Friday, September 4, 2015

Journey Through Orthodoxy, Part 3

From the May 2012 E-Block.

For this round, we have yet another Orthodox expositor, although again, not one given to much in the way of rigorous argument. Michael Pomazansky's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (ODT) goes into much more depth than any source I have checked so far, and I appreciate the author's level of detail. In turn, it has also provided me with more points upon which I find I cannot accept Orthodox beliefs. 

In addition, we received commentary from our friendly Orthodox reader, to our last article, and we will again spend the second half of our report this time interacting with it. For now, here are observations gleaned from ODT.
  • I remain Skeptical of the claim -- here enunciated by St. Basil -- to have preserved doctrinal material "handed down in secret". [31] Of course, such material could still be judged authentic or relevant on standard epistemic grounds. I would also inquire as to why certain material was only preserved "in secret" if it was truly handed down from apostolic times. ODT says that church Fathers were "instructed to preserve in silence" [32] certain sacred truths, but he gives no explanation beyond that in terms of why such material required secrecy. In all of this I do not doubt ODT's point that there might be some defining contextual information for Scripture that is not actually contained in Scripture. That this is true is something Tekton has been advocating for years. It remains, however, to see whether Orthodoxy can show that it has preserved an accurate and relevant body of material of this sort. We might recall that the Gnostics made the same claims about secret tradition being handed down; and in that light, such claims cancel each other out and must be judged on other merits.
  • I was pleased to note that ODT answers the question of, "why did God create anything at all," much the way I would [110], which is essentially that it is the very nature of God to create.
  • As before, I found certain doctrinal expositions similar to my own (but differing from what is found in mainstream Protestantism) in certain places. This included major doctrines like the Trinity, and original sin (particularly, the point that "we have not inherited the guilt of Adam's personal sin" [165]. -- though there were also certain minor variations from my beliefs as well.
  • In contrast, ODT more clearly than any source I have seen so far lays out the Orthodox view of baptism as literally efficacious in removing sin [256, 265-6], and so also as "indispensable," even for infants. [268] The passages used to prove this, however, are exactly the same as those used by Mormons, and which I have argued against. It is especially unnerving to see ODT make use of Mark 16:16. There is no advancement of the arguments on this subject beyond what I have already addressed.
  • I also found unacceptable ODT's claim for the perpetual virginity of Mary. ODT reads a statement by Mary herself of her perpetual virginity, into Luke 1:46-9. However, though ODT rightly sees this as "awareness of the immeasurable majesty and height of [Mary's] chosenness," it is a non sequitur to follow from this general proclamation of chosenness to a specific idea of perpetual virginity. Why not take the logic further and use it to say that e.g., Mary never bit her fingernails, or picked her nose? ODT also strains mightily to avoid the most natural and obvious reading of passages that speak of Jesus' brothers and sisters; one argument presented for this is that in Luke 2, the story of the 12 year old Jesus, there is no specific mention of the brothers and sisters among the "kinfolk and acquaintances" (Luke 2:44). This is exceptionally strained, inasmuch as brothers and sisters would count among the semantic range of "kinfolk".
    The only other argument presented is equally without basis, and based on reading significance into silence: It is pointed out that none of the brothers and sisters were present at the cross, and that John took Mary into his home. Thus ODT supposes this means "half" brothers or sisters, or cousins. However, this argument is obviously missing the point that at this time, Jesus was "on the outs" his brothers, such that entrusting Mary's care to John, rather than one of the brothers, was the appropriate thing to do. As Malina and Rohrbaugh note in their commentary on John, Mary is presented in John's Gospel as "a type of the faithful Israelite community that believes in Jesus" [270] but Jesus' brothers are "portrayed as outsiders who are not part of Jesus' group" [141]. This provides sufficient explanation for making Mary the ward of John, without resorting to ODT's expediency of "half" brothers.
  • ODT also lays out a description of Orthodox eschatology, and here as well I must part ways, for in major points it is hardly dissimilar from the standard dispensational view: ODT also fails to read Matthew 24 in terms of the Roman Empire (oikoumere), and instead reads it in terms of the end of the entire world.
  • ODT presents a belief in Jesus' descent into hell, using the same verses (though not to the same exact purpose) that Mormons do (Eph. 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:18-19, 4:6). After my findings on this matter (link below), I cannot accept such a belief.
  • Of significance is that ODT regards as a sign of Protestantism's being outside the truth church, the fact that it "denies the bond with the heavenly Church, that is, the veneration in prayer of the Mother of God and the saints, and likewise prayer for the dead..." [244]Although I am in sympathy with Orthodox views of the church as a unit comprised of persons both on earth and on heaven, I fail to see this as sufficient reason for such a radical statement of severance. Nor does ODT justify this claim, save by what in context is a begged question: namely, that these other groups are "not nourished by that mystical table which leads up along the steps of moral perfection." [245] In essence, ODT gives as the only reason that non-Orthodox are outside the Church -- that they are indeed outside the Church. At most, all that should be said is that such believers are not as engaged in the life of the Church as it is supposed they ought to be.
  • ODT discusses in more detail than I have seen so far the sacrament of chrismation [270f], or anointing with oil. The purpose of this ritual is to unite the subject to the Church. Of interest is that ODT offers a contrived argument explaining why anointing of oil replaced laying on of hands: It is supposed that either the apostles also used oil at the same time, and Acts simply neglects to record this, or else they changed it, again without a hint of testimony in Acts. [272] Nevertheless, it is supposed that the practice must assuredly come down from the apostles -- based on references to anointing in 1 Cor. 1:21-2 and 1 John 2:20-27! But neither of these refers to a literal anointing, as ODT admits, and it is merely a question-begging contrivance to argue, as ODT does, that these references "could be used in the spiritual significance precisely because Christians had before their eyes a material anointing." [273]
  • So also, ODT goes into more detail than any source so far on the matter of the Eucharist becoming the literal blood and body of Christ. [275] However, no argument is presented for this apart from John 6:53-6, where Jesus speaks of drinking his blood and eating his body. For my part, I find far more satisfactory a link to the metaphor in 2 Samuel 23:16-17:
    And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that [was] by the gate, and took [it], and brought [it] to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the LORD. And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: [is not this] the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men.
    Based on the same literalism, ODT also uses John 6 to argue that the Eucharist is "the essential, necessary, saving, and consoling obligation of every Christian." But the parallel to the statement of David undermines any such literalist reading.
  • ODT also discusses in some depth the sacraments of repentance and unction (healing of soul/spirit and/or body by anointing with oil). I will leave these aside for now to focus on other issues. There is also a discussion of icons and relics, and there is little which can add to our prior evaluation (link below).

With this, we will now move to the latest set of interactions with our Orthodox reader. My original comments will be in italics; the reader's replies in bold, and my further comment in normal print.

Before moving on, my obvious question would be how one could possibly verify from 'the experience of the deified Saints.'
What I mean by "verified by the experience of the deified Saints" is that the doctrine confessed by the Ecumenical Synods is consistent with the witness of the Saints of the Church. That is, the men who have been indwelt deeply by the Holy Spirit of God have universally confessed the doctrine later enforced by Ecumenical Synods. 
Although I respect the intentions stated here, it is clear that what we have is a circular epistemology that differs little from such as things as Charismatic appeals to the "Spirit" or the alleged "inner rustling" reported by Charles Stanley. At the same time, it seems that all that is being done is to draw a line from these "men (reputedly) indwelt" to the synod with the matching belief. I would need to see this drawn out for any particular doctrine of system of belief to say much more, but as it stands, it seems to be merely an accessory to a real epistemology rather than an actual epistemology.

I have little comment on the reader's offering which follows, but will leave it for our readers to take in for their own edification:

Before getting into what constitutes Sainthood, let me briefly speak about the purpose of Ecumenical Synods. When a doctrinal problem arises, right-believing Bishops will ideally gather together in Council to deal with the problem. When a problem is localized, it is dealt with by a local Synod. In the mid third century, a man named Paul of Samosata began teaching a doctrine basically identical to what later became known as Arianism. As the problem was localized around Antioch, a local Synod of Bishops gathered together and condemned him. These anathemas are pastoral. They exist in order to quash the heresy and prevent it from infecting the Church's faithful. The decree is authoritative because it agrees with the faith onces. delivered and confirmed by the witness of the Saints. A general Council of the Church comes together when a problem becomes universal. So, the Council of Nicaea gathered together when Arianism had infested the entire Church. Synods exist not to define dogmas that had not previously been defined, but to enforce the faith of the Church and prevent the further spread of heresy. These Seven Ecumenical Synods have been specially preserved in the Church's memory because all of them dealt with massive doctrinal crises and they all defended the true faith. A local Synod has the same authority as an Ecumenical Synod, it is simply that Ecumenical Synods dealt with much bigger problems, so the Church accords them a special place in her memory.

My one comment is that I do agree that enforcing the faith of the Church would indeed be the ideal role of a synod (or council, as some may prefer).

Now, the actual rule of faith is the witness of the Saints. This is what I told one Protestant inquiring about this issue awhile back: (Romans 8:13) For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
(Philippians 2:12) out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

"God-breathed" literally means "God-Spirited", because "Spirit" means "Breath." As you can see from the above texts, the Holy Spirit continues to work throughout history to inspire a true confession of the Lordship of Christ. He continues to work throughout history to inspire men to do good deeds. These things are "God-breathed."

All this I can grant in general terms. However:

The Holy Fathers were men of incredible sanctity. They were men through whom the Holy Spirit was constantly breathing. The key is that we do not separate the sanctity of the Holy Fathers from their doctrinal accuracy. The Fathers of the Church are not holy AND doctrinally accurate, as if these were two different categories. Rather, they are doctrinally accurate BECAUSE the Holy Spirit has indwelt them to such a degree where all their actions are oriented towards God. In the same way that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit produces good works, so also it produces good doctrine. (John 14:16-17, 16:13) this point, we once again enter into what appears to be a circular epistemology: The verification of being indwelt is doctrinal accuracy, and the verification of doctrinal accuracy is being indwelt. I find myself reaching inevitably for something outside the circle which can cut the Gordian knot -- e.g., to defeat an Arian heretic, I reach for Jewish Wisdom theology, not the pronouncement of a Holy Father who gives no reasons for believing what he says (other than that they have the Spirit).

Perhaps this is satisfactory for an everyday follower in a body of believers, but not for the work I am assigned as an apologist.

"Is this 'experience' somehow quantified by record?"

Yes, in a particular sense. A Saint who lives a life in Christ of extraordinary sanctity becomes known to the Church. After the Saint reposes, he or she attains local veneration as the people who knew him (I'll just use the masculine from now on with the understanding that there are both male and female Saints) remember him as a particularly holy person who was a vessel of the Holy Spirit. As word of his sanctity spreads, the entire People of God begin to remember him as a Saint. Eventually, this veneration is confirmed by a Synod of Bishops who formally glorifies him. Their sanctity is continually manifested and confirmed by the incorruption of their remains, miracles worked through their relics, their intercession for the People of God still on Earth, etc. The particular sanctity of these men is quite easy to confirm when they are recently reposed. The best example that I will keep returning to is St. John Maximovitch, the greatest Saint of the twentieth century, reposed in 1967. You actually had an Icon of him up on the Tekton website for your first post on Orthodoxy.

Obviously, this serves well as an informational starting point for investigation. However, after naming some figures of the past, the reader adds a qualification that gives me pause:

I should note that Synods can at times glorify people who are not true Saints. In that case, the Holy Spirit who guides the Church ensures that their veneration does not take root. A beautiful example of this is Michael Cerularius, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople at the time of the Great Schism. While he was glorified by a Synod of Bishops, there was no actual sign that he was anything beyond a hot-headed Patriarch who happened to live at the time when the Pope of Rome broke away from the Church. The People of God did not venerate him widely, and soon, his "feast day" fell off the Church Calendar because of the lack of veneration. The glorification and remembrance of Saints is an organic process which takes place through the Holy Spirit's work in the body of the Church.

By the Holy Spirit's work? Or by simple recognition of the fact that a prior judgment was incorrect? If a synod can make such a mistake, then it seems we are back to square one again: Where was the Spirit when the synod first met? I am reminded here of the claims of anti-Paul writers that God left subtle hints of Paul's heresy throughout the Bible -- while not explaining why God did not simply keep Paul's letters out of the canon in the first place!

By "experience of the Saints" I do not mean that particular people received particular prophetic revelations which inform them of specific doctrinal truths. The phrase is rather a recognition that the Holy Spirit who indwells them does not only inspire them to do good deeds, but also inspires them to teach good doctrine. The person who has cooperated with God unto a deep communion with the Holy Spirit is simply naturally oriented towards these goods. However, as a Saint still occasionally misses the moral mark (sins), so also he may occassionally miss the doctrinal mark and teach something which is not true. It is for this reason that the consensus of the Saints is the rule of faith, rather than the teachings of any one Saint in particular.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this explanation per see; and yet, with it we are back to square one and a basic epistemic test that obviates the need for a specially inspired council of men -- and as well, for any uniqueness for Orthodoxy. The appeal to a "consensus" seems to make the claim stronger, but again, it is just as well to credit a better informed (or more like-minded) group of Saints as the Spirit.

This is all well and good, but here I am looking for something which would separate the Orthodox from (say) the Mormon in terms of the chrismation and nurturing. A group like the Mormon council of 70 elders I can see making the same claim (though not using the same terms).

The difference here is that we do not have a particular college of people that are simply ordained into a group which holds inherent authority. For example, let's say that the Mormon Prophet was in adultery. It wouldn't matter. He would still be the Prophet, and because he was ordained to that office, he would still be inspired by God.

Actually, from what I know of the Mormons, I am not sure this is true. I am also quite certain the Mormons would say of their elders and prophets, that their (as the reader says of Orthodox Saints), "recognition of the authority of the [elders and prophets] is simply a recognition of the authority of the Holy Spirit, who breathes doctrinally and morally through those who are in communion with Him." And they would also say that their authority "rests on their sanctity and on the presence of the Holy Spirit in them" and reject any counter-claim that they are merely "declaring" these men to be valid authorities. Of course, others would disagree, but that is not the point. (The reader also offers the example of Roman Catholics, but I do not know much about them so as to be able to comment.)

Even so, one would of course be obliged to demonstrate the universality, antiquity, and consent awarded to/designated of any particular truth claim -- which means we are back once again to a basis for authority which does not rely on any inspired person or body, but rather on epistemic tests for truth.

Well, yes. So, when I get into debates with Roman Catholics, my goal is to demonstrate that the inspired Saints of the first-millennium rejected Papal supremacy. It fails the test of antiquity. Or, with the Filioque, it is a doctrine which only existed in the Frankish West- it fails the test of universality. So, I think you can "epistemically test" what the Saints believed by studying their writings throughout the history of the Church.

So, likewise, my own practice, and the point of this investigation and this series. So far, however, on points unique to Orthodoxy, I have found little in the way of argument, and what little I have found unique is not well-supported. (It remains to what extent, if any, a source like ODT is delivering its own views, and to what extent it represents an "authoritative" view.)

This being said, the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Saints of old continues to inspire the Saints of our day because the Church is a living organism, and the recent Saints clarify and apply the teachings of the ancient Saints to our own times.

Such is the way intended, I do not doubt. But I will still want to test the Saints, ancient and modern.

After some re-iteration of prior points, we turn to:

Well, if anyone is cut out for this, and anyone has the time -- I do!

Agreed. Tekton readers are uniquely suited to this type of study, and it is this type of apologetics that I engage in, because people who are cut out for that type of study is my audience. My point is simply to clarify that not everyone is cut out for it. Some people simply have exceptionally low IQs and are not in a position to do things such as this. God loves them just as much, and desires their salvation just as much.

With that I thoroughly agree!

Sadly, it has come to the point that everyone -- not just Protestants -- will need to do depth study to preserve what they believe; either that, or hide down a hole and never interact with anyone else.

This is true to an extent. My point, however, was that one cannot begin from any sort of foundation as a Protestant. When one believes in Sola Scriptura, the only thing that a person can take as a foundation is that the Scriptures are inspired. From that point on, they have to take every single doctrine and do a depth study to build their own theology. I'm not sure if I'm phrasing this as well as I could, but I think you can see my point in this matter.

I do, but I am not certain just how closely this matches mainstream Protestant belief. To be sure, we have persons like Norman Geisler who selectively shutter off the Scriptures from their defining contexts; but we have many others, scholars like Witherington and Blombergh and Keener, or even my pastor, who are quite willing to make use of extra-scriptural data to add to their foundation. The question is, what to include!

Ironically, my answer to this is different than it would have been just a month or so ago. The difference: Having now read Keener's volume Miracles, Romanides' indication that miracles are lacking outside EO has become...rather strained

I'll make three points here. First, my main argument for the truth of the Orthodox Church has nothing to do with miracles. It has to do with the fact that the doctrine it teaches is the exact same doctrine taught by the Bible and confessed by Christians in every century from the time of Christ. I don't want our conversation to get derailed by debates over whose miracles are true, because that's really besides the point. Christ said that there would be many who would do miracles, some would be malicious, others would simply not have the fullness of truth, but that doesn't make them legitimate in the complete sense. The example of the person who exorcised outside of the Apostolic ingroup comes to mind.

Granting this as a possibility, it also all too readily becomes a too-easy way to beg the question of the uniqueness of Orthodox authority. Romanides apprently held to a much stronger view on this matter than our reader.

Second, I would not doubt the legitimacy of many miracles outside the Orthodox Church. When a society has no knowledge of Christ, and Protestant missionaries come to tell them about the Lord, I think that God often accompanies them with miracles, because it is better for them to at least know the Person of Christ, and they are being prepared for the fullness of Truth that will eventually come to them.

The rub here is that there is very little indication that missionaries of Orthodoxy are even "on the way" to many in the wide range of persons whom Keener reports as the beneficiaries of miracles. So how would these people be, being "prepared" if "eventually" is nowhere in sight?

Third, Fr. Romanides' point was not about miracles in general- it was about a very specific type of miracle: the manifestation of theosis coming from particular sanctified individuals, the Saints.

Granting that, the reply would be: Sanctification is just more widely available than Orthodoxy is allowing for; the Spirit is willing to work through a greater diversity of people than just the Orthodox Saints. Each side arguably begins with their own categories that assume the truth of their position.

Here I had in mind mainly scheduled fasting and prayer rituals.

First, remember that these are not applied legalistically. This is why we have spiritual fathers. They tell us what to observe strictly and what we may dispense with depending on our level of spiritual health. One of my new Orthodox friends was told not to fast during Lent to avoid developing spiritual pride. This is how everything in the Church works.

This is good to hear, but I will naturally remain skeptical about the qualifications of said "spiritual fathers" until they are proven (individually).

Second, I would say that prayer and fasting is necessary to some degree to all Christians- after all, St. Paul tells us to "pray without ceasing." This is undoubtedly the ideal. Prayer isn't just "for some people", it is how communion with God is established.

Agreed. Paul's comments are reflected, however, in the Jewish practice of short, one-sentence prayers throughout the day (such as the one thanking God for being able to urinate!), as opposed to the ritual forms of Orthodoxy. I do not say that some might not benefit from the latter. But for others -- particular the personality type I have -- the former is more in line with what would be most beneficial (though I would not choose the particular "urination" prayer as one of mine!). If this would be considered acceptable, then any reservations I have about the Orthodox stance in this matter is resolved.

Likewise, fasting is to overcome the passion of gluttony, which is a sin for everyone, not just particular people. Even Christ Himself fasted strictly in the Desert for forty days, and, as we are called to follow Christ in all things, all Christians should take up some degree of fasting, though the particular level of fasting is determined non-legalistically with the assistance of a spiritual father. I would highly recommend this article:

Gluttony is undoubtedly a sin for everyone; but I doubt that fasting works as a one-size-fits-all method of overcoming it -- unless "fasting" can be more broadly defined than I am perceiving. The sort of gluttony I fall to, for example -- a sort of particularism -- would be best attacked (and has been!) by choosing plainer foods (breads, fruits, nuts, vegetables) eaten in normal (meal-sized) amounts, and dropping richer foods from my diet. If this works within an Orthodox perception of fasting, then here again my reservations would be erased.
The reader asked for my further views on other rituals. ODT gave me my first more depth glimpse into these, so I will refer to the above for further commentary.

But this is only part of what is sought: I am also asking if there is anything that prescribes these things as enduring through time and space, extending to the entirely of the ekklesia.

First, as noted above, these things are not applied legalistically but are situation-specific. Second, would we really expect such a note from this author? Would he really say, "By the way, this isn't just for here and now, this is for all the time!" He didn't say such a thing with his instruction on Baptism, but would we on that basis argue that he only considered Baptism necessary for that particular time and place?

I would not require a specific statement -- it would serve as a definite help, yes -- but I would require some sort of structured argument. Baptism's argument for enduring form and function would be: Its resemblance in form to the Resurrection of Jesus; its precedents in Jewish ritual washing; the appropriate symbolism of water as the "universal solvent," and the specific command of Matthew 28:18-20 and similar passages.

In contrast, many of the other prescribed Orthodox rituals -- if ODT is representative -- are based on isolated passages, and some cultural precedents. I would like to see a better case made for these.

Third, I didn't cite the Didache on the unique authority of its author, but as a snapshot of how the Church functioned and taught soon after (or during) the Apostolic Era. Many Fathers continue to mention these practices throughout the history of the Church. If this practice was very locally confined, one would not expect it to be found in many Fathers across space and time. Even the Latin West observed it. (The fish on Fridays custom in Roman Catholicism is the vestige of the once universally observed Wednesday/Friday fast in the RCC.) So, the question is: if this tradition of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is found from the earliest times, and one finds it to be universal in practice across the Church, where did it come from, and by what authority would WE say that fasting is no longer necessary?

Universality in practice would here simply reflect the normal methods whereby, in a collectivist society, an ingroup distinguished itself. In that regard, it is quite understandable why certain practices would spread across time and space, and why they might persist (a collectivist society was also highly conservative with tradition and concerned to preserve it).

To that extent, we are quite free to re-examine such practices and determine whether they remain necessary. The Gospel message radically overturned many of the means and values of its age, so it is clear that God is not attached to static-ness as a value. Of course, any examinations should be undertaken with care and caution.

Now the reader comments on the Eucharist, in response to what I have said about the presence of Christ within the bread and wine:

The Orthodox Church teaches that the Eucharist is in fact essential to the Christian life, for the very reason that it effects union with Christ. St. Paul's reference to the Church as the "Body of Christ" is in fact a Eucharistic concept. The Church becomes the true Body of Christ by partaking of the Body of Christ. This is why his reference to being "members of Christ's body" in 1 Corinthians 12 comes AFTER the discussion of the Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. See:
That word for participation- koinonea (transliterated in various ways in English), is the strongest word possible in Greek for actual participation. It would certainly be odd for St. Paul to use it to only mean a figurative participation.

But under the rubric of a collectivist society, the participation would not be figurative at all, even without the presence of Christ in the elements -- it would be literal and real. The communal meal was the chief "glue" that held together and preserved the bond of an ingroup. The indwelling Spirit in each believer, and the implications of the promise of Matthew (two or more), also indicate the presence and attendance of divine participants in real and literal terms. The "Real Presence" fulfills a hole that simply isn't there.

Note also the analogy between Israel eating the sacrifices on the Altar and the Church eating the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. This connects with the subject of the "Passover Lamb", which Paul identifies Christ as. The Israelites had to truly eat the Passover Lamb- not just figuratively.

This argument would seem to prove too much -- Paul also identifies Christ with other sacrifices; but as I have pointed out in a reply to atheists who argued for that degree of literal identification, this results in literal absurdities. (See vid linked below.)

I would suggest that the emphasis on the elements only being "figurative" without the true Body in Evangelicalism is representative of its Gnostic tendency to denigrate the flesh and exalt the "spiritual."

I have no idea what "Evangelicalism" has as its reasons. But I have no issues with denigration of the flesh, so that is certainly not my reasoning.

Beyond that, I would consider it a non sequitur to draw any conclusions about such things as veneration, relics, etc. based on the chronological correspondence of those things with the canon.

First, I want to touch on the claim of a non-sequitur. My point in drawing that connection is this: if one admits that the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries was inspired by God to discern the true canon inspired by the Holy Spirit, by what objective basis is inspiration denied beyond that? Why admit inspiration only in that particularly narrow respect? If one acknowledges that the Spirit was breathing truth through the Church of that era, then why would one then say that many of the other things that the Church was absolutely unanimous about were uninspired and false? This is to essentially say that the Church was inspired by God to discern the correct canon of Scripture, but completely misled about the correct interpretation of that canon! From my point of view, this idea seems extremely ad hoc. Protestants need a definite canon to work with. They note where and when the canon originated, so they admit inspiration only in that area, but deny it where it contradicts Protestant teaching.

What cannot be logically denied is the possibility of inspiration in matters beyond the canon -- not the actuality of it, or beyond that, the heeding of it. Inspiration is possible for anything -- even what to serve at lunch. The question is, how sensitive are we to it? How actually widespread is the inspiration? And since, as I have said, I am more concerned with truth than inspiration, I will quite naturally ask these questions -- and say it is quite possible for the church to get A right but get B wrong, even when inspiration was "sent out" for both.

Second, you say that the canon is a collection of what is true and relevant to Christian life. Well, how do we know what is true?

The standard test for knowing what is true remains the same as it is elsewhere: Accordance the facts and evidence. Thus:

What if the Martians didn't really like Paul's doctrine, so they left out all of St. Paul's letters?

Then the Martians need to justify their dislike with argument. As it happens, anti-Paul writers like Winn and del Tondo serve well as "Martians" here. It's not hard to see flaws rife in their arguments against Paul.

Metzger has noted that one of the criteria of canonicity was "accord with orthodoxy." If this was used as a criterion of discerning what WAS Scripture, then obviously orthodoxy wasn't derived exclusively from Scripture. The orthodoxy in question was the faith of the Church, and Scripture, in order to be considered canonical, had to accord with the Orthodox faith of the Church. The Church's faith, then, was logically prior.

Again, I have little problem with defining contexts exterior to Scripture. The issue is which of those contexts and their associated fact claims deserve our attention and loyalty.

As a matter of fact, I have not bothered with working out criteria for inspiration, because I find truth to be a more critical test. So when I ask for validation of inspiration, what I mean is I want validation of accuracy -- and if that works out, then inspiration is icing on the cake. I can see your point when we are dealing with historical claims, like the teaching, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. However, certain things cannot be "tested" like those can. We can know from historical methodology that Jesus was raised from the dead- but we can't know what the significance of that was.

I tend to disagree. Although not having to do with "hard" facts, we are still able to measure and judge the veracity of arguments for significance. Clearly, for example, a thesis of atonement like my patronage transference model, or even Christus Victor, has a far better pedigree than, "Jesus was raised so we could party eternally." So likewise:

We can know from historical methodology that Christ claimed deity, but we can't know about the Holy Trinity.

Know about in what sense? Jewish Wisdom provides the best template, whereas obviously a modalist view could never pass muster. I would speak of similar logical deductions to be made concerning such doctrines as salvation and justification, which the reader also notes.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there are enough groups claiming to be working with the Spirit for their heads to fill Noah's Ark. Many also claim the Spirit wasn't behind other movements.

Well of course. But there are also a myriad of texts claiming to be inspired by some supernatural force. That doesn't mean one isn't actually! There are a myriad of groups claiming to be inspired by the Spirit- but that doesn't mean that none of them are!

I would not have said so! My point, rather, is that such claims cancel each other out in an investigation and can thus be deleted from the data pool.

At this point, to close, the reader directs some questions to me that I believe are worthy of discussion: you believe in the classical Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone? That a man is legally declared positionally righteous by the imputation of Christ's obedient record to the account of the believer? Or do you believe in the more Orthodox concept of MAKING righteous through actual participation in Christ?

On this issue it seems to me that there are two dimensions of "justification" that many in the mainstream fail to recognize. One is the justification which believers receive by way of their incorporation into the identity in Christ. That sort of justification I would say is clearly by faith (loyalty) alone. However, there is also a dimension of justification involving works and rewards, and that is not by "faith alone" but by works. This is a distinction that is also not recognized by those who find contradiction between James and Paul.

So the answer would have to be that I believe in both -- as applied to different dimensions of what it means to be justified.

Thanks so much for working through these issues. They are quite important!

Indeed they are! And I shall see if I can grab one more book for this series in the meantime.

Jesus’ descent into hell
Video on sacrifice

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