[#] missionary to the curious

It sounds like a comic book or a ComedyCentral sketch.

But that's who I want to be. More later. It's a busy Friday here ...

[#] "next blog" evangelism

Eventually, somebody was going to ask the question, "so what are you talking about, pinhead? One minute you're gabbing (inadequately) about theological stuff, and the next minute you're playing 'next blog' and wishing you were the 'Chris Rock' of internet apologetics."

(That somebody, btw, was not going to be any of you readers who simply don't leave comments. Over 700 unique views since the beginning of March, and you crackers haven't left one meaningful comment. Sheesh. STATS? It's embarrassing.)

Here's what I'm talking about: these things are intimately related. In all that jabbering about orthodoxy, and my limited responses to Tim Enloe about history and scripture and authority and the relevance of small-"c" catholicism, I mean to tell you few who are reading here that there is something in particular that matters which we are supposed to be preaching, as Jesus said, to every living thing.

Now at least one of you out there is thinking, "yeah, but if I start talking about the nuances of the anathema of Paul in Galatians to the avergae blogger, how is that going to win anybody to Christ?" And I think that's a great question, which is particularly framed by the game of "next blog".

See: I have been playing "next blog" for about, well, since I've been blogging, and I've run into a lot of people out there. Dad Gone Mad, Dooce, VeryMom, Brighton, Bitter with Baggage, the Macek Collective, Sarcastic Journalist, and a lot of others who are interesting reads, but -- and as I type this, I realize that they may accidentally be reading this -- they do not know anything about Jesus Christ. They are interesting because I can see the world through their eyes, and such an one of these have I been, and I realize that they need to hear the Gospel because they are lost souls.

Now, some of the people I have linked to on this blog -- like Rusty, and Mark, and even the TELIP-wearing Redgoatboy -- do make an effort to evangelize in real life. But I wonder: what would Rusty do if he ran into Brighton, married mom who is the stripper-by-night, or Bitter with Baggage, who would probably assail him with profanity before he could get to Romans 1? That's not a slam on Rusty: that's pointing out that we-who-blog-for-Jesus are very often so caught up in defending the faith against (ahem) popery and lies that we forget that the most obvious person we need to be worried about is the person who doesn’t care that Joseph Smith was a fraud or that Islam works from a highly-redacted text. The person for whom the Gospel is intended to be preached is the blogging mom who thinks she has to be Carol Brady 24/7 on her own to be a good mom and is suffering for her sickness. It's for all the bloggers who are scatologically-obsessed. It's for the ones who right now have a marriage which is pleasing to them but they are doing things which are destroying the basis of good marriage.

And beginning this week, that's what this blog is going to be about as well. It is important that we have a firm grasp of orthodoxy; it is important that we face the cross at all times with humility and gratitude. But if that's all we do, we have blown it. We have failed our call if we are only honing the point of our theological pencil and not actually writing letters truthfully in love to those for whom the savior died.

I'm staying linked to all the bullfrogs and tadpoles as I love them as brothers in Christ. They are better at the fine art of high theology than I am. Let's see if I can instead be shod with the Gospel of peace, and take it to all the "next blogs" out there in order that some might be saved.

[%] Dr. Svendsen: More on the Gospel

If the pope, the head of the Roman Catholic church, can stand by his statements against Protestantism in Dominus Iesus—in which he states that Protestant denominations are "defective," and that they are not "proper churches"—then why can’t Dobson reciprocate? In his statements defending Mohler during his appearance on Hannity and Colmes, why did he dismiss Mohler’s statement by saying, “He's a Southern Baptist, for Pete's sake. You expect a Southern Baptist to say that he does not honor the pope in the same way the Catholics do. It's a different theology.” Why did he not say instead, “I agree with Mohler’s assessment of Roman Catholic theology. We are evangelicals, for Pete's sake, and evangelicals do not honor the pope, period”?

This is way worth reading.

[%] Dr. Al Mohler: not intimidated

The shape of the evangelical challenge in postmodern America comes down to this--we must be continually on the alert to defend the faith, for the Christian faith now faces unprecedented attacks. The rise of a postmodern culture has produced an intellectual context in which the very concept of truth is held under suspicion, and claims to revealed truth are simply ruled out of order.
Dr. James Dobson was asked to repudiate Dr. Mohler's position on the papacy as "anti-Catholic" -- and he declined (though just barely). This week, Dr. Mohler reissues an old post from his blog to make it clear that there is no compromise if one loves the Gospel, and stands unintimidated by the voices that would demand him to renounce the Gospel for the sake of ... well, whatever it is they are peddling this week.

Nice job, Dr. Mohler. For those of you who missed it, it can be found here.

[$] From one of the Bullfrogs ...

Tim wrote: If you're so big on first century context, why don't you talk about the table fellowship / Gentile inclusion in the covenant context that is right there on the pages of Galatians itself? I see lots of big talk about a "Gospel" that is about "not adding one tiny work to faith", but I don't see anything from you about the issues that jump right off the pages of Galatians,”

While, again, I appreciate the fact that you are at least finally getting into the actual text of Scripture, you say this as though this observation would somehow overturn my thesis. Can you tell me how you think the table fellowship issue in Galatians contradicts my understanding of the issue of the gospel?

Tim wrote: “I don't read everything you write, so it is entirely possible I've missed you discussing such issues as I mentioned. Can you point me to where you have? Thanks.”

My masters thesis was on table fellowship in the NT, and that passage was key.

Oops. Hate when that happens.

[?] For those of you who were worried...

The CT Scan came back "negative", and we're waiting for the blood test to confirm. It looks like what I have is called an infected prostate, which is about as fun as it sounds, and yes: that is way too much information.

Thanks for the prayers and concern.

UPDATED: I am actually scheduled with a specialist, so the good doctor thinks it's more than an infected prostate, apparently. So more prayers, and more concerns. Sheesh.

[@] Who does Paul anathematize (2)

The important thing to remember at this point is that Dr. Owen is trying to make the case that the Judaizers were making radically-different claims than he (Paul) did in proclaiming the Gospel – not esoteric or incremental differences. The choice which Dr. Owen excludes is that an esoteric change can materially change the proclamation of the Gospel in a radical way. In that, I think it is also important to remember that Dr. Owen affirms that we have to make gross errors of Christology or Trinitarian theology to be outside the Gospel. So when we are talking about Dr. Owen’s claim that the Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the law, he is effectually saying that the Judaizers taught a failed Christology – whereas the Roman Catholic church (he says) does not.

In the last part, we covered what Rome teaches regarding the relationship of works to grace, and the omissions Dr. Owen makes when referring to those teachings. But what about these Judaizers? Does Paul tell us they teach a failed Christology in the way Dr. Owen requires? That is to say, do they place no value on the work of Christ and all value on the work of the Law?

It goes back to Paul’s own description of the problem facing the Galatians: “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”, and again, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Whatever those whom Paul places under the curse were doing, they were preaching something that looked like the true Gospel, and they were also trying to please other men. Paul plainly juxtaposes himself against them in relating how he received the Gospel and how he handled hypocrisy even from Peter.

Now think on that: what relevance does Peter have to this false gospel, and the matter of the problem facing the Galatians, if those whom even Dr. Owen calls “Judaizers” are preaching a transparently-false Gospel of the Law only? Was Peter teaching a false Gospel?

This is a key matter in the discussion with Roman Catholics because Peter is allegedly the first Pope at this time. Is Paul here saying that Peter is one of those teaching a false gospel?

I think the answer is “no.” Paul says clearly, “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised,” and underscores that the Gospel has gone out to all people – Jews and gentiles alike. But what, then, do we make of the next passage:
    11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
What Paul is saying here about Peter is to underscore that while he and Peter both received the Gospel from the Lord, Peter apparently bowed to the fear of men in acting rightly relative to the Gospel.

Well, so what? The question is what kind of men Peter was fearing when he was “fearing the circumcision party”. Now think on this: these were men who were affiliated with James, the one (apparently) who wrote the book of James. They came from him. So whatever these people were, they were associated with someone who was gifted to write one book of Scripture, yes? But these men came to Antioch (not Galatia) and started intimidating Peter and Barnabas into obeying dietary laws – rules which they had otherwise abandoned.

Now what did Peter have to fear from “the circumcision party”? Was Peter not circumcised? Of course Peter was circumcised – he was a Jew. What Peter feared, then, was the disapproval of men – that those who came from James would think less of him for living in the liberty allowed to those who are in Christ. But that behavior was “hypocritical” and it caused others to act in the same way.

The upside in this example, of course, is that Peter accepted the correction from Paul – when Paul told Peter, “how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Peter saw the error of his ways and did not force the Gentiles to live as Jews.

So when Paul then says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified,” what is he trying to communicate to the Galatians? Is he trying to say, “The Judaizers, who are preaching all the Law of Moses to you, are preaching a false gospel,” or is he saying “there is no work of the law – no particular item of the law – which you must obey in order to be justified in Jesus Christ”?

Paul is trying to say that if you preach “the Gospel” but add anything to it – circumcision, Passover, Sabbath, 10 commandments, or anything else -- you have violated the Gospel. However, Dr. Owen is trying to take that assertion and turn it into something less radical by claiming that Paul is confronting a more substantial diversion from the Gospel than the matter of circumcision.

In that, those who shamed Peter into reverting to dietary laws (think on that: Peter was the one who received the vision releasing us from the dietary laws, yet he was shamed by men into picking them back up) were teaching something which subverted the Gospel – and in the same way, those who are teaching that the circumcision is necessary are doing the same thing.

Now how do we know that the Judaizers were teaching the circumcision? It is a guess, or an intuition? No: Paul says it clearly in Gal 5: “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” It is the taking on of the circumcision that Paul is opposed to here in particular.

In that, are they preaching a radically-different Christology? Paul seems to think so – because he says accepting the circumcision is itself an act which makes Christ nothing to you. But in that, does Paul say that the Judaizers are preaching a different Gospel whole-cloth? Of course not! He says plainly, before getting to this exclamation – and before making his case in full – that “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”. That is: they are using Christ’s name, or referring to Christ in some way, but are preaching something Paul did not teach in relationship to Christ. They are teaching, as is commonly affirmed about this book, a Christ-Plus gospel, and not a Gospel of Christ alone.

In that, this is a good time to notice Dr. Owen’s response to anticipated objections (3):
I am certainly not the first person to suggest that Paul’s opponents denied the necessity and efficacy of Jesus’ death for justification. Scholars such as Kirsopp Lake, who viewed them as non-Christian Jews, obviously took the view that these teachers did not view Jesus’ death as necessary for justification.
The readers of this blog may hear a bell ringing when Dr. Owen mentions Kirsopp Lake. Prof. Lake was a Harvard Bible scholar in the early 20th century, and he provided us with this quote way back on 2/15/05. Lake’s an interesting fellow because in outlining 3 “kinds” of Christians – the Fundamentalists, the Experimentalists (or Radicals, as he calls them), and the Institutionalists – he numbers himself among the Radicals or Experimentalists who would, in his words, be “forced out of the church”. If Dr. Owen wants to line himself up with a fellow like Kirsopp Lake – who I admit did some great work in assembling and translating ECF documents but found himself unable to affirm orthodoxy with any consistency – then I say so be it. The choosing of one’s allies speaks volumes about one’s trajectory.

More later. Thanks for your patience.

[#] post with no redeeming value (2)

Speaking of prayer, Drudge had this on the front page today. Since I requested prayer in the last post, let me point out that I didn't mean "prayer to a stain on a wall".

However, that article had a very exciting part which I'd like to list here:
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago had not received any requests to authenticate the image as of Monday, spokesman Jim Dwyer said.

"These things don't happen every day," Dwyer said. "Sometimes people ask us to look into it. Most of the time they don't. (The meaning) depends on the individual who sees it. To them, it's real. To them, it reaffirms their faith." {emph added}
Note to Jim Dwyer: Boniface XVI, prior to being made Pope, has said clearly that the greatest enemy of your church today is the ideology of relativism. If you guys are supposed to be teaching the faithful infallibly what the truth is, maybe you better not wait for an invitation to visit this shrine at which people are praying to an image.

It might serve the faithful to know whether or not they are participating in idolatry, don't you think?

[?] post with no redeeming value (1)

For those who are following the thing about Galatians, I am sorry that the next installment is delayed. I had a CT scan yesterday, and it used up my morning, and waiting for the results will use up my today.

I'm up at 6 AM my time today to get a couple of things done around the house before work, and with luck I'll have another post on Galatians up tomorrow.

Anyone who has a minute might lend a prayer about the CT Scan, that the results make me a hypochondriac worrier.

[?] Not a scrap of decency ...

I spend my free time, such as it is, trying to provide some reasonable facsimile of useful chitchat about our faith, and what do I get?

[Hobster] so cent...what's up with the pictures of Arthur all over your blog? (Arthur from The Tick, that is)

Yeah, very funny, Hobster. Where's the link to your blog now? I can't seem to find it ... seems to have been "eaten" by "blogger" ...

... nice friends ...

[@] Who does Paul anathematize (1)

This is a very interesting topic because it is the basis of a very broad set of conflicts involving the relationship of Roman Catholic theology to Protestant theology. Particularly, it has to do with whether there is a basis to disqualify the RC church as an entity which possesses the Gospel and is rightly called Christian.

There is a fellow who finds himself embroiled in this controversy. His name is Dr. Paul Owen. Dr. Owen is an interesting individual because he is actually a pretty smart guy, but he is also a very, um, challenging fellow when it comes to the definition of orthodoxy. (see? You thought I was using that series as a filler)

Dr. Owen takes a pretty broad view of orthodoxy – except, unfortunately, when he is discussing the topic with Baptists. Apparently, because we take a more radical view of the Gospel than he does (and in many respects, the Baptist view of the Gospel is both radical and narrow; for example, we do not accept infant baptisms {that’s “paedobaptism” for you n00bs}), we are schismatics and antagonists. He has gone so far as to suggest from time to time that we are not Christians at all from a confessional standpoint, but he’s not consistent on that point; we can chalk those few moments up to energetic polemics and not hold it against him.

At any rate, he has posted, over at societaschristiana.com a 5-point “response” to the assertion that the Galatian Anthemas do not apply to Roman Catholics. Well, that’s a great topic, and it is interesting reading even if we (you and me) do not agree with him.

For me, the most interesting point he makes is this:
1) The profile of Paul’s opponents in Galatia is a highly contested issue in biblical scholarship. Based upon textual, cultural and historical data, various reconstructions of these opponents have been suggested. They have been viewed as non-Christian Jews, as Judaizing Gentile converts, as Jewish-Christian Gnostics, as politically motivated Jewish Christians from Judea who were bending to Zealot pressures, and as Jewish-Christian nomists. The answer to the question is by no means viewed as settled. This is precisely the sort of situation where new hypotheses are welcomed and to be expected.
See: the interesting thing about this response to an anticipated objection is this: why would Paul say, “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed {grk: anathema estw}” to any of or about any of the 4 groups Dr. Owen lists here? I think there’s a good reason to accurse anyone from the last 3 groups – because they are apparently inside the church but are teaching something which Paul calls “another gospel”. Paul’s strong language says to cast them out, to let them be doomed to destruction.

But let’s think on it a minute: why cast “anathema” on non-Christians – especially Jews? The first class of people Dr. Owen lists are not Christians – and are a group which Paul says elsewhere he would himself be accursed for in order to save them, if it were possible. In Romans Paul says they are blinded to the truth – so if he is here cursing them for teaching in their blindness, why does he have so much sympathy for them when writing in Romans?

So my objection to the first group is simple: it doesn’t make any sense for Paul to anathematize the “false brothers” in the midst of the Galatians if they are Jews – it would be internally inconsistent of Paul to anathematize Jews.

So what about the other 3 groups? I would agree with Dr. Owen that there is a basis to anathematize them. However, there is a greater problem to overcome in dealing with these groups: they are all baptized men and women. They all accepted a Trinitarian baptism, and in that are covenant members – if I understand Dr. Owen’s position on the nature of baptism correctly.

So it doesn’t really matter what “new hypotheses” are proffered if they include those bearing the covenant sign: unless they actively reject proper Christology or proper Trinitarian theology (which seem to be the only bases for rejecting someone as “Christian” in Dr. Owen’s view) – and that in itself is a problematic statement given the epistemological state of both Christology and Trinitarian theology in the Apostolic generation – then they cannot be rightly rejected as Christians. Paul has not basis to anathematize these folks, apparently, if they have not rejected Christ or the Trinitarian Godhead.

Well, the retort might come: of course they reject Christ! Have you not read Gal 5:4, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace”? That is actually an interesting question as Dr. Owen himself makes that claim. Consider his first reason in his brief essay:
1. The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16). Roman Catholics teach that we are justified by faith in Christ (CCC 1991, 1993), and not by the works of the Law (Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, Chapter I, and Canon I).
There are two points to be made in this respect, and the first has to do with what the CCC teaches and Trent both teach. To be clear, Trent itself certainly says this about the matter of faith and works:
CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.
CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.
CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.
But Trent also says this:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
CANON X.-If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.
CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.
Thanks to The History Dept @ Hanover College for listing all the sessions of Trent, btw. By looking at all the canons of Trent, we see that Trent anathematized the view that faith alone justifies, and that “nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification”. Moreover, the CCC says this about justification and “merit”:
2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
With those statements clearly in mind, one has to wonder what point Dr. Owen is trying to make about RC teaching – because if his point is that the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism is very narrow, or very esoteric, then he is simply wrong. He has overlooked the qualifications Rome itself has placed on its view of God’s grace – the qualifications which follow the citations he uses to come to his claim.

Be that as it may, the question is also whether “The Judaizers taught that we are justified by the works of the Law, not by faith in Christ (Galatians 2:16).” Well, certainly Gal 2:16 says, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ”. But why does Paul say that?

More on that in the next update.

[@] Orthodoxy? Does it matter? (3)

In part (2), I refered to a history book which underscore the meaning of orthodoxy in the sense that the earliest church abided by it. (please see my subtle correction in that blog entry, btw) That book, for the record, is Schaff’s History of the Christian Church (which some nitwit called a “secular” source, but he shall remain nameless to curtail controversy), and the primary source Schaff refers to in this case is a document called the the Epistle to Diognetus. I found the full text of the epistle here, and it’s quite a read.

The part most frequently cited on internet sites is Chapter V, also called “The Manners of the Christians”, and I’ll drop it in here for quick reference:
Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
”Yes, yes, “ I can hear the rabble in NJ moaning, “I’ve read it. More ‘good works’ hoo-ha which doesn’t actually make your point, cent. What’s this got to do with orthodoxy?"

In fact, it has everything to do with orthodoxy – because it is not all the author has to say about these “Christians”. A little background on the origin of this letter and its apparent writer and/or intended reader: It was clearly composed during a severe persecution. The manuscript attributed it with other writings to Justin Martyr; but that earnest philosopher and hasty writer was quite incapable of the restrained eloquence, the smooth flow of thought, the limpid clearness of expression, which mark this epistle as one of the most perfect compositions of antiquity. The last two chapters (xi, xii) are florid and obscure, and bear no relation to the rest of the letter. They seem to be a fragment of a homily of later date. The writer of this addition describes himself as a "disciple of the Apostles", and through a misunderstanding of these words the epistle has, since the eighteenth century, been classed with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. (source: Catholic Encyclopedia, so excuse some of the flower stuff)

So in extolling the Christians, this work is certainly an apologetic work. But when it ascribes these amazing works to these Christians, what does it say the basis of this work is and must be? Well, let’s look.

First, it says this about the Jews:
I imagine that you are most desirous of hearing something on this point, that the Christians do not observe the same forms of divine worship as do the Jews. The Jews, then, if they abstain from the kind of service above described, and deem it proper to worship one God as being Lord of all, {are right}; but if they offer Him worship in the way which we have described, they greatly err. For while the Gentiles, by offering such things to those that are destitute of sense and hearing, furnish an example of madness; they, on the other hand by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship. For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him. But those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices {acceptable} to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect,-these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours. (III)
This says in fairly clear terms that trying to appease God with sacrifices – as the Jews have done – is not really any better than offering sacrifices to idols. Why? Because God has no need of anything man can offer: there is nothing man has which God does not already possess, and which man somehow “gives back” to God in a meaningful way that God needs. So whatever the Christians are doing, it is not as a sacrificial offering.

Next we should read this:
I suppose, then, you are sufficiently convinced that the Christians properly abstain from the vanity and error common {to both Jews and Gentiles}, and from the busy-body spirit and vain boasting of the Jews; but you must not hope to learn the mystery of their peculiar mode of worshipping God from any mortal.(IV)
Think on that: the Christian abstain from error, and the reader is warned not to try to learn how to worship God from any mortal.

From whom then should he learn?
For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, {Him who is} the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts.(VII)
So Christians did not learn to act a certain way from each other, or from the Jews, or from the Greeks – they learned it from God Himself who “sent from heaven … the holy and incomprehensible Word”. That’s pretty high talk, I think, coming from a pre-Nicene apologist.

But there’s more:
{God} did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things … As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God37 He sent Him; as to men He sent Him (VII)
So Him who was sent was actually the creator of all things! WOW! Doctrine! And that’s not all:
This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?(VII)
We might debate whether this writer is a 5-pointer or not, but the reality is that he says that Christ was sent, as very God, to save men prior to the coming righteous wrath of God. That’s 100% doctrine – all critical, essential doctrine. But, as we are asking in this monologue, who cares? Does it matter? This writer seems to think so – because he says:
Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation.(VII)
That is to say, what these people are doing is the evidence of God’s power in them. Certainly, this is directly applied to the fact that their numbers grow in spite of persecution, but it is also applied indirectly to their “manners” when it is said that they have learned their way of life directly from God.

But what kind of doctrine is this? Is it a kind of “mere Christianity” that only covers the barest essentials? I think if we stop right here and don’t read another word of the Epistle, we might have to say so. But see what comes next:
For, who of men at all understood before His coming what God is? Do you accept of the vain and silly doctrines of those who are deemed trustworthy philosophers? of whom some said that fire was God, calling that God to which they themselves were by and by to come; and some water; and others some other of the elements formed by God. But if any one of these theories be worthy of approbation, every one of the rest of created things might also be declared to be God. But such declarations are simply the startling and erroneous utterances of deceivers; and no man has either seen Him, or made Him known, but He has revealed Himself. And He has manifested Himself through faith, to which alone it is given to behold God. For God, the Lord and Fashioner of all things, who made all things, and assigned them their several positions, proved Himself not merely a friend of mankind, but also long-suffering [in His dealings with them.] Yea, He was always of such a character, and still is, and will ever be, kind and good, and free from wrath, and true, and the only one who is [absolutely] good; and He formed in His mind a great and unspeakable conception, which He communicated to His Son alone. As long, then, as He held and preserved His own wise counsel in concealment, He appeared to neglect us, and to have no care over us. But after He revealed and laid open, through His beloved Son, the things which had been prepared from the beginning, He conferred every blessing all at once upon us, so that we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active [in His service]. Who of us would ever have expected these things? He was aware, then, of all things in His own mind, along with His Son, according to the relation subsisting between them.
Man! PREACH IT! No man knew anything about God, apparently, until God revealed Christ to men – and that thereafter “we should both share in His benefits, and see and be active”. So whatever we know about God is what causes us to act in worship of God – and among those things is the counsel of God’s will to save us. HUH!

But there is more still:
If you also desire [to possess] this faith, you likewise shall receive first of all the knowledge of the Father. For God has loved mankind, on whose account He made the world, to whom He rendered subject all the things that are in it, to whom He gave reason and understanding, to whom alone He imparted the privilege of looking upwards to Himself, whom He formed after His own image, to whom He sent His only-begotten Son, to whom He has promised a kingdom in heaven, and will give it to those who have loved Him.
Faith is the means of receiving God’s blessings; God made man in His image; God sent the Son and has promised a kingdom to those who have loved Him.

That’s not a “mere” definition of the faith: it’s a thorough definition of the faith – especially when considered in the context of the refutation of the non-Christian entities already denounced by the writer.

And it all comes back to the description of orthodoxy – of the right relationship of man to God. The Christians are described in this letter as having been taught rightly by God through the Son for the sake of acting right in all the things they do – and the content of that teaching is plainly spelled out.

So when we come across a person who says that orthodoxy does not mean we are exclusive about the kinds of people we bring into the house with many mansions, and that it doesn’t matter if we venerate the dead, or that it doesn’t matter through what source we claim to receive the right teaching, you can point back to the right-acting Christians in the letter to Diognetus and ask the question, “how were these Christians defined, and what made them act the way they did?” The answer is a very strong argument in favor of orthodoxy as a standard and not a sliding scale.

[@] Orthodoxy? Does it matter? (2a)

I know I promised a historical source, but I'm side-tracked for a minute here ...

We have a new Pastor at our church (after running about 18 months without one), and yesterday he made a reference to the following part of Galatians 5:
3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. {emph added}(ESV)
”only faith working through love”. It’s like the theme song for the on-going monologue I’m conducting here on the matter of orthodoxy.

Because some people who are on the front line of this dispute have already done a lot to expose the matter of what Galatians means to us as a church today, I’m not going to rehash that. What I am going to say is this: it is not love only which makes one a Christian any more than it is faith only which makes one a Christian.

Note please: I am not denying sola Fide here but underscoring the correct perspective on sola Fide. Certainly: only faith justifies us before God; only the faithful are saved. But the question is: what is faith?

In this passage, faith is described as two things:
(1) the “eager waiting” for the anticipated out come of righteousness by Christ’s work.
(2) the “working out” of that anticipation in acts of love (charity, benefice, or good will.

Without plowing through James 1 & 2 (again), Paul says that the faith which saves is a faith which demonstrates itself. But what is interesting about this description, in our context here of “orthodoxy”, is that Paul makes a very vivid point: accepting the circumcision violates the premise of faith.

So if one accepted the circumcision but then took part in the communal life of the church of Paul’s generation – sharing all things with one another, etc. – by Paul’s description, that person is not providing faith working through love: that person is demonstrating his reliance on the Law.

There are two forks to this assertion I want to follow as we go forward. The first one is obvious: “What is the definition of orthodoxy in Paul’s view?” The second is not so obvious, and it may draw some heat from people who I respect and admire, and perhaps for others who are not so much: what does this view say about baptism in relation to the matter of the covenant by which the elect are saved? In other words, can baptism possibly be a covenant sign like circumcision if what Paul says here is true and nothing but faith (worked out in love) is of any consequence in Christ?

[#] More on "merciless beatings" ... ?

I was at my son's gymnastic class on Friday, and in the parental viewing room (the place where we can watch our kids without them watching us) was the April 11 U.S. News & World Report. In the cover was John Paul II, and I think it's the best portrait of JPII I have seen because it captures this man as I saw him -- real, pragmatic, and kind.

I know some people don't expect that sort of language from me about this fellow, but I don't remember asking them for an opinion. My original post on the death of Karl Wojtyla said the same thing in different words if you actually read what I wrote.

At any rate, in the potpourri of articles on JPII is a piece called "Admirers and Doubters". The admirers of JPII say the things you'd expect -- like "He was a man of principle", and that he "weeded out" the "lite brigades" inside Catholicism, "{making} the church much stronger". What is interesting is that US News also had the audacity to say this in the week after JPII's death:
Among those who disagree is Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, former editor of the lay Catholic bi-weekly Commonweal. Thought the pope called for equal treatment of women in the workplace, she says, "it didn't help matters much within the church." In Brazil, for instance, as the official church became increasingly conservative and because it did not deal openly with violence against women, child support, and sexually transmitted diseases, even devout women claim they are "a different part of the church," says Maria José Rosado-Nunes, a professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo. And in his book Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit, historian Garry Wills observes that many people "suspect that John Paul's real legacy to his church is a gay priesthood." Says Steinfels: "He's done some wonderful things, but he will have a lot to answer for."
I could probably blog another 500 words on this statement, but I'm going to leave it at this: how has a statement like this in US News gone unnoticed -- and unvillified -- when the statements of Eric Svendsen and james White have become flashpoints of dispute. Aren't these statements a lot more "unkind" and a LOT more "hateful" -- more like a "merciless beating" -- than pointing out that JPII had a particular kind of devotion to Mary?

[@] Orthodoxy? Does it matter? (2)

But seriously now: who cares? I mean, when you get right down to it (to paraphrase a Christian retail icon), all that really matters is Jesus, right? Pope John Paul II, as the slogan has been repeated very often in many camps in the last week, may have had some “significant theological differences” (cf. James Dobson) with “Protestants” (that word in itself should be two blog entries under this topic header), but he vouched for Jesus, right? He was out there putting the shoe leather on the Gospel by standing up for human rights, and the value of human life, and the propriety and importance of heterosexual marriage, so he’s a hero of the faith.

Right? I’m not the only one who read that, was I? I’m not the only one who heard people preaching and teaching and commentating that I hope.

Now look: if someone wants to start up the baptism debate (paedo or credo, and instrumentality) at this point to close the matter that JPII was a Christian, I’m in. I’ll be glad to advocate my view of that matter over and against anyone who wants to bring it. But think about this: that is itself clearly a matter of orthodoxy. Some, like Doug Wilson, advocate that even if you don’t buy that baptism in covenant membership, a proper baptism “sticks” and you are inside the covenant with covenant membership requirements; in fact, Wilson says that the covenant is the basis of criticizing the Pope (for example) for some matter of theological monkey business.

Others, who we have encountered on this blog, are not so charitable. Some have said that anyone discounting baptism as “just a sign” are denigrating it to the place where it means nothing at all because that definition is a subjective one. In that, they advocate that those who take this view of baptism are “Gnostics” who demand a “special knowledge” that saves. And in that, we are back to the matter of “orthodoxy”: is it orthodox not to agree that baptism has necessary salvific implications?

But that’s all blogospheric stuff, right? I mean: you don’t talk to the guy who’s an atheist at the coffee shop about the esoteric definition of baptism – you talk to him about the simple formulas of grace and mercy and forgiveness (and if you’re really clever, you get “sin” and “redemption” in there, too, and if he receives the message you tell him that we get baptized). And most importantly, you’re out there doing something about grace and mercy and redemption – like getting a cup of cold water for a thirsty man, or feeding the starving, or building houses for the homeless.

Isn’t doing that “stuff” the real Gospel? The Gospels are clear that those who have done these things to the least of Christ’s brothers have done it for Him, and are rewarded. The book of Titus is hard-on about the faithful doing the works of righteousness. So unless you’re out there in the thick of public ministry, whatever you think you have is not actually a fully-orbed Gospel. Right?

For the old-timers to my blog, you might remember that Tony Campolo sure thought so – that the American church is completely vacant on the matter of aiding the poor both from a ministerial and a political perspective. (A claim, btw, that I would love to blog about in the future because of its lack of substance) Brian McLaren’s liner notes to Campolo’s book make it clear that he thinks so, too. But let’s not lose sight of something here: this explanation or criticism is, again, centered on the matter of orthodoxy – in this case, orthodox practice as opposed to orthodox theological brainstorming.

If that is true, how can anybody complain about the matter of whether the debate over orthodoxy is either valuable/profitable or necessary? For example, as I was driving to lunch today, my Christian radio station – the one my bookstore advertises on – was playing a public service announcement equivalent to saying, “can’t we all just get along?” The message was saying that denominations who are willing to make a stand on doctrinal issues are denominations that are dividing the church, and that’s not what Christ wants for us.

What? Are they saying, “If you take a public doctrinal stand, you’re violating a doctrinal principle?” Isn’t that taking a doctrinal stand – a stand against taking doctrinal stands? It’s the classic self-defeating logic of the “tolerant”: to object to some viewpoint on the basis of its lack of tolerance is, itself, a lack of tolerance – and can therefore be used to subvert the objection.

The truth is that orthodoxy matters to everyone who has a stake in the Christian life – even those who take marginal views, or what we might call heretical views, or even those who claim they just want Jesus Jesus Jesus. Orthodoxy is the essential fact that there is this Jesus who said some things and did some things that matter to us in some way – and orthodoxy is, unfortunately for many people, the specific and true fillings-in of “some things” and “some way”.

And at the most practical level, it matters in the definition of what is and is not orthodox practice. That was my point before I got sidetracked to the radio and McLaren and Campolo: orthodoxy matters most specifically in the matter of practice because right action begins with right motives and right premises.

So when Bill Gates – who is in the best case agnostic on matters of religion – donates $1 billion for the education of children world-wide (quick math fact: at today’s college tuition, Gates’ $1 billion could only put 10,000 kids through college in the US), he’s done a nice moral thing, yes? Very selfless, apparently. But does it advance the Gospel? Of course not – because Bill’s not a Christian.

So if Bill Gates’ $1 billion isn’t spreading the Gospel – because it has no relationship to the Gospel – we have the rough and ready rule: it has to have the Gospel to be the Gospel. So the atheists who work in soup kitchens (where are they, by the way? Trot them out – I’d be interested in meeting them), the Mormons who are building hospitals and schools, the Hindus who are doctors, the Buddhists who are protesting Communism: these are not heroes of the Christian faith. We might admire their daring-do, but we cannot call them Christian heroes.

And that brings us to the real point of this serious, which we will come back to again and again: what acts are Christian, and how do we know it?

I have an answer from a secular history book for the next installment, and it is certain to raise somebody’s hackles.
EDITORIAL UPDATE: It happens EVERY TIME I do it, but I always FORGET that it happens until it happens again. The "secular history book" is not actually "secular", and I admit that calling it such was my own fault -- because I took someone else's word for it. Never EVER take someone else's "word for it" when you're citing a source.

I am a victim of my own pet-peeve about blogging today -- which is the lack of editorial supervision. Anyone who was half an editor would have said, "cent: read the source before you tease for it so you describe it correctly," but I didn't say it to me.

Thus, for you, my faithful blog readers, I have to apologize and revise that teaser to this:

And that brings us to the real point of this serious, which we will come back to again and again: what acts are Christian, and how do we know it?

I have an answer from a history book for the next installment, and it is certain to raise somebody’s hackles.

It was a careless mistake, and I should know better than to trust a non-adademic secondary source to cite his sources properly. Please stay tuned.

[@] Orthodoxy? Does it Matter? (1)

In my experience, it always comes back to this question: "Does Orthodoxy matter in the life of the Christian?" "It", in this case, is any discussion in which the name of Jesus Christ is used to advance an agenda.

Let me clear something up before I go on here: having an "agenda" is not a bad thing. Anyone who has ever been in a meeting knows that an agenda keeps the meeting from lasting forever and also keeps the meeting facing some goal. Listen: I know that a lot of people frequently use the word "agenda" to mean "an underlying often ideological plan or program", and intend it to imply some evil motive. I don't intend it that way. When I say, in this series, that someone has an agenda, simply read it to mean that I think this person does what they are doing intentionally. That is to say, they have thought about what they are doing and choose to do it for specific reasons.

God willing, we should all have an agenda. God willing, we all have the right agenda. Don't get all squirrelly because I say someone has an agenda.

So in any discussion where someone is using an agenda and part of that agenda is "Jesus Christ" -- either as an end or as a means -- I wonder if everyone considers the complex matter of Orthodoxy? I ask this because when this matter comes up, it seems like it always causes a wicked stir. For example, someone might say, "I admire the Pope as a Christian leader of historic proportions," and someone else might ask, "I am unaware that praying to Mary 'Possess my soul, Take over my entire personality and life, replace it with Yourself, Incline me to constant adoration, Pray in me and through me, Let me live in you and keep me in this union always,’ was actually 'Christian'. What do you mean by 'Christian'?"

Now think on this: it's not saying that this Pope did nothing of any geopolitical "good". The question being posed is one of orthodoxy, in the same way, for example, that the men at Nicea posed the question of orthodoxy to Arius. The question is not a matter of political usefulness or even humanitarian usefulness. The question is whether the Gospel is being preached when these things were done.

What I have read in the last week or so is this: apparently, that question is irrelevant -- or perhaps it is actually the wrong question to ask at all because of other mitigating factors. Some advocate that there is no right way to determine orthodoxy because of the state of the church; others advocate that the demand for orthodoxy is itself a flawed pursuit because it is abstracted from the good works in evidence. In that, we should be able to call John Paul II, and Bono, and Mother Theresa, and Johnny Cash, and the Apostle Paul all "heroes of the faith" because their work was done in some relationship to the name of Jesus.

Yet it never fails to upset the advocates of this position when one asks anyway, "well, I happen to personally know a fellow who spent 2 years in South America as a missionary building hospitals and teaching school to children -- but he was a missionary for the Latter Day Saints. Is he a Christian hero also?" After you sort through all the hyperbolic rhetoric that comes back, you find the retort, "oh heavens -- he's not even a Trinitarian. That's a stupid example." And that even coming from former Mormons who have rejected the LDS as a false gospel.

Somehow those who will reply in that way simply cannot see the matters of orthodoxy at stake. I would actually agree that being non-Trinitarian (like a one-ness advocate, or a Mormon) excludes one from Orthodoxy -- which is my point in asking the question. What it underscores, however, is the larger issue that the Trinity is not the only matter of orthodoxy. If one is outside the faith for rejecting the Trinity, can't one be outside the faith for adding Mary, de facto via prayers to her that ask her to do the work of the Holy Spirit, to the Trinity? What about worshipping the Eucharist as God? Or for that matter, what about changing Jesus' declaration "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me," to mean that anyone who says he worships the God of Abraham must by implication be brought there through Christ -- even if he explicitly rejects Christ? What if someone was doing all of the above?

All of these questions are matters of orthodoxy -- that is, matters of what is and is not "the Gospel", what is and is not the Good News of Jesus Christ. So if someone finds the cure for cancer and gives it away for free, and dies a beggar for doing so, he may have done something historically exceptional. If someone takes a high-profile stand that flies in the face of both Capitalism and Socialism but it is actually the right moral stand, Amen. But let's not confuse that with Christianity -- which is discipleship to Christ for the sake of the cross and the Gospel.

To be a disciple of Christ for the sake of the Cross and the Gospel means that we are actually referring to "Christ", "cross", and "Gospel" which are the ones which do all the cool things we say they do. If we say "cross" and we mean a piece of jewelry, or "Gospel" and we mean a kind of campy folk music, there is no question orthodoxy matters. But Orthodoxy does not lose its importance in the first standard deviation from truth, and in fact becomes more critical as we work out to 5 and 6 Sigma.

I'm not trying to draw a small circle here -- because, to belabor my 6-sigma analogy, the best quality system produces the most number of parts inside the 6-sigma quality set -- but to say that when we stop thinking about the nature of orthodoxy, we start walking away from it for no good reason. Yes: orthodoxy matters and it should matter all the time to you for your own sake.

[#] a different "wet" controversy

I was discussing the matter of baptism with a fellow last night and early this morning, and I thought my last post to him would be useful in the blogspace. I am sure that most of you know (or know about) Tim Enloe. Whatever you do in reading this post, please pray for his upcoming marriage and for his wife-to-be.

Tim said:
OIC, Paul mentioned White and Svendsen. But you didn't, and neither did I.
Dr. Owen’s context is, as is his method of operation, to position himself against "Baptists" in general and Dr. White in particular. "His position", which you refer to, is made plain over against the position Drs. White and Svendsen advocate by his own words. They are part of the discussion as context – a context Dr. Owen selected.

Tim said:
The way you {lined out White’s view}, if it correctly describes his view, means that Baptism can only be a subjective thing, and that it can only get its validity from the objective thing, namely, to borrow from you, "the Gospel" defined in the explicitly propositional manner that you mentioned and lacking any serious practical distortions such as the ones you mentioned.
I give you credit for always saying things in a way that makes me engage the brain before trying to reply. I’d offer the following two points in reply:

(A) I did say there is an objective basis for the salvation of the individual – however, I did not say that this "objective thing" was "the Gospel". As I wrote the 5-point outline of Dr. White’s position, I was thinking that the objective thing was Jesus Christ. The description of Jesus Christ and His work which we receive in Scripture would, technically, be "the Gospel". The basis of the Gospel is Jesus Christ. Because we are again splitting some fine theological hairs, I leave this open to Dr. White’s correction.

(B) In that situation, you might call baptism a "subjective" thing – but only in the sense that it is derivative of Jesus Christ. The text of the book of John (as an example) is also derivative of Jesus Christ. You might then call it a "subjective" thing, but it is subjective not because it can mean anything to anybody but because it requires a context for validity. Jesus Christ does not require a context but in fact provides the context for all things.

That all said, Baptism may be a "subjective" thing – but it is not a meaningless thing. I think you here make the kind of mistake that you say the folks in my camp make all the time – which is to be trapped in the paradigm "Objective=good, subjective=pomo/bad".

Tim said:
Hence, the reason White so strenuously denies the validity of RC baptism is because the RCC "denies the Gospel", and thus, has merely a subjective ritual that means nothing in any meaningful "Christian" sense.
Does a baptism on a movie set for the movie narrative count, Tim? What if the person doing the baptizing is himself a right-minded trinitarian? That’s a great example of the fact that even in your view, baptism itself requires a specific context to be valid – that it is derivative of a context. The only question is "which context"?

For you, it is "church" in the sense of all the people baptized into the covenant, without regard to the kind of leadership that particular body might have – which is an effort in itself to avoid the docetist error, yes? The effectiveness of the sacrament does not rely on the moral purity of the provider of the sacrament? If that’s the case, there is a very hard problem that the Mormon may actually have a valid baptism – because even though the baptizer says that God is a spiritually-evolved man and Christ is the same thing, he baptizes into Jesus Christ.

Of course, the right objection to this comment is, "they are baptizing into the wrong Christ, Frank." And I would agree with you: the Mormon baptism is not a baptism at all because it baptizes into some other creature besides Christ.

And that leads to the place where Dr. White and Pastor Wilson got to last fall: do Catholics baptize into Christ or not, and is baptism credo or paedo? Tim: the only way we can know into whom the Catholic baptize is by reading what they teach – just like with the Mormon. And if the Catholic doctrines of Christ and Mary have corrupted Christology (I suggest you read CCC sections 963-970 for quite the eyeful), then they do not have a valid basis for baptizing in the same way that the Mormon does not have a valid basis for baptizing.

So whether credo or paedo is valid, the essential question is "what kind of church can validly baptize?" It is certainly a matter of context, and in that respect it is certainly subjective, which is to say derivative of the objective basis for salvation.

Tim said:
If you've described his view correctly, then I think my statement which you questioned would be an accurate inference from his view. But perhaps he'd like to challenge that.
This is the most important part of this reply, Tim: it may be a logically-valid inference, but it is not one which Dr. White either endorses or countenances. It is impossible to find him musing or considering that Baptism is "meaningless" unless he says "meaningless without the Gospel of Jesus Christ" or "meaningless without faith", which is exactly the same position Calvin took.

You can’t find it in his work. It doesn’t exist. And here’s what’s most important about that: while you have inferred this conclusion from his premises, you have made an error in the use of the word "subjective" in doing so. "Subjective" can certainly mean "having no fixed basis", but it can also mean "having only a relative basis; being something which is not meaningful without context". It is only in that sense that "subjective" can be used to describe the Baptist view which Dr. White advocates.

[?] Substanceless entry from the Weekend (2)

Man. I didn’t realize I was such an addictive personality. That’s wrong.

Not as wrong, however, as the video in the Alpha Omega Publications booth. (no relationship to James White, even though they publish from Arizona and are allegedly Christian publishers; I haven’t carded their doctrines of justification or their enslavement to modernity yet, so as an upstanding Baptist I reserve the right to revise my remarks)

They are pushing this new video set by Thomas Wretched Kinkade for art instruction. You have to understand something: I grew up watching that German guy on PBS rendering oil paintings until Bob Ross took over, at which point the 70’s neo-taoist serenity drove me to atheism and alcohol. (oh wait: that was Catholicism; Bob Ross was really funny to watch drunk, and even better to watch hung-over – and for the kids at home, that’s sinful so avoid Bob Ross) So I have seen hours of “technique” lectures by the most dreary, artless droners-on in the history of the planet. I have a point of reference.

I’ll hand it to Kinkade: he has good presentation skills. Conversational delivery; good modulation; he mixes up the tempo. The problem is the topic. Roosters and dragons? How many Kinkade paintings have roosters and dragons in them? It’s like the worst false appeal to authority ever. He might as well be lecturing on comic book art – which is something I’d enjoy as a premise, but what’s he know about it? Can anyone imagine the FF or Captain America rendered by Kinkade? Please: don’t make me sick.

Part of my problem may be that at my “day job”, Kinkade is a premium product line that requires a lot of attention, and frankly I don’t get it. Kinkade? ANOTHER house? Another HOUSE? ANOTHER HOUSE? Hey: you can only say it 3 different ways without switching languages . C’mon: it’s the kind of art that sells at those “starving artists” sales at the Holiday Inn. The Dogs playing Poker on Velvet makes a LOT more sense to me than Kinkade. Kinkade … geez, there’s just nothing there.

It’s like listening to Howard Dean lecture on subtle rhetoric. Who can believe it?

I was going to riff on Homeschool kids, too, but somebody might read this blog and put 2-and-2 together and that’d be the end of my poor little bookstore. “Kingdom Bound? That’s the bookstore run by the guy who called my kid a monkey on his blog. I’m not going to shop there.” And no, your kid is not a monkey. You don’t even believe in evolution, so what exactly are you getting so upset about?

[?] Worthless Entry from the weekend (1)

I think I have a problem …

See: I’m at a homeschool curriculum sale right now, and I’m selling a LOT of stuff – so far, I have WAY more transactions than last year – like 10 times more. I attribute it to marketing genius, but the reality is that I pwn’d the other store that carries our homeschool catalog by getting one of three booths immediately behind the registration desk. For them that’s a really bad thing because the other real coup this year was that the curriculum fair is taking place at a church 2500 feet from my store, and everyone who comes to the fair had to drive past my billboard-like store front on their way in, realizing that they can get the stuff they’ve been mail-ordering from him right here from me. Christian love and all that, but trinkets is trinkets.

So we’re killing here, and I am inhumanely busy – in part because of all the people, in part because I’m using a home-made cash register (read: EXCEL spreadsheet and inkjet printer) that is slowing down the cashout (still have to record everything we sell, but there’s no scan gun), in part because I’m having to phone in all my CC transactions, but in part because …

… I can’t help myself. I have to blog. I think about my blog all the time. I think about the things I can say about Locke’s failure to stay inside Christian metaphysical premises that bankrupt his epistemological conclusions; I think about cryptic things I can say so the readers from #prosapologian will get a laugh (like this: the guy in the booth next to me is like the evil eugenics experimental cross between ENielsen and unicalman: 50 kids, a complete tech geek, looks like a bodyguard in a suit, and has a beautiful singing voice); I think about what I am missing in the blogosphere – what controversies, what silly things … I think about what Art Sippo is not going to say in response to my posts at Envoy’s forums. I think about how a church the size of the one we’re having this little educational opportunity at that is attempting to appeal to the “emergent” thing does not have wireless service – I mean, how relevant is that?

But here’s the really sick thing: I’m ignoring customers to blog today (Friday), even though I can’t post this until Sunday or Monday. Is that really a good idea? I mean, on the one hand, you all know how important you are to me. If I stop posting, won’t the hits to the site go down? Stats anyone?

On the other hand, feed the kids much, Dad? Responsible adult? I’m sick! I’d rather blog than sell books? When did that happen?

Is there a 12-step program? How often does it update? Is it hosted by blogger.com (read: I am SO SICK of the bottle neck at blogger between 2 PM and 6 PM CT, without any regard for the kind of obviously-cheap jerk it makes me to be mad at them for not giving a hoot about the bandwidth problems of the unpaid plebians), or is it hosted by a paid service? Do I have to pay for the treatment – because you know exactly how much I’m willing to pay for that kind of thing – or is it sponsored by a church so I can do 40 days of recovery?

Man. I didn’t realize I was such an addictive personality. That’s wrong.

[$] Substanceless Monday Post

There is nothing worse than 5 days off from blogging and not having a thing to say except, "MY BACK IS KILLING ME!"

I actually have a series of posts which are non-theological in nature about this weekend, but I can't get my laptop to dock at work. That, and the fact that Blogger is now on my list of things to revile, is leaving me without a decent Monday Blog.

So how about this: I am off to the Chiro-practicioner this afternoon to hear him spout more info-mercial pseudo-science about my high cholesterol and my aching spine. If he didn't have that little machine which feels like fingers of iron in a velvet glove that works the tension out of the L5 region of my lower back, I'd never go back there.

I don't really mind dropping $50 for a great lower-back massage: I just hate listening to him blather on. Hey "Doc": you really think that I should stop taking the Lipitor in favor of megadoses of B-complex? Can I get that in writing so when I drop dead at 50 from clogged arteries my wife get all the money I have given you back?

No? OK: then just plug in the electro-back-fixer-upper and let me get back to work safely and in less pain.

UPDATED: It is definitely worth the $50 when he doesn't assail me with alternative medicine. Today he just plugged me in and went out until the timer "ding'd". Maybe he's reading my blog and got the message -- so Blogger actually wins points today. Thanks Blogger!

[?] I'm Hit! I'm Hit!

What I'm hit by is the number of hits the blog is getting. I'm pleased some people find it useful, or entertaining, or whatever.

I am also upgrading the look of the blog with some minor tweaks -- like the "blockquote" design for the sake of people who have not updated their glasses' 'scrip'.

I am refreshing my reading of Locke for the sake of answering the question, "Did Locke maintain christian presuppositions", and I am also reading a book about the critical practice of Jesus to the OT Scriptures from an orthodox Jew. So lots of love coming in the near future.

If I don't post anything in the next few days, it is because I have a Homeschool curriculum sale I have to man for the bookstore. I haven't forgotten about you -- I just have to feed my kids.

[#] A Merciless Beating ( ? ? ? )

I came across this statement on the comments of a blog whose name must not be spoken:

The stark insensitivity to basic human compassion that is produced by this utterly radicalized "timeless truth" version of justification by faith alone, where "Good News" supposedly consists of mercilessly beating other image-bearers over the head with abstract, impersonal Doctrinal Propositions and congratulating oneselves for superior fidelity to "Truth", is not even remotely close to the position and spirit of the Protestant Reformers. Combined with a failure to appreciate the very good things that John Paul II did—things which only someone in the pope's position of cultural visibility could have accomplished—it is a gross discredit to the Protestant cause today. {Emph added}

Now here's what I have no intention of doing: I have no intention of paging through thousands of leaves of reformation treatises to find all the places where guys like Luther, Knox, Calvin, Zwingli, and all the rest were spending time "mercilessly beating other image bearers" over "Doctrinal Propositions". That's a futile piece of work becuase it doesn't matter how many citations one provides, one is always subject to the great contextual retort: "you are trapped in your ignorance of modernity".

So what's the right response? Ignore such a thing? Go out and research the fact that everyone I know who has taken the stand that John Paul II was, in the best case, totally devoted to Mary also noted that he was also one of the most influential political figures in 20th century history? Why bother with that either -- because apparently unless one says he was a "Christian political leader", one is a bigot or some kind of intellectual ruffian who hands out "mericless beatings".

So here's my take on the matter of "mercilessly beating other image bearers" with "doctrinal propositions", and whether that is "close to the position and spirit of the Protestant Reformers". I have a citation from the person who penned those words on the matter of what happened to the Protestants, and what they themselves did with that action:

I think that we need a new Council to revisit the issues that are in dispute between Rome and the Reformation--a Council made up not mostly of a bunch of hotheaded radicals (Trent) who in turn are viciously excoriated by their radically unjustly accused victims (the Reformers) so that a great big huge cycle of Mutually Assured Destruction gets started again, but instead a Council made up of calmer folks from both sides, folks dedicated to not automatically thinking the worst of each other and commited to actually hammering out an agreement, if possible, that each will pledge to live by. This doesn't fit the typical war-monger approach of either side, obviously, but look where the war-mongers have gotten us. Maybe it's time to put them out to pasture and let cooler heads prevail.

What is remarkable about this statement is that, in the first place, it is not even "cold" in terms of when it was authored -- the writer dropped it into the bandwidth last week. In the second place, it makes a confession that cannot be reconciled against the accusation being made this week: the Protestant reformers were, in that author's opinion, "radically unjustly accused" by "a bunch of hothead radicals". What he is saying is that there is no way to justify what was said at Trent in the context it was said, and that those who recognized they were being treated wrongly had a "radically" just case to offer in objection. In that, the essential separation between Rome and the Protestant advocates is clear: the latter is crying out against the injustice of the former, and the former is having none of it.

In that, there is no "merciless beating" coming forth -- unless one looks at the rhetoric coming from (who could guess it?) the folks who hold up Trent as infallible and binding. Go ahead and call this polemicizing. The problem is that it comes from the exact "position and spirt" of the Protestant reformers -- which is the spirit of men who were radically betrayed by Rome.

[*] 3 of 3: Who was Jesus?

The series got interrupted by the death of the Roman Catholic Pope, and the irony, I think, is that the controversies that are in evidence in the blogosphere and also in the forum-o-sphere over John Paul II are directly related to this question of "who was Jesus?" The amusing part of the controversies, really, is that those who are banning dissenting voices and shutting down their forums are the ones accusing others of "hatred" -- when there's nothing hateful about pointing out matters of historical fact.

And that's Wright's overall point in "Who was Jesus?", isn't it. The matters of historical fact ought to be the trusted ally of the person faithful in Christ. But those matters of fact, in Wright's summary of what we can know about this Jesus, are something played on a very grand scale. He says:
    The strange thing about Jesus' announcement of the Kingdom of God was that he managed both to claim that he was fulfilling the old prophecies, the old hopes, of Israel and to do so in a way which radically subverted them. The Kingdom of God is here, he seemed to be saying, but it's not like you thought it was going to be. (98)
Well, great. This sounds like someone some of the readers of this blog are familiar with -- who says that if we read Scripture the "right" way, we are going to find that we have got a lot of things wrong. ("we" being Protestants who will not give quarter to Rome, particularly "Baptists" who also have problems with a lot of more-magisterial forms of Protestantism)

But is that the implication Wright is making here? He may make it elsewhere, but not at all in this place -- because Wright's point ultimately is that the Jewishness of Jesus advanced something he calls "double revolution". Here he does not draw out the conclusion that this or that soteriological doctrine has contextual problems, but instead points out that radical redefinitions of Jesus have problems in the context of the historical setting.

Let me be clear here that I am sure none of the advocates that I list in my links "for reference only" are advocates of radical redefinitions of Christ in the sense of the three "popular" revisionist histories Wright refutes in this book. Whatever problems I have with them, it is not that I think they trash Jesus personally or christologically.

That said, Wright is pointing out that the facts surrounding the person of Jesus indicate that he intended to do, and ultimately accomplished what he intended, something which was not only radical and world-changing externally (in fulfillment of the Jewish expectations), but also internally, so as to overturn the expectations that the Jews themselves had regarding their own slice of the pie, so to speak.

There are dramatic implications to this perspective on the historical Jesus -- and one of them relates to a topic near and dear to my theological heart: semper reformata. The Jesus who was working to overturn the external forces of oppression of the Jewish people (summarized in the slogan, "There is no King but God" -- which, ironically, is not a slogan of Jesus) was also the Jesus who was working to overturn the internal forces of Jewish culture (which certainly would have set all other nations as second class) by doing something which would (apparently) draw all men to himself. That is to say, as much as Jesus was working to liberate the Jews from Roman transgressions, he was also working to liberate the Jews from the notion that God was only for them.

Some may say to that: Huh! Antisemitism! To those I say: read Wright's book rather than rail on about my summary.

Others will say: what does that have to do with "semper reformata"? It has everything to do with the idea of the church always being vigilant to reform itself. In the first place, Jesus' view of His work was not monochromatically "theological" in the sense that it fulfilled certain propositions related to beliefs about God. Jesus saw His work as historical in the sense that is was action inside history and time. It was work that was intended to be done in the (excuse the modernity) metanarrative of God's plan for the world -- that is, the larger "societas". But it was also work done explicitly for the sake of the nation of Israel -- which is to say, for the sake of the particular "societas".

In the second place, inside that more particular work, the question for us as Christians reading Wright -- and we cannot stop at this text if we are to search out Wright's broader themes -- is what kind of work was Jesus doing in particular? Was it merely reconciliation of Jew to Gentile through an act of social revolt? How can we say that when a central matter for Wright is that the tomb was empty -- that Jesus actually conquered death? At the same time, can we limit or over-emphasize the empty tomb strictly to the work of mending the relationship of God and man, making the resurrection consequential in temporal matters, but overwhelming those with the eternal significance of that one sacrifice that perfects for all time? How is that right when Jesus consistently preached a Kingdom of the here and now, a Kingdom which had immediate consequences for a man and his neighbor?

I think one clear implication of Wright's short work is that the matter of Christ in society is a matter of complete and radically immediate reform -- that no societal construct is itself sacrosanct. Rome was certainly not Jesus' idea of a finished, God-centered society; it turns out, however, that neither was Israel. If that is the case, why should we assume that the society formed by the first generation of followers of Christ was itself sacrosanct? Or the society formed as the generations progressed? Why would the society in the 4th century be exempt from reform? Or the 8th? Or the 12th? Or the 16th? Or the 21st?

I do not have the rest of Wright's "stuff" yet, so we're not done with him. I agree that Christ is the one who changes the whole world, but I think the matter really comes down to "to what end?" and "by what means?" This will be an on-going topic on this blog because it seems to be important for some of the dissenting voices one encounters.

[#] The matter of Authority (3 Q's)

    OK: you and I can agree that the Faith – which is to say, the common ground upon which the church rests; the basis for the great cloud of witnesses – is not idiosyncratically subjective and does not manifest itself uniquely every time someone receives the second birth.
    Yet, you and I still disagree (I think). Here are questions that indicate why:
    (1) If we admit that the ordinary method of resolution is conciliar, on what basis are you and I (neither of us are ministers in the sense the WCF uses, yes?) valid advocates for either side of a doctrinal debate?
I never claimed to be a minister. I'm talking as a layman, and mostly to other laymen. I do think that laymen should have some kind of representation in Church councils--that was one thing that was heavily debated in some of the fifteenth century councils, and throughout the fifteenth and into the Reformation period it helped give rise to what I think has to be called a true recovery of the biblical doctrine of the "priesthood of all believers" as over against the essentially Gospel-denying "special ontological caste" notion of priesthood, or even the more general notion that only special "doctors" have any right to speak on disputed issues. As an individual, I don't have the right to speak ministerially for the Church, but that doesn't entail that all I can do is simply be a cog in a machine, either.
OK: that doesn’t answer the question, but I’ll admit to fallibility in the asking of the question. In this discussion, which is not just between you and I but between larger parties of advocates, who cares what you think or what I think? For example, what right or basis does Perry have to call anyone a “Gnostic”? If I agree that the problem is not either “he’s a magisterial advocate” or “he’s just some loudmouth” (sorry, Perry), I want you to define for this discussion on what basis you or I or Perry are more than clanging gongs.

Keep this in mind: if your answer is “priesthood of the believer”, superficially we agree. But I think it needs more fleshing out. I don’t think you and I are saying the same thing when we say those words, and if we are, you have some explaining to do (for my sake) in your views below.

    (2) Let’s accept for a second the premise that you and Pastor Wilson put forward – that all those who have Trinitarian baptism are rightly named inside the covenant. That is, they will know we are Christians by our baptism. Given that the WCF does not anathematize anybody, but Trent does, on what basis should I (the individual believer) be convinced that the WCF offers a valid correction of Trent so that I may personally follow the magisterial authority which represents the church?
What an incredibly complicated question.
Yes. I knew that when I asked it, and I appreciate you seeing the complexity.
The major problem with this is that it simply repeats standard Protestant polemicizing about the Council of Trent --
What I do not appreciate is being labeled (again) as “polemicizing” about Trent. My question was not “why was Trent bad and the WCF good?” My question was that we have two statements of conflicting doctrine all made (for the sake of this discussion) by men inside the covenant and of some degree of conciliar (which does not say “ecumenical”) authority. They are both exercising, to some degree if not the final degree, the “ordinary” method of resolving theological disputes.

Here I am, just Frank, guy with a bookstore who just lost his daytime help, and I have Trent in one hand and WCF in the other. They do not agree. Now think on this: you and I agree that the word “faith” in both documents does not mean exactly the same thing – but even in that context, the documents cannot be reconciled meaningfully. There is no basis for harmonization – the semantic issue, in fact, may be a fatal matter for ever reaching a conclusion.

How do I decide which one I follow? How do I know that my Pastor, for example, does the right thing by following one and not the other? I want to do the right thing. How do I do that?
--polemicizing which is increasingly coming to be questioned in our day precisely because it's generally very ignorant of the actual history leading up to the Council and also simply gratuitously assumes that everyone both for the Council and against it accurately understood what everyone else was saying and trying to do. One of the first things that stands out about the Council of Trent when one stops to set it more basically within its late Medieval context is that it used the term "faith" entirely differently from the way the Protestants did.
Sure. No doubt. I would agree without any reservation.
This being the case, it NECESSARILY follows that a denial by Trent that "faith alone" saves is not NECESSARILY a denial of what the Protestants were saying. Of course, Trent THOUGHT it was totally condemning the Protestants, and the Protestants of that day THOUGHT it actually had, but those facts alone mean about as much as two sides in a trench warfare campaign constantly yelling at each other "You started it!" "Nuh-uh, you did!" At some point somebody has to stop yelling long enough to LISTEN, but unfortunately that's very hard to do in the thick of the actual battle itself, much less after 500 years of subsequent yelling ourselves hoarse.
That would be great if the only thing that Trent did was anathematize those people sloganeering “sola Fide!” We would have to run up the white flags and have a day off for thanksgiving because the matter of your party’s disagreement with my party would be, in effect, reconciled.

But Trent did a lot more than merely anathematize those who affirm sola Fide. An extremely important matter is the anathematization of those who reject the Apochrypha. This is not a matter of confused meaning – and it particularly relates to the subject at hand, which is what we mean when we say that our theology is based on sola Scriptura. It is, again, a point where “me” has to say, “well, Trent doesn’t agree with the WCF, so which one do I follow?”
Second, I do not believe that either the Council of Trent or the Westminster Assembly qualify as "Ecumenical Councils", and thus, neither one of them speaks for the Church catholic with anything approaching truly ecumenical force. I think that we need a new Council to revisit the issues that are in dispute between Rome and the Reformation--a Council made up not mostly of a bunch of hotheaded radicals (Trent) who in turn are viciously excoriated by their radically unjustly accused victims (the Reformers) so that a great big huge cycle of Mutually Assured Destruction gets started again, but instead a Council made up of calmer folks from both sides, folks dedicated to not automatically thinking the worst of each other and commited to actually hammering out an agreement, if possible, that each will pledge to live by. This doesn't fit the typical war-monger approach of either side, obviously, but look where the war-mongers have gotten us. Maybe it's time to put them out to pasture and let cooler heads prevail.
If I thought that the new Pope was going to come out and say, “well, you know what? Vatican I was not quite right. We’ve made some doozers here in Rome and I’m ready to come clean,” I’d be right there with you. But be serious, Tim: do you think that’s going to happen in the next 100 years? Or ever?

And what do you think the popular response to that move would be? I can just see Catholic Answers now: “In the spirit of the Vaticanus Ecumenicus council, we are taking the website off-line until there is a final statement of unity.” It would make an interesting blog entry on April 1, but I think it is much more likely that my pants will turn into a clarinet.
Of course, I am here assuming that Protestantism can get it's act together and recover its own conciliarist background sufficiently to actually want a new Council, and actually commit itself to adhering to the Council's lawfully-declared decisions.
And that, as we move on to question (3), fails to answer my question. There’s a lot of good, meaty stuff in your response, Tim, but the question is: when two non-ecumenical bodies (which might be to say, regional bodies, or provincial bodies) issue teaching positions which are contrary, what does a guy like me do with that? That is to say, how can he sort it out? There might be political reasons for the disagreement, or perhaps a rhetorical/linguistic reason, or perhaps it’s personal because somebody ran over the Pope’s cat – but when it all shakes out, “me” the guy in the pew has to have some method for taking both documents and asking, “How do I serve Jesus and still respect the authority of these men?” AND coming to a godly conclusion.
    (3) The 3rd decree of the Council of Chalcedon dictates that, unless pressed to do so to care for the needy (widows and orphans), no minister of any rank shall manage property or administer “worldly business”. I suspect that you would not condemn a minister who rented rooms to college students – and that’s a suspicion based on zero points of evidence, so I accept I might be wrong. However, I am not familiar with any conciliar document that overturns the decree of Chalcedon on this matter. How would you square up the opinion that a minister who conducts this kind of worldly business is not usurping conciliar authority?
When I speak of ecumenical conciliar authority, I'm talking primarily about the dogmatic definitions covering foundational matters of Christology.
If here you are saying that you accept all the dogmatic definitions covering foundational matters of Christology of the councils, but that the rest is only some kind of artifact, you are yourself taking one of your one major premises and turning it on its head: societas Christiana. Now what do I mean by that?

Here’s what I mean: you yourself advocate the following view of “a Truly catholic Theory of Authority”. You say this, in fact, in advocating for it:
    Authority is good and is to be honored and obeyed until it blasphemes God and His Word. No law is valid if unjust, and lawful resistance to tyrants is permitted by those who recognize their own sins and repent. Rulers who do not fulfill their God-ordained duties as rulers forfeit the right to the obedience of their subjects. This is especially true if they are so unreasoningly insane that they cannot tell the difference between ruling and wrecking the society. And when insane rulers despicably hijack the mechanisms of reforming the Church (including Councils), it is lawful to search for other methods.
In the example I cite, the council did not have merely spiritual authority but was conducted in a historical context when it had both spiritual and political authority. It has “political” authority in the specific case of the manner in which clerics ought to be performing their duties because it had church polity authority at the ecumenical level, the broadest possible level.

Unless you are willing to assert that Chalcedon was tyrannical, or corrupt, or sinful, or somehow failing to fulfill its duties in ruling, or that they were wrecking Christian society, by your definition you ought to accept the third canon as binding on clerics – and you do not.

You are doing exactly what you have excoriated Dr. Svendsen for doing: not taking the council at face value within its apparent scope of authority. I think, instead of saying, “wow, Tim’s really a bad guy,” or “So There! Dr. Svenden is vindicated!” what we have instead is a different operating principle than we expected to find on either side – something much more in compliance with this idea we have tossed around which I have called “no singular, definitive ecclesiastical theology”.
Councils usually deal with all kinds of issues, and end up issuing all kinds of decrees. Conciliarism does not stipulate that all decrees whatsoever of any Council are of equal epistemic-doctrinal status and must always, everywhere, and by all be obeyed upon penalty of anathema.
No, I am sure that this is exactly the case – but at the same time, matters of canon law (which is what the third canon is: a matter of ecclesiastical law binding for the sake of polity) were not suggestions. They were not matters which issued forth from the council “to be taken under advisement”, so to speak. Canon 3 here is clear in its (political) decree, has never been overturned as far as I can tell up through the 16th century (where, I think, we can agree there is some kind of problem of continuity), and occurred within the scope of the power of the council to make it “so”.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Canon 3 cannot be changed, or must be infallible in some way. I am saying that is never has been changed by a council of equal standing, and if we apply your view of conciliar authority, you and I do not have the right – be that convenantial, political or whatever – to say, “I just don’t agree. My pastor can go ahead and rent rooms to students of he wants to.”

Certainly, the spiritual matters of Chalcedon are weightier than this canon; certainly there is something more “important” in the doctrinal assertions of Chalcedon than in canon 3. But the problem that we are faced with, for lack of a better term (forgive me for being stupid), is the great chain of being: the Ecumenical council has authority to make this statement in such a way that, (as you have said plainly) unless it is unjust or corrupt, we are compelled by our (which is to say, your) view of society to accept and to obey.

Unless, of course, the matter of “unjust or corrupt” is not a matter of self-evidence or intention, but a matter of adhering to a higher standard which we as disciples of Christ have some access to. It is there we find our way back to the topic which started this discussion.
I'm sure there was a very good reason for Chalcedon's decree on the point you mention. Whether it needs to be obeyed today by anyone is a far different matter (i.e., a disciplinary one) than is adherence to its dogmatic definition about the person of Christ.
This is exactly my point, and that you see it but do not do more with it than point it out seems somewhat incongruous – because it is exactly the matter by which you have criticized Dr. Svendsen.

[#] on the passing of Karol Wojtyla

You knew him as John Paul II, as did all of the world. I have a friend who is today saying -- rightly so -- that the passing of JPII is a great moment in the history of Protestantism in that it demonstrates the assumptions of the leaders of the Protestant world pretty clearly.

Let's make sure that I say this as clearly as possible: Wojtyla was a player in world politics. He had the ear (and in some cases, the consciences) of major world leaders, and the hearts of hundreds of millions -- and perhaps billions -- of people of all faiths. He campaigned against materialistic excesses, denouncing both the totalitarian effacement of human rights under communism and the libertarian effacement of human dignity under capitalism. He was instrumental (even before he was Pope) in political dissent against Soviet Russia, and was an ally of Ronald Reagan in the end of the Cold War.

Wojtyla was also a voice of moral reasoning who commanded the most-bully pulpit of them all. He split no hairs, and gave no quarter. There was no one who didn't know where he stood on the matters of the sanctity of life, marriage and human sexuality, the morality of war, and the authority of his church. Wojtyla never shied away from controversy when he believed a critical moral principle was at stake.

But what is the Protestant "stake" in this event? Doug Wilson, in his brief blog entry on the subject, issued what I would call his "standard challenge" to Roman Catholics -- which is that if the Jews could be cut off (even with some hope of being grafted back in), then the church of Rome must look critically at itself and ask if it is in danger of being separated from the one vine. That is, of course, part-and-parcel of Wilson's covenantial view of baptism -- so there is nothing new there, but it is the right call to be made in this time when Catholics take a moment to view the foundations of their church and faith.

The death of Karol Wojtyla is an historic event because this was a historic man -- someone who wrote himself into the pages of history boldly. It would be false to say otherwise. But the question we must answer -- the critical question for ourselves and for those who today wonder about the way God is handling the passing of a man of historical importance -- is "what does Jesus Christ think about Karol Wojtyla?"

Does Jesus Christ care that Wojtyla was Pope? If so, what does He think about being a Pope? Is being a Pope a "free pass" to salvation, a result of being saved, or a different scale of measure along the lines of "to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more"? (ESV, Mt 12:48)

There is a somewhat funny acedote that anyone living in NY or NJ (and some parts of PA) has undoubtedly encountered. Two men can be talking, and one might say something about the other's family which may or may not be true, and may or may not be funny. The other, in very serious objection, says, "Don't say anything about my mother. My mother's a saint." Was Karol Wojtyla a saint in this sense -- that he was sinless, in a state of virtue which excludes any sinful actions, beyond reproach in the matter of character? There is talk already around the media and on the internet that Wojtyla was a saint -- that he was in perfect communion with God through virtue and now by the fact of his entrance into heaven. Is this really true? For example, does Pope John Paul II bear any responsibility for the white-washing of the sins of priests in the American Catholic Church?

And what about doctrine? Wojtyla was devoted to Mary, and added mysteries to the Rosary for the sake of the faithful to follow in practice. He also advocated celibacy not merely as a matter of canon law -- that is, for order in the church, as a matter of obedience for the priesthood -- but as a matter of divine revelation (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 15 Aug 1988, section 20), stopping short only of calling it a mandatory doctrine of the faith, but plainly calling it "a sign of eschatological hope." He venerated the Koran. His catechism says that the Jews and the Muslims adore the same God the Christian sees in Jesus Christ.

In all of that, this is the context of the greatness of this moment in the history of Protestantism. How are the leaders of Protestantism responding to the death of Karol Wojtyla? Are they admitting his historical importance but challenging his position on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or are they simply ready to forsake the Gospel to praise a man who himself preached a gospel different than the one preached by the apostles as they went to their death?