to himself and the category of men whose sins were included in the atonement, Dr. White wrote:
This caught my attention more than anything else. In essence, I do not see how there is consistency of purpose in the viewpoint being expressed here. I see a very strong connection and dependence between the intention of the Trinity in the salvation of the elect and the work of the High Priest in behalf of His people. This is one of the major issues, as I see it, for I believe we could examine the Hebrews texts and establish that the perfect High Priest will not fail to do as the old high priests did in offering before the throne the blood of the same sacrifice offered upon the altar:
With this much I can agree (putting aside the question of consistency of purpose). But I think Dr. White draws an unnecessary conclusion from this, to wit:

that is, the scope of intercession and that of offering were the same for the high priest of old.
I fail to see how this point hangs together with the previous point; that the extent of the atonement is somehow to be equated to the extent of Christ’s intercession. Just how does affirming that Christ will not fail to offer his blood (his sacrificial death) in the holy of holies in intercession for his elect somehow necessitate that Christ’s atonement is limited to those for whom he intercedes? In my view, the former (those included in the atonement) is simply a larger category than the latter (those included in intercession). This point is particularly pertinent because my view distinguishes extent from intent. If I purchase a newspaper so that I can read how the Nuggets performed against the Suns, I don’t purchase the sports page alone; I buy the whole newspaper. However, at the same time I have absolutely no intent of reading the rest of the paper. In other words, my intent was to procure the sports page only, but in the process, I purchased the entire paper (extent). But once I obtain that purchase, it is mine to do with as I please. In this case, I am going to read the sports page only, and toss the rest of the paper into the trash, or let it gather dust on the fireplace mantle, or place it in the timber box for kindling my next fire. Now, can it justly be said that my purpose in buying that paper has somehow been thwarted—or that I somehow did not accomplish the purpose for which I set out—merely because I bought the entire paper but chose ultimately not to “save” most of it?

I view the atonement in a very similar way. All of mankind is in Adam and are heirs of his sin—but this is a package. In order to atone for the sins of some (intent), one must atone for the sins of all (extent). Christ did not take the form of the elect; he took the form of man. His death can’t help but atone for the sins of all those whose nature he shares—all those “in Adam.” And so, Christ’s death atones for the sins of everyone (extent); but he intercedes for and saves only those whom he has elected, called and justified.
How can the perfect High Priest offer a substitutionary sacrifice that "incidentally" pays the sins of the non-elect and then not offer that same blood which paid the penalty of their sin before the altar (intercession)?
That sacrifice is offered—but it isn’t offered piecemeal, as though Christ has “chopped up” his sacrifice into little bits and apportioned one piece of his sacrifice for me, one piece for another of the elect, and so on, but withholds and does not offer the one piece that was apportioned to non-elect Joe Schmoe. That, in my view, is not the way to view the sacrifice of Christ.

Moreover, it is not the sacrifice or the atonement that pleads in intercession—it is Christ. The sacrifice and atonement are merely the basis for that plea, and Christ can intercede for those he foreknew and choose not to intercede for those he didn’t foreknow (John 17:9). Returning to the newspaper analogy, my purchase of the entire newspaper provides for me the basis for reading the sports page. If I tell my wife, “I want to show you these box scores and the standings of the Western Conference” (“pleading” with her, in a sense), no one is going to say, “Wait a minute! You bought the whole newspaper. Therefore, you are obligated to show your wife the entire paper, not just the sports page!” I am at liberty to call special attention to (plead for) the sports page to my wife based on the fact that I purchased the newspaper—it’s mine to do with as I please, and that purchase acts as the basis for my prerogative (had I not purchased the paper, I’d have a hard time reading it to my wife). But I am not thereby obligated to read the entire paper to her.
This speaks to the issue at hand: I honestly do not understand, and have honestly never seen in my reading, the use of the term "incidentally" in regards to the payment of the sin debt.
As I mentioned on my blog, I am still in the “thinking through” stage of this, and have been for over fifteen years. The term “incidental” is strictly a functional term used to differentiate between Christ’s intent in his death toward his elect to “save to the utmost,” and the actual results of that death toward the entire race of those in Adam.
So my first question basically is, "How does one bring about forgiveness of sins without substitution?"
One doesn’t. I don’t think that question is even in view here.
I would assume Eric would not say the non-elect are joined to Christ in any way. So, if atonement involves substitution, and the non-elect are not joined to Christ, then how are their sins "incidentally" paid for by Christ's death?
No indeed, the non-elect are not joined to Christ. But I think it is a mistake to equate the raw act of atonement to union with Christ in his death. Only of the elect can it be said that “I was crucified with Christ. . . . who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” In other words, on the one hand we’re getting right back to the distinction I’m making between intent and extent. Since Christ’s intent in his death was to save the elect, union with Christ is rightly applied only to them. Yet, even with that caveat I do not see any evidence in the New Testament that union with Christ in his death is applied before the point of justification. Hence, Paul’s words in Gal 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ,” is not separated from “and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” That is not a statement that can be made of the elect before justification. Similarly, we are told by Paul that our identification with Christ’s death occurs at the point of justification (Gal 2:16-20) and is signified in baptism (Rom 6:3-5). Hence, atonement and substitution are flip sides of the same coin; but they are flip sides nevertheless. The former occurs once in time and for all, while the latter is the application of the former to the elect at the point of justification.
Now, Dr. Svendsen speaks of the "virtue of the immeasurable and eternal value" of the death of Christ as the reason why all men thereby have the penalty of their sins paid. But recognition of unlimited value does not necessitate the conclusion that the non-elect's sins have been paid.
Absolutely right; and I did not claim otherwise. I was not starting with that point as a launching pad and moving toward universal atonement. Quite the opposite. I started with the passages that speak of the universality of the atonement and made the present point to explain how Christ can intend to atone for the sins of the elect and in the process atone for the sins of the entire world.

Likewise, recognition that the benefits of that atonement are experienced in time by the elect does not mean that they were not truly and specifically and personally united with Christ in His death:
Yes, but when? Certainly not when Christ died, for most of the elect at that time were still in unbelief (or not yet born) and therefore considered to be “children of wrath.” Hence, it is in that act of believing unto justification that these things are applied. Since the non-elect never reach the point of belief and justification, then it can never be said of them that they have been united with Christ.
the certainty of the application is beyond question due to the cross: we simply experience that application in time. [emphasis mine]
Here I think is our most fundamental disagreement. I think this statement assumes something like “the death of Christ is effectual”—which is the very question in debate, and so the cross (the death of Christ) itself does not make application “beyond question.” Indeed, that is the question. I reject the notion that the death of Christ is the “power” that draws the elect. It is rather the calling of God based on his gracious choice that draws them. The death of Christ provides the necessary grounds for forgiveness, but it is not the forgiveness itself. If it were, and if particular redemption were true, then I do not see how the proponent of that view could escape the theological ramifications that lead to positing eternal justification. On that view, Christ died; he died only for the elect; his death is effectual and he accomplished perfect redemption on the cross. Therefore, all the elect have already been forgiven, and there is no need for belief as the means of justification. On what basis could it be otherwise?

Dr. White insists that it’s not applied till the point of belief; but if it were not for passages like Eph 2:1-3 I seriously doubt that any proponent of limited atonement would come to that conclusion. Theologically speaking, if Christ’s death and the forgiveness of sins are inextricably bound together, and if in fact Christ’s death accomplished forgiveness for all those for whom he died—and it did so in time—and if the atonement is to be equated with forgiveness, then I can see no reason, no need, to “apply” Christ’s death to the elect in time other than the collective application to the elect at the cross “once for all time.” After all, forgiveness—being inextricably and automatically bound to the atonement—would presumably be doled out in the very same “once for all time” manner that the sacrifice itself was offered—unless, of course, there is some distinction to be made between the atonement of Christ and the forgiveness of sins.

Since both Dr. White and I acknowledge the distinction between the once-for-all-time-ness of Christ’s sacrifice, and the many applications to individuals over the course of history, I suggest we proceed from that understanding rather than get bogged down in arguments that could equally be leveled against each view from the other side, and would be equally devastating to either view if the other side decided to press it.
It was not God's intention that the non-elect experience the redemptive, substitutionary benefits of the death of Christ, incidentally or otherwise, and this is why their trespasses can be held against them (2 Cor. 5:19).
If the fact that the trespasses of the non-elect are still held against them constitutes “proof” that Christ did not pay for their sins, then passages like Eph 2:3 would likewise “prove” Christ didn’t pay for the sins of the elect—for they are still “children of wrath” even after Christ died. This is why I think this kind of argumentation is fruitless. It can be applied equally by either side against the other position. Again, unless Dr. White wants to join the eternal justification camp, I suggest we each frankly recognize that both positions make a distinction between Christ’s sacrifice and the application of that sacrifice to each individual, and move on from there. Passages such as 2 Cor 5:19 and Gal 2:3 really only prove my point that there is a distinction to be made between Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the forgiveness of sins—the canceling out of the debt—that is based on that sacrifice but requires belief unto justification to attain. The elect will unfailingly reach that point; the non-elect will just as certainly not reach it.

Now to Dr. White’s two specific questions:
So in essence, since this seems to be the main difference between us, I would ask Dr. Svendsen to look at my presentation on the issue of atonement/intercession as works of the High Priest in The Potter's Freedom, pp. 241ff, and in particular, the comments on the text of Hebrews offered there, and explain where I have erred to believe that the scope of the High Priest's intercession is identical to the scope of His sacrificial offering.
I took the liberty of re-reading Dr. White’s treatment of this during the Christmas weekend. In fact, I re-read 10 additional pages (pp. 231ff) just to get the full picture. The short answer to Dr. White’s question above is, in spite of the fact that he rightly distinguishes between the scope, the effect and the intent of the atonement (231), I believe he then proceeds to ignore these distinctions in his treatment of the issue in Rom 8:31-34 and Hebrews 7—10. In short, I believe both writers are thinking of intent in these passages, not extent. But, if Dr. White wishes, I will elaborate on this point in another blog entry. Dr. White has asked that I interact with his specific treatment of this issue in TPF. After this exchange, I wonder if that is still necessary. I will wait for Dr. White's signal on this one. If he still wants that interaction, I will attempt to post it shortly.
Secondly, I would like to know how, in light of the fact that Dr. Svendsen accepts the concept of substitutionary atonement, the non-elect can be considered to have been united with Christ in His death.
They can’t. As I explained above, union with Christ and identification with his death in the New Testament occur at the point of justification (Gal 2:16-20), and is signified at baptism (Rom 6). Since the non-elect never reach this point, they are never united with Christ in his death. Again, I do not believe the death of Christ is chopped up and apportioned out in piecemeal fashion. His death, in terms of extent, atoned for the sins of the world collectively—included here are all those “in Adam”—although it is certainly applied individually (“I have been crucified with Christ”).

Finally, I want to stress that I appreciate Dr. White’s willingness to dialogue on this issue, especially since he has no specific body of work to examine before offering his responses. I recognize the difficult position that creates for him (there are always bits of exegetical insight that an “unannounced” position can spring on the unsuspecting but conflicting position), and I want to be sensitive to that. There are many who are observing this dialogue (both friend and foe), and we’ve already had many on the “friends” side offer commendation on how the dialogue is being conducted. The last thing I want is for either of us to turn the element of surprise into a “gotcha” weapon and proclaim, “see, you really haven’t thought through these issues very carefully after all, have you?” That will be steadfastly avoided, I trust, by both of us.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Ouster of Open Theist, John Sanders

A year after narrowly escaping expulsion (along with Clark Pinnock) from the Evangelical Theological Society over his views on Open Theism, John Sanders, author of The God Who Risks, is now himself at risk of losing his teaching position at Huntington College in Indiana (see link).

Although both Pinnock and Sanders were exonerated by ETS (erroneously, in my opinion), it appears Sanders may be getting the boot from a college that is actually quite "open" to open theism, boasting that many of its faculty adhere to that teaching. That should be cause for ETS to rethink its decision on this. The error that ETS made was that they "tried the case" as an issue regarding Biblical Inerrancy rather than as an issue regarding the Doctrine of God. That gave both Pinnock and Sanders an opportunity to rewrite certain statements they had made in published works so as not to upset the sensibilities of proponents of Inerrancy. For Pinnock's part, he had suggested that God's inability to know the future resulted in errors in the fulfillment of prophecy. Charges were then brought by some ETS members that Pinnock's views negatively impacted the ETS position on Inerrancy. Similar charges were brought against Sanders.

What the members of ETS should have focused on instead was Pinnock and Sander's view of God's omniscience and sovereignty. If they had instead tried the case on that basis, there would have been no room for meaningless "adjustments" on their positions, and the ETS (one would hope) would have done the right thing and dismissed both Pinnock and Sanders, along with the 18.3% who decided that Pinnock and Sanders were right (see link).

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Miles to go before I sleep

There's nothing like getting behind on things. It forces you to do twice the amount of normal work in the same "I don't have enough time to do all this" state you were in before the event came along that put you behind. I made a dent over the past two weeks, having completed my scheduled responses to most of the bloggers I wanted to respond to on the Reformed Catholicism website. In between those, I also found time to address the side issue of 4.5 Calvinism.

I now have about 11 pages of "catch-up" text left to deal with, mostly with regard to Kevin Johnson's Roman-Catholic-like facination with Mary. I'll respond to that in due time; but here's some advice to all Mary venerators in the meantime:

If you're going to adore Mary this Christmas, at least adore the right Mary; you know, the Mary of humble circumstances rather than the Mary of exaltation; the Mary who initially receives the word of God with great enthusiasm, who then struggles to understand her true role vis-à-vis the conflict between her old role as mother of Jesus (in which she exercises her will over him) and her new role as servant of Jesus (in which she humbly submits to his will), who at times gets it right, while other times not, who incurs many rebuffs by Jesus himself due to her presumptiousness in asserting perceived "rights" based on her biological relationship to him, who must finally accept that her relationship to Jesus in the kingdom is no greater than that of any other disciple, who must come to terms with the fact that her "motherhood" of Jesus is a mere temporal condition that (along with all other biological ties) is severed in the new eschatological family of God, and who at times even opposes Jesus’ mission and sides with those who deem Jesus “insane”--in short, the frail (but real) Mary of the New Testament; rather than the mythical Mary who ends up in later history as a gnostic virgin, a sinless human being, an intercessor between man and Christ, a mother of God, an idolatrous queen of heaven, and an object of prayer and worship.

I mean, if you're going to allow yourself to be consumed with devotional thoughts about Mary your Savior, the very least of your obligations is to be sure you've got the right Mary. After all, the last thing you'll want when you stand before Mary's great white throne at the end of the age is to have to give an account to her regarding your lack of diligence in learning who she really is.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Christmas Calvinist: A Surrejoinder

James White has responded to my blog entry on 4.5 Calvinism (LINK), and I thought I’d offer one or two comments in return. I want to say a few things right up front, however. First, I’ll play Scrooge here and say “bah, humbug” to viewing my position as that of a Christmas Calvinist (No “L” = Noel”). Cute; but my position is more of a Partial “L” (PL), and as every Hebrew scholar knows, PL means it’s very right indeed! (PL = piel)—oh, never mind : )

Second, I have, on the NTRMin Discussion Forum, attempted to clarify my thoughts and to alleviate many of the concerns some have had about my view on this. Those of you who have been following that discussion know that I place my view of 4.5 Calvinism just slightly above the issue of whether we should choose a red or a green carpet for the church foyer. In many respects, I’m still thinking this issue through (and have been over the past 15 years) and I haven’t come to any firm conclusions about all the ramifications of the view. I included it in my blog entry only because I was asked to clarify my view after alluding to it in a previous entry.

Third, I have already indicated (in both the blog and the discussion forum) that I am willing to live with a certain amount of theological tension (as all of us must do with at least some of our beliefs) if I can resolve the greater exegetical tension of the key passages. Hence, this discussion (at least for me) is an attempt to “prove” (I’m using the archaic sense of the word) the commonly accepted theological construct of five-point Calvinism. Why? Because while I find an enormous amount of exegetical support for the other four points, I do not find that same support for limited atonement. In fact, I find the passages opposing that point to be much stronger. In any case, this issue (to me) is an exercise in carving away what may be nothing more than a deeply entrenched theological presupposition that, while making sense theologically, conflicts with the exegesis of the text. As I’m sure Dr. White would agree, there is little to be gained by holding to a theological tradition if that tradition ends up being exegetically deficient.

Finally, I need to say here that I have a great deal of respect for Dr. White’s work and ministry. My disagreement with him on the relative exegetical merits of limited atonement does not constitute anything more than that, and I think he knows that. Moreover, I have deep respect for the five-point Calvinist position. As the saying goes, “Some of my best friends are five-pointers”—in fact, most of them are. With those caveats in place, I will proceed to Dr. White’s objections.
First, regarding 1 Timothy 4:10: This passage is not, in fact, in a soteriological context, and unless we are going to read it in a universalistic perspective, are we not forced to suggest that God is the potential Savior of all men, but really the Savior only of those who believe? Where else is the Greek term "Savior" used to refer to a hypothetical Saviorhood rather than a true one? In reality, this is a general statement about God (notice Paul does not specifically designate Christ as the Savior here).
I am not positing some kind of hypothetical saviorhood. That would apply only if I didn’t believe Jesus actually accomplished something for all mankind (viz., atoning for their sins). “Hypothetical saviorhood” much more aptly applies to those who affirm (per 1 Tim 4:10) that God is the savior of all men, but then go on to suggest that there is no sense in which God has actually acted as savior to some men—that he is not actually the savior of all men. Dr. White suggests that the word “savior” is not here being used in a soteriological context. I confess, I have no idea just what that means or how it might support his subsequent point. In what sense is God “savior of all men, especially those who believe” if not in a “soteriological” way? The very word “savior” is soter, from whence we derive the word soteriological. What Dr. White may mean here (though he does not say) is that soter is not being used in a redemptive sense but rather in the general sense that God delivers people out of their troubles (such as we find in some OT contexts). I think we’ll need to break this one down a bit:
Just as God is Creator of all, even of those who do not acknowledge His creatorship, and Lord of all, even over those who refuse to bow the knee to Him, and just as He is King of kings and Lord of lords, so too, since He is the only Savior that exists, He is Savior of all men.
Dr. White previously argued that this was not a soteriological (by which I take it he means redemptive) context. But here Dr. White seems to affirm that God is indeed the only soter available to men in a soteriological way (he is the only Savior available). I think this is wise given the fact that there doesn't seem to be even one instance of soter in the NT that clearly carries some other meaning. Yet the moment he acknowledges this Dr. White cannot (it seems to me) escape the ramification that God is the very thing he has insisted God is not; namely, a mere hypothetical savior to some. In other words, while I certainly understand Dr. White’s argument that God is Savior of all men in the sense that there is no other Savior available to man—and agree with it, by the way—I don’t believe Dr. White has fully grasped the ramification of that statement; for to suggest such a thing is tantamount to saying the very thing Dr. White has already rejected. God ends up being the actual Savior of the elect and the hypothetical (or mere potential) Savior of the non-elect.

I’ll illustrate that point by using the same analogies Dr. White used, all of which I think work against his view. The statement “God is creator of all men” implies that all men were actually created by God. It does not mean that God is the only creator available even if he hasn’t actually created some. Rather it means that God actually created the atheist who denies he was created. The title “Lord of all” does not mean he is the only Lord available even if some are not really under his rule and authority. It means he actually rules over every living creature, including over those who do not acknowledge his lordship. Whether or not the creature happens to acknowledge that rule does not change the fact that he is being ruled. Hence, once we get to the title “God is Savior of all men,” it is inconsistent with the previous analogies to suggest that this statement means only that God is the only Savior available to men even if some men do not actually partake in that activity in some sense.
If this term was meant in a hypothetical sense, the following phrase "but especially" would make no sense. "Malista" does not take one from the hypothetical to the real. Instead, the point is that since God is the only Savior that exists, He is the Savior of all, but only those who believe know Him in that role as Savior. Nothing in the text is speaking to the issue of the atonement, its scope, or purpose.
I maintain that it is Dr. White’s understanding of this phrase that ends up positing that God is only a hypothetical Savior to some men. If Paul had intended Dr. White's sense of this—namely, that God is the only savior available but is in no sense the actual savior of the non-elect—then we might expect Paul to use the phrase “God our Savior” (as he does in 1 Tim 2:3), or to say simply “God is the Savior” without adding the modifier “of all men.” The modifier strongly suggests that God’s role as Savior has actually been applied in some sense to “all men.” Now, if Paul had at that point added the phrase “especially to the Jew” (see Rom 2:9-10 where he does something similar), then of course we would take the phrase “all men” as “all kinds of men (without distinction)” rather than as “all men (without exception),” and rightly limit the application to the elect, some of which are Jews and others of which are Gentiles. But that’s not what Paul does here. Instead, he introduces a major category (“all men”) and a subcategory within that major category (“those who believe”), and he asserts that God is in a lesser sense the Savior of the main category and in a greater sense the Savior of the subcategory. Paul’s statement makes God in some real, applied sense the actual Savior of all men. By contrast, Dr. White’s view envisions God as the Savior of the subcategory (“those who believe”) in a real, actual and applied sense, while maintaining that God is the Savior of the main category (“all men”) in no real, actual or applied sense. Hence, I believe the nomenclature “hypothetical Savior” much more readily applies to Dr. White’s own view.
I don't agree that fully Reformed soteriology ignores the fact that salvation, especially in those aspects that are by definition temporal in application, includes "stages" in that sense. I have consistently opposed those, for example, who have promoted "eternal justification," based upon the idea that if the elect were united with Christ, then it must follow that they were never the children of wrath (Paul says otherwise, Eph. 2:1-2). God applies the perfect work of Christ in time, of that there is no doubt.
I’m glad to hear this. My comments were directed toward those who view Christ’s atoning work on the cross as completed redemption. Normally they are easily identified by a failure to see the distinction between Christ’s atonement for the sins of the world and the application of that atonement to each individual. Since Dr. White agrees with me that the benefits of the atonement are applied to each individual in time—at the point of belief, I will assume—then we can proceed from that ground.
But I do not see how Dr. Svendsen can hold firmly to the unconditional electing grace of God, and His work of irresistible grace, whereby God raises His elect to life without fail, and yet then say that Christ bore the sin of one not so elected, did not intend to save that person, seemingly (this is where my presentation was not addressed and hence I can only ask rhetorically) intercedes for that person but to no avail (since neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit, intends to save the person, contra Heb. 7:24-25), and, even though the grounds for a perfect salvation have been laid in the work of Christ on behalf of that person, the Spirit will not apply it in regeneration.
Okay, let’s take this a point at a time. First of all, I do not see any necessary dependence between (1a) the unconditional choice of God’s elect and his effectual drawing of them, and (2a) the extent of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Christ can (2b) die to pay for the sins of his elect and (by virtue of the immeasurable and eternal value of that death) incidentally pay for the sins of the entire world in the process, AND (1b) unconditionally elect and draw his chosen ones to himself without doing the same for the non-elect. What, pray tell, is inconsistent about that?

Second, I do not believe there is any necessary dependence between the extent of Christ’s atonement and the objects of his intercession. I am not suggesting for a moment that Christ is interceding for the non-elect (Heb 7:24-25)—he most emphatically is not; and if he were, they would be saved. I think Dr. White’s concern over this point is misdirected because I don’t think he has understood the distinction I am making between those for whom Christ intended to die (his elect), and those who (due to the eternal value of the sacrifice) are actual benefactors of Christ’s death (“all men”). Christ fully accomplished his salvific purpose in his death, which (in the words of Dr. White) was to “lay the ground for perfect salvation” for his elect. But in the process, the far-reaching and eternal value of the sacrifice could not help but atone for the “sins of the world.”

I think this can be illustrated by an OT example. When God delivered the children of Israel out of bondage to slavery in the land of Egypt, we know that many more than Israel benefited from that action; for we are told that many of the Egyptians also chose to go with them, even though they themselves were not in slavery. I think we can make a distinction here between God’s intent in his redemptive act (redeem the children of Israel—which intent he fully accomplished) and the incidental result of that action (others, not included in God’s salvific intent, benefited in some way by that redemptive act). Here is where the “stages of redemption” are most crucial. I think “the sins of the world” (including those of the non-elect) were fully paid at the cross—everyone is included in that stage of redemption, much like the rabble were redeemed from the land of Egypt along with the children of Israel. But that stage is not the end all and be all of salvation--not all who were led out into the desert entered the promised land. Rather, as Dr. White has acknowledged, it “lays the ground for perfect salvation.” More on the ramifications of this in a moment.

Stages of application I agree with: but I do not see how that changes the reality of the substitution and the fact that as High Priest the Son's substitutionary atonement requires further actions in behalf of all for whom Christ died (seen in the "I" and "P"). While redemption as a term can be used to describe a wider variety of things than just the soteriological result of the atonement in behalf of those who will be saved, that does not really address the reality that if Christ bears the sins of the non-elect, there is still no ground for their condemnation;

Here, I think, is the crux of the issue. How can someone still be condemned if Christ has borne his sins? Yet Dr. White’s view is no less required to answer this question than is mine. As Dr. White has rightly observed (against the “eternal justification” view), even the elect are called “children of wrath” before they believe. But how so? How is it possible, if Christ bore their sins on the cross in space-time history, that they could still be called “children of wrath” after Christ died and offered the perfect sacrifice? Once Christ has perfectly accomplished the sacrifice for the elect “once for all time,” then what is the ground for the elect’s continued status as “children of wrath”? If Christ bore their sin, after all, they should now be free from sin and condemnation.

This is the point at which Dr. White does the right thing exegetically; he rejects a purely theological ramification of the atonement because that ramification contradicts the exegesis of key passages that address the issue. In other words, Dr. White accepts in principle that it is indeed possible for someone to be under condemnation of wrath (in this case, the elect) even though Christ has already paid for his sins. And, I’m certain he would say in the case of those particular “children of wrath,” their status is changed at the moment of justification through faith, and that the merits of Christ’s death are “withheld” and not “applied” until the point of belief.

But once that principle is adopted, no objection to my view can stand any longer. All I am doing is applying the same principle to other “children of wrath.” What if some of those “children of wrath” never end up believing? Since we agree that one can still be under condemnation as a child of wrath even though Christ already died and paid for his sins, and since we agree that the point at which the benefits of Christ’s death are applied is the point of justification by faith, then all that is left in question is whether some of the “children of wrath” will fail to reach the point of justification by faith. I think we both agree that some indeed will fail to reach that point.

And so what it really boils down to is not whether there is a category of people walking the earth whose sin has been atoned for but who are still regarded as "children of wrath" (we both agree that there is this category). Rather, it boils down to whether the atonement is in some way effectual—that is, that there is something about the atonement itself that "works itself out," so to speak, in the justification of everyone for whom sin is atoned. That, I believe, is the basis for the error of eternal justification. And not only do I reject the notion that there is any theological necessity to that belief, but I also believe it is contradicted by the exegesis of the relevant passages. There is absolutely no exegetical evidence I am aware of that would lead us to the conclusion that everyone whose sins were borne by Christ on the cross will ultimately be justified.

I firmly agree that the issue should be handled on the exegetical level. I simply point out that the passages that truly need to be addressed are not so much "extent" passages as they are atonement passages, intercession passages, mediation passages, accomplishment passages. This is where the strength of real, robust, uncompromising Calvinism is to be found

I agree that all these passages need to be considered. But, again, I have found no passage that directly contradicts my thesis—that Christ intended to die to lay the foundation of salvation for his elect, fully accomplished that intent, and in the process atoned for the sins of the world. All the objections I have seen are theological ramifications of these points, not exegetical ones. Dr. White rightly rejects the theological ramifications regarding the continuing ground of condemnation for the elect once Christ has died as held by the proponents of eternal justification. Hence, he recognizes that exegesis has priority over theology. That, in a nutshell, is how I arrive at 4.5 Calvinism, which at once recognizes the intent of Christ’s salvific work on the cross and the fact that Christ fully accomplished that intent, but distinguishes that from the consequences of Christ’s work which impacts all of mankind.

One further note. Dr. White indicates that I did not interact with his work on this. He’s partially right. I have his book, but I did not have it in my office with me when I hastily threw together the blog entry referenced above. However, I did make a trip to his website while writing the entry, and I took the time to read the two articles on limited atonement I found there: one by Dr. White and the other by Simon Escobedo (I had the privilege of meeting Simon at the LA conference in November). I did not address every point in those articles since my intent for the blog entry was merely to clarify my own position, not take on Alpha and Omega Ministries : )

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The "Gnostic" Vs. the Sophist: Part 4

We continue once again with our response to TGE's charges against "Real Clear Theology" and the NTRMin Discussion Forum. This will be our final installment for the series.
I pass over the slurs chronicled by Mark Horne on Reformed Catholicism earlier today. But I will not pass over the kicker: out of the blue last week comes a "Real Clear Theology" post that sounds more like an advocacy of gnosticism than Christianity as it insularly cries (my paraphrase): "Listen to the Apostle Paul telling us in all these clear texts to flee from embodied reality and seek a world of pure spirit!"
What you see here is a typical example of TGE’s “critiques.” I engaged Scripture; so what does TGE do in response? He mischaracterizes it in a lamentable paraphrase, and then proceeds to ignore the Scriptures I presented. That’s standard for TGE. He doesn’t like Scripture. And the reason he doesn’t like it is because he doesn’t understand it. He absolutely refuses to engage anyone’s argument on an exegetical level. He won’t explain what these passages mean in his view, or just how I have misquoted them. Instead, he simply makes a bald assertion that I am an "unaccountable Gnostic," and leaves it at that. Behold the response!
Sadly, no one can hold these men accountable for their actions, because their theory of "authority" and "accountability" is essentially sola ecclesia solitaria--the mirror image of the "Romanism" they claim to hate so much and which is the true formal principle of their stunted understanding of the Protestant Reformation (the true material principle being Justification By Intellectual Assent [to Propositions About Justification]).
That’s right, TGE. Just ignore the texts I quoted and go off into sophist ramblings again.
This brings me back to the point of "Christian society". It is clear enough from the mere fact that this enclave has more than one person in it and that they all interact with each other and produce artifacts (books, tapes, message board posts) which they hope will last, that it is a culture. It is also clear from the fact that they all claim to be Christians that this enclave is a "Christian culture". The point of this post is, then to observe that attacks by such people on the very notion that there can and ought to be a "Christian society" in this world are fundamentally incoherent.
If that’s what TGE thinks my point is, then he needs to read more carefully before he critiques. I have already said that the Christian society is the church. Can the church meet in other places but a building? Well of course! That goes without saying. It also goes without saying that anytime the church meets and wherever the church meets, there is a “Christian society.”

But that is not what TGE means by the phrase “Christian society.” What he means instead is the collection of all those who happen to be baptized in the name of the Trinity. We’ll get all those together and conquer the world with baptism, until all of society is “cleaned up” (those who are unwilling to be baptized will be legislated into it—then we can call them “brothers”) and we succeed in creating a "Christian kingdom" on earth. That type of “Christian society” I reject entirely—and that type of “Christian society” is fundamentally different from the church gathered. The latter is biblical; the former is not.
They themselves have a "Christian society" and expect the Lord to bless their "Evangelical" work by prospering it and allowing it to gain converts so that the next generation will continue the work. The mere fact that they expect their "spiritual" work to have results in the space and time world is all the proof that is required that it is impossible for embodied creatures to truly escape from their embodied condition.
This is laughable. Who disagrees that we are “embodied creatures” who do real work in the space-time world? Not I. The belief system TGE has described here is Gnosticism. We’re not Gnostics. That may come as a shock to TGE, but it is true nevertheless. And the fact that TGE is unable to distinguish Gnostic teaching from the apostles’ teaching is still more confirmation of why he is safer if he just steers clear from exegesis altogether. He just doesn’t fare well with Scripture.
In fact, attempting to escape from embodiment--and all its "messy" conditions, like "bias" and "tradition" and "institution" and "culture"--is inherently an anti-Christian mentality. It does not seem to even recognize, much less try to observe, the Christian cultural antithesis.
Here is where TGE is confused. He confuses the biblical teaching that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” and that it “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” at which time it “will be set free from its slavery to corruption” with Gnosticism. He confuses the biblical teaching that our hope is not in this world but in the glory to be revealed in us at the coming of Christ with Gnosticism. He confuses the biblical teaching that world conditions will go from bad to worse before the great and terrible day of the Lord with Gnostic tendencies. He confuses the biblical teaching that we are strangers and aliens on this earth, that we have no permanent home here, and that our citizenship is in heaven with Gnosticism. He characterizes the biblical mandate to love not the world or the things in the world, and that friendship with the world is enmity with God as Gnosticism. He confuses the biblical teaching that we currently reside in frail vessels of weakness and that are hope is fixed on the transformation of our bodies to be like his glorious body in the Day he comes to be marveled at by all those who have believed with Gnosticism. TGE engages in this confusion because he is either biblically illiterate or exegetically inept—or both. There is just no other good explanation.
No matter how much "clear" Scripture one cites to prove that we should abhor our bodies and all the physical works they produce, nothing is clearer from the the whole warp and woof of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, that the physical creation is good in and of itself and will be delivered, not dissolved.
Who has said anything different? Not I.
The Second Person of the Trinity became flesh and dwelt among us. Our mortal bodies will one day but will be resurrected. We Christians are not gnostics; we do not believe in "the immortality of the soul", or in the flight of the soul from corrupting matter and back up into a world of "pure" spirit.
Again, who has said anything different? Not I.
As someone, C.S. Lewis I think, said, "God likes matter. He made lots of it." Accordingly, "Christian society", and its corollary "Christian culture", are simply inescapable.
Although TGE’s point above simply does not follow, I have already agreed to the notion of a “Christian society”—just not TGE’s brand of it.
Diatribing against other Christians, such as myself, merely for seeking a "Christian society" is shallow.
No such thing has been done. Rather, the “diatribe” has been against the idiosyncratic form of Christian society espoused by TGE—one in which modern-day Judaizers are part and parcel.
Alternatively, trying to have a society built solely on "agreement on the Gospel"--i.e., built solely on Justification Propositions beamed between brains is a tacit denial of the incarnation of the Word.
Again, this is just plain dopey and laughable. No one believes the church is built on a “set of justification propositions” that are being “beamed between brains.” But there is no question that the first-century church excluded from its fold those whose own "propositions" lay in contradiction to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” John instructed the readers of his first letter:

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world." (1 John 4:1-3).

That is a proposition that must be believed. And it is intended to include some and exclude others. Likewise, Paul instructed his readers:

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:6-9).

That is an implicit proposition. There is a "gospel" to be believed to the rejection of all other "gospels." What is that gospel?

"knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal 2:16).

Paul tells the Corinthians:

"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor 15:1-4).

This is a proposition to be believed, and by which--if we hold to it--we are saved. These are all essential propositions--required beliefs--and they could be multiplied many times over. The New Testament is replete with them, and no amount of sophistry is going to change that fact, whether TGE happens to like it or not.
Such an anti-society cannot even hold itself together, much less transform anything outside of itself.
Indeed? Why, then, is the Evangelicalism TGE "hates" so huge, and his ilk so small?
All its energies go into the deep suspicion its members are forced to entertain that maybe their neighbors harbor secret heresies that render them unfit for the exalted company of "the Elect".
Methinks TGE is just a tad paranoid. No such dark "suspicion" exists except in TGE's own mind.
Yet even the most ardent "It's all propositions!" advocate can be readily found clutching his physical Bible in his physical hands and using his physical eyes to read physically-imprinted words on a physical page and his physical fingers to physically type out those nasty attacks on all the "miscreants" who dare to imagine that "the Gospel" has some kind of implications for space and time!
Wake me when TGE finally descends from the gnostic mother ship and either accurately represents our position or makes a cogent point against it.
It comes down to this: What Christians have for centuries disagreed about--and what many of us disagree about today--is not whether there is to be a "Christian society", but what kind of "Christian society" there will be.
Bravo! He finally gets it! It’s just too bad he had to waste so much time, energy and disk space in the process.
This is the question at issue no matter whether we are talking about Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Reformed Baptistism. Nobody can get away from the question of "society" because we are made in the image of God, who is Himself a society.
God is a “society”? Now that’s interesting. Our God, the Society. Do we now rewrite the Athanasian Creed: “We worship one God in society, and society in unity”? Or perhaps we should start baptizing people in the name of the Society. TGE may be closer to his Mormon “brother” than he realizes.
Let them prooftext all day long about "the Gospel" and how everyone else but them is falling away from it. In the created world that God made the proof is in the pudding, not in the propositions. When it comes to arguments about what Christian culture should look like, I much prefer the advice of Luther,
I see. Scripture can be, and probably always is, prootexted—but Luther is, of course, impervious to that.
Luther replied "Make a good shoe and sell it a fair price." Now that's the Gospel at work in the real world.

And once we realize that Luther here was not addressing the issue of the "gospel" per se (he had plenty to say about propositions concerning the gospel! Sola fide, sola scriptura, etc.--remember those?), but was responding to the common Roman Catholic distinction between religious vocations and secular vocations, applying Paul's principle in Col 4:17 "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father," then we see that "Voila!" Luther can indeed be prooftexted afterall!

Returning to a previous analogy, here again is the geeky, single undergrad who, based on his 1100 pages of reading, thinks he is now qualified to instruct his married friends. I own a business. No one knows—or practices—that principle of the "gospel" more than I. That’s not the issue we have with TGE’s notion of “Christian society.” But since I have already gone over this point several time above, I’ll refrain from repeating myself.

Here’s my prediction. When the dust settles and all that are left are the “reformed Catholics,” then that movement will implode. At that point they will begin to see that the only thing that has ever held them together was their common disparagement of Scripture and their common hatred of all things Evangelical and “babtists”—at which point they will turn on each other:

“You don’t believe in Mary’s supremacy? Why, you’re nothing but an anti-catholic radical!”

“Oh yeah? Well your Mariolatry is nothing but an affirmation of your belief in Platonic forms! You’re nothing but a neo-platonic, sectarian radical!”

“Oh yeah? Well you believe Roman Catholics are only ‘wink-wink’ brothers! You’re the sectarian!”

“Oh yeah? Well you just don’t get the point of Reformed Catholicism to begin with. We’re here to ‘grab them by their baptism’ and make ‘em repent like the unfaithful husbands they are!”

“Oh yeah? Well none of you believes in New Perspectivism! You’re all nothing but crypto Evangelicals!”

[Gasp!] “He said the ‘E’ word! Them’s fightin’ words! . . .”

Monday, December 20, 2004

The "Gnostic" Vs. the Sophist: Part 3

We've completed half of our response to TGE's blog. Today we continue with part 3:

This is, basically, what happens when a Christian community holds to an anti-Christian concept of "tolerance." It is what happens when perfectionistic Christians so long ignore the world outside of their own narrow "spiritual" concerns that when they come back to it and begin to engage it, the quality of their engagements impresses everyone but themselves with how they have reversed the old saying by becoming "of the world but not in it". Hence the common complaint of those who seriously study the history of "Evangelicalism" that it is always enthusiastically embracing ten year old fads, but thinking while it does so that it is "cutting edge".
Again, what in the world has any of this got to do with the NTRMin forum? Who is embracing ten-year old fads?

It's very difficult to talk to these die hards, because they restrict "reason" to something that operates only inside their heads and rarely, if ever, bother to look up from their "theology" to see what's going on in the rest of the cultural endeavor. Sometimes, in fact, you feel like the only thing left for you to do (because they won't answer arguments like "Secularism, Sacralism, and the Christian Antithesis") is to satire their silly, hermeneutically self-referential concept of "The Self Evident Truth Study Bible" and their absolutely unbalanced obsession with "propositional truth".
In reality, I invited TGE to the forum so that he could clarify his views. He was extended both courtesy and respect, as well as the opportunity to explain his views in a public setting—that is, until he completely broke down, crashed and burned over his repeated inability to explain the glaring inconsistencies in his own view. Here is the opening of that dialogue: LINK1. Here is how it progressed: LINK2. And here is how it ended: LINK3. In a nutshell, TGE crumbled. No one left his points unanswered as he always claims. We answered them fully, and he was unable to produce a cogent response. Instead, he began to issue his strange litany of ad hominems all in the name of “rhetoric.”

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining about not being able to post on an utterly culturally-irrelevant "Evangelical" message board, which in just a few short years will, like most "Evangelical" anti-cultural products, go the way of the dinosaur and the dodo.
Actually, he did complain about it, and rather loudly. And I care little about whether the NTRMin forum is "culturally irrelevant"--it probably is; but then again, the gospel has always been "culturally irrelevant" too, so we're in good company. What I never want to be is biblically irrelevant--I don't think there's any question that this is what TGE's blogsite is.

Essentially what I'm doing here is using a concrete example of what Andrew Sandlin writes generically about in his "A Note On Friendship and Truth." Because I used to be closely involved with a ministry that, as the days pass, seems to me to be getting more and more outlandishly radical in its isolationism and perfectionism, I think it's a good way to see the profound cultural ugliness that gets incarnated by an essentially "gnostic" approach to Christianity.
In reality, in the many years we've been in operation, we've never changed our direction. You'll recall in part 1 of this series that it is TGE who admits he changed his direction after he tired of pretending he was one of us (Link4). Aside from that, one wishes that if TGE is going to persist in the use of words like “gnostic” he might first make an effort to understand that system so that he doesn’t misapply its tenets to groups who have absolutely no connection to it.

The quickest way to ruin your sanctification for the week--and aid in significantly setting back Christian cultural advance--is to spend some time reading the shrill, impersonal, love-less diatribes about "Truth" that frequently fill this "more pure than thou" enclave of Ultra-Reformed "Gospellers".
Actually, having visited TGE's blog and the Reformed Catholicism blog frequently, I can think of at least one activity that produces this effect even more.

"Pygmy interpretation of truth" is an apt metaphor, indeed, as is the allusion to the Ring of Power that nearly destroyed Middle Earth. Quote Calvin differently than the Ultra-Presbyterian faction there, and you must be trying to cram Calvin into a "New Counter-Reformationist" mold and compromise with "Romanists" (for you see, there is not a whole lot to the Reformed religion but militant, immensely prejudiced anti-Romanism).
Conversely—and more to the point—quote Scripture (in context, no less) to support your point and you are treated to a barrage of TGE's “NO ONE IS ABLE TO ENGAGE IN PURE EXEGESIS BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL JUST A BUNCH OF SLAVES TO YOUR RADICAL, SECTARIAN ENLIGHTENMENT FOREFATHERS” statements.

But another oddity, aside from the willingness of the "Evangelical" leadership to peremptorily use force to squelch dissent while complaining about force applied by others to themselves, is the fact that, like the Modernity-driven concept of "tolerance" that structures the basic social structure of "Evangelicalism", much is heard about others "hating" them, and very little about the bitter vitriol they regularly spew at others in the name of "the Truth". The "hate" card, like its cousins the "race" and "gender" cards, is a distinctive feature of Modernity's shallow culture, and so it is most instructive to find it buried right at the heart of an "Evangelical" ministry, and so easily played by "Reformed" men who themselves appear quite frequently to be simply eaten up with real hatred for all that is different from their narrow concept of "the Gospel".
Hmmm . . . All this from the man who authored this entry. Yes, I know. He claims to have clarified this point in a latter entry. The problem is, his unbridled rhetoric and consistent disparagement against anyone who happens to be “babtist”—both before and after this entry—speaks much louder than his words of “clarification.”

The absurdities pile on top of each other, but are best illustrated by this contrast: It is unacceptable "rhetoric" to challenge the purveyor of "Real Clear Theology" to demonstrate that he's not an Enlightenment ideologue quoting Scripture as if it was a test subject lying splayed open on a laboratory table yielding up Objective Scientific Axioms,
Actually, that’s not exactly what happens. I have an operating table in my lab, and all I do is place an English version of the Bible on top of a Greek text, turn to the appropriate page, and begin poking my scalpel into the pages at strategic points. After three or four well-placed plunges, the Holy Spirit releases objective truth through the slits, and a dense fog materializes and solidifies into theological propositions. I then gently carve the remaining “material” away from the propositions (can’t stand that “yucky material”), place them on my HP Scanjet, convert the images into digital jpegs, and upload them to my blog.

The real problem is, TGE seems to want me to prove that I’m not "an Enlightenment ideologue quoting Scripture," when he has yet to prove I am. As I’ve noted elsewhere, just because TGE thinks that reading 1100 pages of materials related to 20th-century culture and 13th-century church history suddenly makes him an expert in the way someone else’s mind works does not make it so. It’s comical even to imagine that someone would actually have the audacity to suggest such a thing. I keep picturing in my mind some geeky, unsocialized and isolated undergrad student who has no wife and no kids, but who after reading a handful of books on the family suddenly proclaims to his married friends (who do have kids), “You’re all wrong! And you’ve been so conditioned by your RADICAL JUNGIAN SUBCULTURE that you can’t see past it! It’s true I have no wife, no kids, and absolutely no experience in this—But I HAVE READ 1100 PAGES of texts related to this topic, so I can now assert with confidence that if I haven’t personally experienced marriage myself, THEN IT’S NOT POSSIBLE THAT ANYONE HAS!!! The idea of marriage and kids is JUST A FARCE created by RADICAL, SECTARIAN ANTINOMIAN GNOSTICS."

TGE does something very similar with exegesis. He can’t do it—that much is obvious by his constant avoidance of Scripture. And that is no small matter to TGE who prides himself on being the bright bulb in the lamp. To admit he can’t do it would be devastating. And so frustrating is that to him that he’s now decided that the whole thing must be a farce. No one can do exegesis, and anyone who claims he can is simply a post-enlightenment fool, blinded as he is by his own cultural presuppositions. After all, TGE can’t do it, therefore it can’t be done.

Perhaps someday, after TGE has had time to mature, he will begin to see that not all of us share his limitations. If he is unable to do exegesis in a competent way, then he should frankly admit his own weakness, steer clear of that discipline (it’s clearly not his forte), and leave it to those of us who are at home with it. That would be the reasonable thing to do. Sadly, TGE is not known for his ability to be reasonable. Instead, he condemns the entire discipline of exegesis as some quasi-scholarly field of study, and insists that no one is able to do it (after all, he can’t do it; so how could anyone else realistically claim competence in that area?).
But it is perfectly acceptable for him to opine that I belong to "a Christian cult" merely because I challenge "well established Evangelical beliefs"--as if the sum total of "Christianity" was just self-evidently confined to the "Evangelical" worldview, truncated beyond belief and completely unable to handle any kind of serious-minded criticism without simply breaking down into tears at the "hate" coming its way.
I don’t label TGE’s movement a “cult” on that basis. Here is the definition of a cult that I’m working with: “A religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.” Whether TGE happens to like it or not, that definition aptly fits the handful of people who subscribe to his beliefs. And of course I believe that the sum of Christianity is confined to Evangelicalism. Why wouldn’t I believe that? If you are not an Evangelical, you are outside the faith. I do not believe Roman Catholicism is within the pale biblical orthodoxy; just as I do not believe Eastern Orthodoxy is within the pale of biblical orthodoxy; just as I do not believe Mormonism is within the pale of biblical orthodoxy. They are, all of them, false religious systems by virtue of the false gospels they hold; and consequently, they are not Christian churches. I make no bones about that. And just because TGE wants to include some of them—contradicting all scriptural teaching on it—and wants to make an emotional appeal about “hate” (who’s playing that card now?), that does not make my points on this less valid.
No argument about the pathetic culture of "Evangelicalism" ever gets answered because all the Evangelicals can see is how radically offended they were that you even dared to contradict what is so "obvious" to them.
You’ll get no argument from me about the pathetic culture of Evangelicalism. I will be the first to decry the lack of discernment and the pattern of following worldly philosophies to do ministry and worldly practices in the church. I think most of the stuff that comes out of Evangelicalism these days is pathetic. But that’s a different subject entirely.

Yet when I wrote a heartfelt post describing how, in fact, I do not "hate" Evangelicals as people , I got no response at all from those most responsible for playing the "hate" card in the first place.

I addressed this above. One short blog entry does not overturn the plethora of blog entries contradicting the sentiment that came before and has come after that post. Further, my time is extremely limited, and I have to pick my writing projects carefully. I do not respond to every post on the Internet that happens to mention my name or allude to something I've said.

Months have gone by since that post, and I have for the most part tried to mind my own business and focus on more constructive things. Yet in the course of only a few weeks a number of attacks on those Outside the Camp Clique have been made. I pass over in silence the blunt insults by an intellectually-fringe apologetics warrior to a well-educated, well-respected Reformed man (Peter Leithart) who offered a serious, quite biblical criticism of the warrior's Great Book on the Center of All True Religion, i.e., Correct Intellectual Comprehension of Justification By Faith Alone.

There were no blunt insults coming from my keyboard. I did not respond to that blog entry.

I pass over the atrocious insults by a Radical Baptist polemicist against a Lutheran on the NTRMin board--let's not worry about chopping off the branch we're all sitting on: "the Gospel" can survive just fine as long as it's "clearly" in our heads and not nefariously mixed up with "one little work", which "work" the Lutherans consider to be one performed by God (but then, Radical Baptists need not concern themselves with accurately representing other people's theologies, since it's Real Clear what's going on).

Again, there were no blunt insults coming from my keyboard. I did not respond to that thread either. Yet, TGE somehow feels justified in alluding to the title of my blog here, as though I had something to do with that thread. This is just the kind of inciteful thing TGE engages in. He gets really, really mad; and then he blows his top and takes it out on whomever he currently has in mind, as though those innocent bystanders were deserving of wrath-by-association.

I have one more installment to this series. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Mary's Status as (V)(v)irgin

I am attempting to catch up on some of the past blogs that involve me. Some of these are entries that are now buried under several layers of new blog entries, so they may be difficult to reference. I have the original text that I copied and pasted long ago; so while the comments are accurate, you may have to do a bit of searching for the original articles.

The blog entry I will address here is one by Kevin Johnson in which he answers questions regarding his view of the status and role of Mary. Since he mentions me in a disparaging way, I thought it appropriate to respond.

In response to the question, “how would catholicity be advanced by capitalizing ‘Virgin Mary’ in the creeds?” Johnson answers:
This question I'm going to leave temporarily, because I would love to hear from our Catholic friends if they even considered this point important and in need of change as I have considered in other contexts. I have my own thoughts and will share them eventually, but I'm sure some of our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican regulars might be interested in responding. I invite you, then, gentlemen to wax eloquent on this point if you think it's worth pondering.
Such a “response” usually suggests the writer has no idea why we should do this, except to give a more important status to Mary. The reason Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox capitalize it is usually due to the beliefs of each system that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Is that what Johnson believes as well?
For those who aren't aware of the change, most Reformed hymnals and or liturgical guides use the words "virgin Mary" when printing the Creed. The Book of Common Prayer and most other more Catholic sources tend to use the form "Virgin Mary". If the Reformed world didn't have such a pre-disposed bias towards the role of Mary in our salvation, I don't think it would be all that important. One has to wonder though...why the change?
Actually, the better and more telling question is, Why the desire to retain the capitalization? In response to the follow up question, “Do you think that Mary remained ‘ever virgin’ throughout her earthly life?” (a completely spot-on question, and one that sees through Johnson’s desire to retain the capitalization), Johnson replies:
I'm not sure how or why my own personal opinion would be relevant to the matter.
The reason they are relevant, of course, is because Johnson is the one making the capitalization of the word “virgin” a criterion for catholicity! The question of “personal opinion” is both completely reasonable and completely relevant.
I can tell you this. Prior to our more modern age, many if not most of the Reformers and the Church fathers before them believed in Mary's perpetual virginity. Even John Calvin made it appear as if he believed in the doctrine by supporting Jerome against the long since forgotten father in the Church who opposed the doctrine. There is no question that Luther endorsed the doctrine. Surprising to many Reformed folks is that Turretin--Calvin's successor in Geneva--clearly held to the doctrine and defended the ancient church's opinion on the matter.
Do we take this as a “yes.”
Of course, a more in-depth study of Calvin will show that while not seeing evidence for this doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary in Scripture he more than likely did believe it was an ancient and well-received doctrine of the Church.
And rightly so, since there is no evidence that anyone of note in the earliest centuries of the church believed it, and every evidence that those of note rejected it (see my book for that evidence).
A clear example of the difference between many who call themselves "Reformed" today and the magisterial and other Reformers regarding Mary and any biblicial [sic] evidence for her perpetual virginity is seen in the work of Eric Svendsen. Svendsen's attempt to categorize the meaning of different Greek words (with all of his lists of their usage--as if that is how near-native or native speakers of the language would have looked at it!) . . .
Who claims that native speakers would have looked at it that way? Does Johnson even understand the process of Greek exegesis and lexical analysis? His comments betray a marked ignorance of how a scholar goes about determining Greek word usage. The absurdity of Johnson’s criticism against categorizing words to determine usage is best illustrated merely by pointing out that Greek grammars and lexicons categorize words and usage in the same way. Is Johnson now saying that Greek grammars and lexicons are illegitimate, and that we should now simply defer to the “brilliant” observation of Johnson—who evidences no knowledge of the Greek language—regarding the views of the Reformers? In fact, the very Bible translation that Johnson uses to verify what Matthew 1:25 says in the first place is possible only because Greek scholarship has previously engaged in this same categorizing of words to determine what those words mean! How else could Johnson be certain that his English translation of the Greek phrase heos hou (“until”) is right? Who told him it meant that? Does he think those words just translated themselves? The only way he could possibly know that heos hou means “until” is to assume that all those Greek studies he just dismissed out of hand are in fact legitimate after all! He has cut off his nose to spite his face.
and hence his defense of "until" or other phrases really meaning what we today think of "until" reminds me very much of the Darwinists of our own day who in their academic snobbery are quite happy to present all sorts of evidence for evolution in thousands of fossil records, geological surveys, mathematical probability, carbon dating and the like.
That’s only because Johnson has no knowledge of this field. And Johnson’s response here is typical of his associates (we have seen the same “fears” inherent in TGE’s writings as well). Keep in mind, Johnson is not criticizing my methodology alone (as though I invented Greek exegesis), but the methodology of biblical scholars at large! Johnson’s approach to this is little different from that of any backwoods fundamentalist. He obviously fears that which is for him unknown and unreachable. It’s just too complicated, so he simply dismisses the entire world of Greek and New Testament scholarship along with their “new fangled” methodologies for determining meanings of Greek words. And his analogy to evolution misses the mark entirely. Evolution is a theory of origins. Greek exegesis is a practice. The parallel of evolution would be closer to something like textual criticism; though even there, the parallel isn’t exact, since in text criticism (1) we know for a fact (not theory) that manuscripts were copied and changed, (2) we have all the “intermediate forms,” and (3) it is now merely a task of putting together all the pieces.
The only problem with such evolutionary theories is that the foundational presuppositions underlying the position have absolutely no basis at all in fact and are merely the wishful thinking of scientists bent to undo what they see as the ignorant mythical understanding of our origins in this universe.
You'll get no argument from me concerning evolution. But if Johnson is attempting to apply this to Greek exegesis (as I suspect he is), then this is just another way of saying, “I don’t get it, so it must not be true!”
Svendsen shares the same sort of modernistic presuppositions in looking at the text of Scripture--he's just working in a different field. For one thing, his work is done without recourse or respect to the tradition of the Church and it is as arbitrary as it would be if he placed all of the Greek words he examines on little yellow balls and put them in a lottery cage and drew out numbers just like they do every week here in Phoenix on Channel 3:
This statement leads me to believe that Johnson has not read my book. I interact with the early church extensively in my treatment of Mary. Here’s how church historian Tom Nettles described my book:

"Who Is My Mother? by Eric D. Svendsen incorporates the best sort of holistic argument for a controversial theological topic. Dealing with the question of the exaltation of Mary in Roman Catholic theology and her elevation to mediatorial status, Svendsen makes biblical exposition the key contributor to his argument. His exposition, however, brims with pertinency for he allows history to inform the texts and the particular questions he asks about the texts. Every key text used for the development of Mariology, or even Mariolatry, is subjected to careful scrutiny. Bibliographical knowledge, theological reasoning, logical examination, historical awareness, and clear biblical interpretation form the substance of each chapter. I give my humble but heart-convicted endorsement of this book. I know of no other such clear and thorough treatment of one of the central dividing points between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants."

Johnson continues:
"Let's see what "until" means in Matthew 1:25 tonight," Dr. Svendsen says holding a microphone in his hand. [Tacky music playing, machine drops a ball which rolls down a metal slide and gets picked up by a pretty blonde who hands it to Dr. Svendsen]. "Ahh yes," Dr. Svendsen says with the sort of academic hubris only an expert in these things can muster, "Until" means "Mary was a virgin until Joseph had relations with her...Tune in next week and we'll be examining whether justification in Scripture means anything besides "forensic justification".
I wonder whether Kevin Johnson realizes just how “backwoodsy” these kinds of statements in his so-called critique of my work makes him look? I’m embarrassed for him. And I’m convinced (as I alluded to above) it is completely driven by fear. These men are afraid that “it’s all too confusing!,” and “what if we lose some valuable teaching of the church!” It’s better to “cover our basis” and perpetuate what may be an error because “Who knows, Rome might be right after all, and what will be do then?!”

I have more to say about Kevin Johnson's continuing Rome-like facination with Mary, but I'll save that for another time.

The "Gnostic" Vs. the Sophist: Part 2

We continue our response to TGE in part 2 of our series:

Which is why it's so odd to find adherents of this anti-culture "Gospel" so often bewailing the wicked state of the world around them. What have they done to change that, to bring it into submission to the Lord Christ? Not too terribly much.
What have “they” done? Might he be referring to the James Dobsons, the Jerry Falwells, the Gary Bauers, the Dan Quayles, and yes, the George W. Bushes of the Evangelicalism he “hates” so much (his word)? Or perhaps he is referring to those of us who believe the mission given to us by Christ himself is not to clean up the world in an external way through the establishment of some “Christian Society,” but rather to change hearts individually by “living as children of light” in the dark world around us (Eph 4:17—5:8), to “make the most of every opportunity” to give the gospel to those in darkness (Eph 5:15-16), to stand having put on the full armor of God (Eph 6), to “conduct [ourselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27), to “stand firm” in that gospel, “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [us]” (Phil 1:27-28)--for it has been granted to us not only to believe but also to “suffer for him” (Phil 1:29). And we do all this without complaining about it, so that we may become “blameless and pure” (there’s that nasty gnostic “purity” again), without fault in a “crooked and depraved generation” as we “hold out the word of life” (the gospel) to those around us (Phil 2:14-15).

All this we do as we “forget what is behind and strain forward to what is ahead” (Phil 3:13). And just what is ahead? Some earthly “Christian Society” which we ourselves set up? No; rather we press “heavenward” toward the goal of Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). Perhaps this is just Paul’s way of accommodating those backwoods evangelicals?—“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” What of those who take a different view? “Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:19-21). And why do we “eagerly await” that day? “He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (there’s that gnostic-dualistic disparagement of “yucky matter” again).

And so, our mission on earth is not to improve society; it is to call home the elect of God by means of the gospel, and to “give an answer to everyone who asks about the hope within you.” Many of us have devoted our entire lives and every last drop of energy and time into doing just that, in the time we spend evangelizing our neighbors, writing and distributing books and other materials, unceasingly teaching Bible studies, and speaking about it on radio and at conferences. That’s what we have done as a remedy to our “bewailing” of the surrounding culture.

The much bigger question is, what has TGE done to bring society into submission to the Lord Christ—besides writing exceedingly long blogs condemning everyone else for not doing the very same thing toward which he has accomplished absolutely nothing? Oh, that’s right. His goal is to build a cathedral in the main square of Moscow ID in which he and the other ten people who share his views can gather to speak koine Greek to each other. That is sure to usher in the reign of Christ!
For of course, it's hard to do much of anything constructive when you deliberately confine yourself to the cultural ghetto and engage in little more than prophetically throwing rocks at those out there getting their hands dirty in all that icky, corrupting material stuff.
Again I ask, what has Timothy G. Enloe accomplished for the kingdom of God, besides the dubious contribution of convincing people they need to forsake their confidence in the Scriptures and rely instead on TGE’s “objective” understanding of the medieval church and the influence of the Enlightenment on the poor, befuddled Evangelical masses? TGE introduces an interlocutor at this point:

"Why do you read all that culture stuff, Tim? Why isn't there more Biblical Exegesis on your blog?"
Indeed, that is a good question. How does TGE answer it?
It seems that it's better to be "faithful" by simply handing the yucky matter over to the world, the flesh, and the devil, where it all truly belongs, and wait for the Great Escape into a world of Pure Spirit, a flight out of the body and into the Gnostic Hellenism of "the immortality of the soul".
In other words, “I’ll see your perfectly valid question, and I’ll raise you an irrelevant red herring.” Does anyone see in TGE’s response an answer to why he shies away from Scripture and exegesis? He doesn’t provide the specific reason here, but his next statement betrays it:

As one advocate of this viewpoint once tellingly said, he wished he didn't have to waste so much of his time doing mundane things like cleaning his pool, because then he'd have more time for "the things of eternal value". This is Plutarch, not Paul.
Where, again, is that in Paul? Is this the same Paul who proclaimed that he counts all things as dung for the sake of knowing Christ? Is this the same Paul who proclaimed that to live is Christ and to die is gain? Is this the same Paul who instructed the married Corinthians to live as though they were unmarried? Is this the same Paul who espoused the value of freeing ourselves from as many earthly concerns (“things of this world”) as possible so that we may devote “undivided” attention to “pleasing the Lord”?—oops; there goes that gnostic-dualist Paul again. There is a very good reason TGE shies away from citing Scripture in general and engaging in exegesis in particular. He doesn’t know how to do it. He doesn’t know how to handle the Scriptures. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and apply that statement to most of the “Reformed Catholic” camp. They don't have an exegetical leg to stand on, and I think deep down most of them know it. More to the point, they seem to fear that which is, for them, unknown and out of reach. Hence, most of them fear Scripture--not in a healthy way, but in a way that causes them to avoid it like the plague.

But the second form of criticism is also an inherently anti-social paradigm, as is quite frequently demonstrated by the behavior of many of its advocates. One only has to go to the NTRMin Discussion Board to see on the very first page an open advocacy of an essentially gnostic-dualist worldview in the fact that the board is divided into a "fleshly" world ("The Areopagus") and a "spiritual" world ("The Heavenly Realm")--the latter of which you can access only by having the proper "spiritual" passwords (interestingly, a major feature of ancient Gnosticism proper).
Here we go again. This is what prompted me to respond to the entire article. Interestingly enough, TGE didn’t raise any of these objections when he himself was a member of the HR. Why not? Why did he think it was acceptable then, but not now? Was he—is he?—a latent Gnostic-dualist? Further, we have yet another example of just how far removed TGE really is from the language of Scripture. The “heavenly realm” is taken directly from Ephesians 1 and 2. God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places [realm] in Christ” (Eph 1:3). He has “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places [realm], in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). The point of Paul in both places is to show that our position in “the heavenly realm” is a secured reality, not merely some fuzzy future prospect. The “heavenly realm” is where we, the elect, truly are in the eyes of God—and it is not a place for those who only pretend to be Christians (the “Christian Society”).

And that truth is presented to us as the motivation to live as a changed creature; one whose mind is no longer set on the "things of this world," but on the heavenly reality. As a result, we are to “walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, and excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” (Eph 4:17-18—“futility of mind,” “darkness of understanding,” “excluded from life”—oh, there’s that nasty radical, sectarian gnostic-dualism again!).
Now as has happened several times, to myself and at least one other Presbyterian I know, it is apparently possible to fool the system for a while--that is, to have access to the "spiritual" dimension of life on the basis of (provisional) trust by the Leadership in your affirmations that yes, you do intellectually agree with them on "the Gospel". I say "fool the system" to indicate that it's possible for professing Reformed people to completely talk past each other--to use the same words ("the solas", "the Gospel", "the sacraments", etc.) but to actually mean, without realizing it at first, radically different things. The system gets "fooled" because no one at first understands that there are deep contradictions buried beneath the superficial "agreement on the Gospel".

Note that Tim here concedes he pretended to be one of us--we did not pretend to be what he now is. That is significant because after he left NTRMin, he made all kinds of claims that he had not changed his views on anything--that he had always held them and proclaimed them--we just weren't listening. I'm glad to know he now recognizes that explanation as a farce.

My real concern here is not only his candid admission, but also the amazing ease with which he disregards Scripture and trades it in for a lifeless religious shell called “Christian Society.” He himself openly states he has a vastly different understanding of what the “gospel” really is. He abided us for a while, but now he frankly concedes that the reason he went out from us is because he was never of us.

Now given the basic denial of the board owner that Christians are called to form a "Christian society", . . .

Just to be very clear, Christians are called to form a Christian "society”; it’s called the “church.” What I deny is that we are to include in that “society” those who openly repudiate the biblical gospel and proclaim a false one. These are the people whom TGE would like to include in his “Christian society.” Hence, let's not lose sight of the fact that what I wrote in my previous article regarding "Christian society" was targeted toward TGE's 13th-century-immoral-and-heretical-Roman-Catholic-popes-are-my-brother "Christian society."

. . . it's significant that the entire point of his message board is to portray to the watching world that very thing: a Christian society.

Significant, perhaps; but in no way inconsistent.

But what kind of society is presented? The answer is a radically pure one . . .

One must ask, Why does TGE see it necessary to introduce the term “radical” here to modify the word “pure”? If he’s using the term radical in it’s strict sense of “at the root” (read “biblical roots”), then who could argue against the effort to seek purity in its “radical” (read “biblical”) sense? There can be no objection to seeking a society that is biblically pure; that is, pure in a biblical sense. That should be the goal of any and every individual and group that names the name of Christ, bar none.

But what I suspect TGE means by “radical” is something like a wild-eyed, hair-brained, on-the-fringe, cockamamie, insurgent-minded, half-baked plan to “rescue” the gospel from all those perverse gospel-denying heretics. He, of course, won’t—actually, “can’t” is a better word—cite Scripture to support his contention that we should take a more “live and let live” approach toward those who proclaim a gospel that is at odds with the apostolic gospel. Why not? Because when he opens Scripture he finds (much to his chagrin) that Paul held the same "radical purity" attitude as we do toward those who pervert the gospel of Christ—only with much more intensity and fervor! To criticize us is, a fortiori, to criticize the apostles themselves.

. . . that requires the constant maintenance of a gross inability to recognize its own flaws ("At least we're not as bad as those lepers over there!") combined with a gross hermeneutic of suspicion toward others ("What do you mean the Lutheran Confessions teach 'baptismal regeneration'? By the power of Objective Exegesis, which only my tradition-less self possesses in sufficient purity, I believe I smell the Judaizer heresy! You must not be honestly representing your belief in sola fide!")

Well, we now know what TGE’s attitude is toward attempts to add works to the gospel. He thinks we should take a more charitable and accepting approach, and reserve judgment on it and let others believe it if they want to. What, in contrast, is Paul’s view on this? “Even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 2:8-9). I know how much TGE despises this passage (he constantly refers to it in a mocking way)—nevertheless, there it is in all its glory.

Like the now classic observation by Schweitzer that "quests for the historical Jesus" tell us more about the scholars involved in the quests than about the historical Jesus himself, such statements of "True Gospel Belief" reveal far more about the spiritual states of those who make them than they do about those to whom they are directed. And what is revealed is not at all flattering. Phariseeism isn't made any prettier, or any more acceptable to God, because it Gets Justification Right.

What is truly ironic here is that TGE alludes to Albert Schweitzer’s comments regarding scholars who were (still are) involved in “seeking the historical Jesus.” He made that statement against liberal scholars who were attempting to reconstruct “Jesus,” not based on the biblical record, but rather on what form-critical methodology allowed them to aduce what ultimately turned out to be a truly unhistorical Jesus. TGE does a similar thing as those Schweitzer criticized--not with the "historical Jesus" but with the biblical statements regarding the gospel itself! And he’s right—it does indeed reveal much about him.

Furthermore, if you continue to press your "unbiblical" and "irrational" claims in the "worldly" sphere (The Areopagus) you are also ejected from it, banished to the outer dark fringes of "Christian cultists" who are insufficiently "spiritual" to avoid the egregious error of "disagreeing with Jesus and Paul".

Doesn’t this contradict Tim’s earlier charge that we purposely set up the HR as the realm of light where “purity” dwells and the Areopagus as the realm of darkness where gospel deniers dwell? If that holds true then there should be no banishment from the Areopagus whatever. Tim’s characterization doesn’t reflect reality at all. There are “Christian cultists” who are members of the Areopagus; there are Christians (yes, even of the evangelical "Babtist” variety) in the Areopagus who are not members of the HR; and there are RCs who are members of the HR. What will Tim’s theory do with all this “gnostic” inconsistency?

Just to be clear; The reason Tim was ejected first from the HR and then from the Areopagus was not due to some gnostic-dualistic “light vs. darkness” conflict. The reason he was expelled from both forums was due to his bad behavior, period. He wasn’t able to demonstrate that he could communicate with us by sticking to the point, avoiding sophistry, and ceasing from ad hominem. That was the only reason he is no longer a member.

It is bad enough to get ejected from The Heavenly Realm, but worse still, failure to keep a Real Clear dividing line between Absolute Light and Absolute Darkness (an element of the ancient heresy of Manichaeanism in the "Real Clear Theology") in the public realm too, means that you have surrendered all claims to even being a "rational" human being. The situation that prevails in this Evangelical Star Chamber is thus, what one author has described as "the dark side of absolute truth"--namely, the surreptitious identification of "Truth Itself" with someone's highly mediated Absolute: their Jealous Jahweh, their righteous Allah, their infallible church, their absolute Geist that inevitably speaks German [or "Evangelical"?]. In the name of the Unmediated we are buried in an avalanche of mediations, and sometimes just buried, period. Somehow this absolute always ends up with a particular attachment to some historical, natural language, a particular nation, a particular religion. . . .

Yada, yada, yada. Yet more “flowery metaphors” from the sophist. No such complex explanation is necessary here. The simpler explanation (in keeping with Ockham’s razor) is that Tim simply misbehaved—and he did that badly (who is anti-social again? I keep forgetting). He was a bad addition to our community. We did what any reasonable person who is interested in maintaining a modicum of décor and dignity in the social sanctity of his own living room would do if interrupted by a loud, drunken, boisterous neighbor who quickly overstayed his welcome—we showed him the door. In the view of TGE, the average family man who closes his door on someone intending to pummel his invited guests is nothing more than a “gnostic” who is bent on radical “light/darkness” distinctions and avoiding “yucky matter.” And if TGE would come down from his philosophizing spaceship for just one minute he might see that.