Saturday, August 29, 2009

Newman on the Development of Christian Doctrine History

Anyone even remotely interested in historical theology will be familiar with John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, originally published in 1845. Newman’s overall thesis is that when it comes to just about any system of thought, the growth and development of its ideas are to be expected, and Christianity is no exception.

Newman argues in Section III that the doctrines of the (Catholic) faith are "members of one family, and suggestive, or correlative, or confirmatory, or illustrative of each other." He writes:

… the very scale on which they have been made, their high antiquity yet present promise, their gradual formation yet precision, their harmonious order, dispose the imagination most forcibly towards the belief that a teaching so consistent with itself, so well balanced, so young and so old, not obsolete after so many centuries, but vigorous and progressive still, is the very development contemplated in the Divine Scheme.
He then goes on to insist that these doctrines, when understood aright, necessarily hang together.

One furnishes evidence to another, and all to each of them; if this is proved, that becomes probable; if this and that are both probable, but for different reasons, each adds to the other its own probability. The Incarnation is the antecedent of the doctrine of Mediation, and the archetype both of the Sacramental principle and of the merits of Saints. From the doctrine of Mediation follow the Atonement, the Mass, the merits of Martyrs and Saints, their invocation and cultus. From the Sacramental principle come the Sacraments properly so called; the unity of the Church, and the Holy See as its type and centre; the authority of Councils; the sanctity of rites; the veneration of holy places, shrines, images, vessels, furniture, and vestments. Of the Sacraments, Baptism is developed into Confirmation on the one hand; into Penance, Purgatory, and Indulgences on the other; and the Eucharist into the Real Presence, adoration of the Host, Resurrection of the body, and the virtue of relics. Again, the doctrine of the Sacraments leads to the doctrine of Justification; Justification to that of Original Sin; Original Sin to the merit of Celibacy. Nor do these separate developments stand independent of each other, but by cross relations they are connected, and grow together while they grow from one….

You must accept the whole or reject the whole; attenuation does but enfeeble, and amputation mutilate. It is trifling to receive all but something which is as integral as any other portion; and, on the other hand, it is a solemn thing to accept any part, for, before you know where you are, you may be carried on by a stern logical necessity to accept the whole.

Now, it is undoubtedly true that each doctrine of the Christian faith has certain implications and tends toward certain conclusions. For someone like Newman, then, to seek to postulate an idea like papal infallibility he would certainly ground it in prior-held notions about divine revelation and the Church as pillar and ground of the truth. So although I may disagree with many of Newman’s conclusions, I still can recognize how he arrived at them.

But what happens when the proposed development falls not only into the category of doctrine, but also of history?

Take, for example, the bodily assumption of Mary. It’s one thing to say that the doctrine of her being whisked up to heaven is a logical corollary of the doctrine that she was immaculately conceived. But it takes a lot more, umm, gumption to dogmatically insist that, as a matter of historical record, Mary in fact floated up into the sky and was received into glory (especially when some 1,800 years had transpired between this historical event and its being pronounced as church dogma).

Now, I’ve not studied this matter in any depth, so it may very well be the case that loads of people were standing around watching her fly off into space who then recorded the miraculous event in their journals (which is certainly what one would expect to have happened if they saw such a thing: the news of the event would immediately spread like wildfire). But on the other hand, if the first person to have borne testimony to Mary’s bodily assumption was not an actual contemporary of the Blessed Mother’s, but lived, say, a few generations later, then would not the most plausible explanation be that we are dealing with a legend and not an actual historical event?

I mean, if Jesus’ resurrection—a remarkable occurrence if there ever was one—went completely unnoticed by every single person who knew him, but then was spoken about a century or two later, we would be suspicious, wouldn’t we? Or take a more contemporary example: If someone writes a biography of Ronald Reagan next year that claims that the former president received an extra terrestrial visitor to the White House in broad daylight in the presence of the entire press corps, wouldn’t we wonder why no one has heard if such an event before? Or, if the event happened in secret (explaining why it wasn’t reported at the time), then our first question would be, "How did this author uniquely come by this information if he wasn’t there?"

My point, you ask? If Rome’s claim is that she only elucidates the initial apostolic deposit of faith but never expands its content, then it would follow that if the apostle John’s next door neighbor asked daily how Mary was doing, at some point he would have received the reply, "Great! She was bodily received into glory a couple hours ago, haven't you heard?"

But if Mary was taken into heaven as an actual historical event, and if John didn’t himself know about it, then it would seem that he wasn’t exactly keeping the close eye on her that her Son asked him to.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 6: From Sonship to Slavery, Or Vice Versa?

In seeking to explain Paul's illustration of the son-as-heir in Galatians 4:1-7, Scott Hahn says that "Paul reintroduces the hard lessons of Galatians 3:19-25 in 4:2 by describing how Israel's sin increased the degree of Mosaic and angelic mediation," appealing to Paul's statement that the underage heir is under "guardians and trustees" until the time appointed by the father for his release frm such bondage. Hahn continues:

Israel's great failures at the golden calf and Beth-peor relegated it to the status of an immature minor son--differing little from that of a slave (4:1). As an immature minor son, Israel was placed under the (temporary) Levitical and Deuteronomic covenants that effected a reconfiguration of its filial relation to God along the lines of a treaty-type covenant. The relationship between God and Israel became characterized as that of a master and his slave (i.e., a suzerain and his vassal).
He then quotes Byrne:

What Paul appears to be doing in using this "immature heir" image is making allowance for a situation where an heir, though long-since designated as such, endures for a time a period of suspension of all legal rights and only later receives the true legal capacity to inherit by having the status of sonship conferred....
Hahn's thesis that Israel's initial status of sonship (Exod. 4:22) was reconfigured to a more servile form by the idolatrous episodes of the golden calf and Beth-peor may also be what was lurking behind Paul's two Old Testament citations in I Corinthians 10. There, in the midst of his warning against apostasy, Paul appeals to these two examples in particular (see vv. 7-8) in order to urge his readers onward in faithfulness. Clearly for Paul, these two events stand out as the paramount examples of Israel's fall, as the forbidden fruit episode did for Adam's.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Dual Citizens Officially In Print

The following was written on my Facebook wall a couple days ago by Chris Larson at Ligonier:

"On my desk is a fresh advance copy of your terrific book that arrived from the printer today. We should be shipping by early next week if not sooner."

Not long now....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 5: Dealing With Rebellious Teens

In Kinship By Covenant, Scott Hahn directs his readers' attention to the prophecy of Ezekiel to demonstrate that the idea that the Sinaitic and Deuteronomic covenants are distinct is not a novel notion. In Ezekiel 20:10-13 the prophet recalls Israel's exodus from Egypt; Yahweh then gives them the law on Mt. Sinai, which the people promptly break by worshiping the golden calf. Despite Yahweh's option of destroying the people right then and there, he shows mercy to the them and spares them, despite their not being allowed to enter the land (Ezekiel 20:14-17).

A second chance is given, however, to the second generation, the children of those who worshiped the golden calf, as recorded in verses 18-21. God instructed them not to worship idols like their fathers did, and to live according to the laws he had given them in order that they might have life. But the second generation's idolatry as displayed in the Baal-peor incident demonstrated that the children were just as wicked as their fathers.

This is where a shift occurs, Hahn argues. In the light of the second generation's apostasy, Yahweh makes an additional covenant with the people, one not characterized by good laws but by statutes and restrictions uniquely suited not for a nation in its infancy, but in rebellious adolescence. Hence we read:

But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among thenations and disperse them through the countries, because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD (vv. 22-26).
This is consistent with Deuteronomy 29:1, which explicitly distinguishes between the covenants made at Horeb and on the plains of Moab. And interestingly, this position also has a pretty ancient pedigree. We read in the Didascalia Apostolorum (third century):
For the law which the Lord spoke before the people had made the calf and served idols consists of the ten commandments and the judgments. But after they had served idols, He justly laid upon them bonds.... But our Savior came to set us loose from the bonds of the Second Legislation.
And in Irenaeus (second century):
God himself personally spoke the Decalogue... that is why they remain valid for us.... But the precepts of slavery he laid separately upon the people through Moses.... When they turned aside to make the calf, they received further servile obligations, as Ezekiel says [citing 20:25].

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Flag of the World

My latest lecture in EPC's series
on G.K. Chestrton's Orthodoxy
is now available for download.
It's called "The Flag of the World."


Friday, August 14, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 4: Why Then the Law?

“Paul has argued for a radically different view of salvation history from that of his Jewish opponents,” writes Scott Hahn in Kinship By Covenant. “The foundational covenant with God’s people was not at Sinai but at Moriah.” If the Abrahamic covenant takes precedence over the Mosaic, then the question Paul needs to answer is the one the apostle anticipates in Galatians 3:19, “Why then the law?”

The answer has baffled many commentators, but perhaps unnecessarily: “It was added because of transgressions....” Many argue that what Paul means here is that the law was given in order to accentuate Israel’s lawlessness and heighten their sin. Hahn, on the other hand, argues that the verse is more straightforward, that it means exactly what it says.

It seems that Paul, like Ezekiel before him (Ezek. 20), has recognized an important literary-historical pattern woven into the fabric of the Pentateuch, with its continual oscillation between narrative and law. The pattern is consistently the same: Israel sins and laws are added (p. 264).
The main episodes in this pattern of sin-to-law, Hahn argues, are Israel’s sin with the golden calf which led to the Tabernacle legislation and imposition of the priestly code, and the idolatrous apostasy of the second generation at Baal-peor which gave rise to the Deuteronomic “book of the law” being imposed on the people.

So, Hahn asks, what does Paul mean in v. 19 by “law”? Is it all law, or an additional body of laws that were added later?

Hahn insists that it must be the latter for a couple reasons that are suggested in the text itself. First, it makes more sense to think of the Deuteronomic covenant as being something that was “added” to something that came earlier (such as the Decalogue). Secondly, if “the law was added because of transgressions,” how does this comport with the view that sees the law as being the Sinaitic covenant? Nothing in the narrative of the giving of the Ten Commandments suggests that some set of transgressions occasioned the giving of the Decalogue. Plus, Paul says explicitly in Romans 4:13 that “where there is no law, there is no transgression,” meaning that whatever “law” the apostle intends in Galatians 3:19 must be given over and above some law already in existence.

The “book of the law” from whose curses Jesus redeems his people, therefore, is the Deuteronomic covenant in particular.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Elves for Download

My most current lecture in
Exile Presbyterian Church's
series on G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy
is titled "The Ethics of Elfland"
and can be downloaded here.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 3: Curses Rehearsed

Returning to our look at Scott Hahn's Kinship By Covenant, we now come to what is perhaps the most interesting and significant section of the book (for Reformed folks anyway). As we have seen, Hahn argues that Yahweh's initial covenant with Israel was a kinship covenant according to which the nation was constituted as God's firstborn son (Exod.4:22). After Israel's repeated rebellion and idolatry (particularly in the golden calf and Beth-peor episodes), however, Yahweh imposed on the second generation an additional covenant (the Deuteronomic) that was intended to reconfigure Israel's relationship with Yahweh into a more servile form, like that of a vassal to a suzerain rather than a son to a father. In Section Two, Hahn attempts to apply his findings to Paul's epistle to the Galatians, particularly chapters 3-4. Our goal over the next several posts will be to examine, bit by bit, the various NT passages (from Galatians and elsewhere) that bear upon this dictinction between the Sinaitic and Deuteronomic covenants.

Since there's loads of material to cover, my plan will be to keep my posts down to manageable, bite-sized portions. In this one I'll simply draw the reader's attention to Paul's Old Testament citation in Galatians 3:10: "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'" The quotation is from Deuteronomy 27 in which the Deuteronomic covenant is ratified on Mount Ebal with an utterance of twelve curses, the last of which reads: "Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them" (v. 26). The following chapter records the blessings and curses attached to the covenant, but the balance hardly seems fair: there are 14 verses recording the blessings and 53 that rehearse the curses.

Since it is the Deuteronomic covenant in particular that threatens curses for disobedience and not the Sinaitic, Hahn argues, then it stands to reason that when Paul states that "all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse" he understands "works of the law" to refer to the statutes and ordinances that Yahweh imposed on Israel by the Deuteronomic covenant as they moved from infancy to rebellious adolescence.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

A Kinder, Gentler Generation of Bishops?

I just came across this quote from the fifth-century bishop of Ruspe, St. Fulgentius:

Firmly hold and never doubt that every baptized person outside of the Catholic Church cannot share in eternal life, if before the end of his life he does not return and is incorporated into the Church.... Not only pagans but also all Jews, all heretics and schismatics who finish this life outside of the Catholic Church will go into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (On Faith, To Peter, 37, 38).

I realize that the writings of the fathers are not on par with the Catholic Church's de fide pronouncements or anything, but I would be curious to hear how these sentiments (which are shared by many other fathers) square with the post-Vatican 2 business about the universal Church "subsisting" in the Church of Rome and we Protestants being only "separated brethren" who may still be saved, even though we're Presbyterians.
Has the Catholic Church lost the gall to condemn me?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 2: Israel's Original Sin

Continuing our look at Scott Hahn's Kinship By Covenant, the author in Part Two of his book applies his overview of the Old Testament covenants to the three New Testament pericopes that explicitly deal with the theme of covenant in familial terms: Luke 22, Galatians 3-4, and Hebrews 1-9. For our purposes here I will focus primarily on Hahn's thoughts on Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Hahn tips his hat to E.P. Sanders, insisting that Sanders is largely responsible for the recent "paradigm shift" in Pauline studies and the focus on the centrality of covenant in the apostle's thought. But Sanders is somewhat shortsighted, Hahn argues, in his failure to do justice to Israel's plight to which divine grace is the solution. "Sanders," writes Hahn, "underestimates the degree to which the sins of Israel had introduced tensions and discontinuity into the covenantal relationship." He continues:

Sanders paints a picture of first-century Judaism in which covenant is primary, but there is no internal tension or predicament for which Paul's Gospel of Jesus Christ provided the solution. Thus his famous but hapless conclusion: "This is what Paul finds wrong with Judaism: it is not Christianity." However... a large portion of first-century Judaism embraced considerable internal tension: God's people were under a curse (cf. Gal. 3:10) because of past transgressions (the golden calf and subsequent infidelity) and in need of eschatological deliverance. Paul claims this deliverance has taken place in Christ (pp. 240, 241).
In fact, Hahn, echoing F. Weber, proposes that "the incident of the golden calf was to Israel what the fall was to Adam," a "virtually unpardonable offense... the evil consequences [of which] were never exhausted" (emphasis original).

As I pointed out in my last post, Hahn is of the opinion that it is not the Sinaitic but the Deuteronomic covenant specifically that Paul has in mind when he speaks of the "curse of the law" from which Christ has redeemed his people. It is this covenant, imposed in response to Israel's idolatry, that is called "the book of the law," and it is this covenant that not only threatens curses the likes of which are found nowhere in the Sinaitic, but also promises that the covenant will be broken and the curses will be enacted (Deut. 30:1). In a word, the Deuteronomic covenant was "intended to fail and thus invoke a new initiative of mercy (the circumcision of the heart) from God, which Paul sees realized in Christ" (p. 249).

And just to whet your appetite for our next post, it is the Deuteronomic covenant that Paul had in mind when he wrote in Galatians 3:19, "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions."


Monday, August 03, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 1: Will the Real Mosaic Covenant Please Stand Up?

As some of you know, I have been reading through Scott Hahn’s recently published doctoral dissertation Kinship By Covenant, and I would like to begin a series of posts considering Hahn’s claims. It’s a hefty volume and I will not be going over every detail, but will stick the stuff I find most interesting.

A quick observation before we jump in: I have been reading the book somewhat defensively, always waiting for some Catholic zinger to be thrown in my face when I’m least expecting it. Like, "So in conclusion, from the evidence adduced concerning the nature of ancient Near Eastern Hittite suzerain-vassal treaties, we clearly see that the Pope is the boss of us, and that Mary’s body was whisked away to heaven. The End." But so far, nothing. The book is primarily exegetical in focus, so the reader will have to do some dot-connecting on his own to determine what systematic conclusions Hahn is putting forth (if any). Now I haven’t finished it yet, but thus far the grinding of any Catholic axes is only implicit and not explicit.

The first bit of interesting exegesis concerns the nature of the Mosaic covenants. Now I expect that some of you are wondering if my use of the plural for of "covenants" is a typo. It’s not. As Kinship By Covenant progresses, it becomes clear that one of Hahn’s key points is that the covenant made with Israel at Sinai (Exod. 19-24) and the covenant made in the book of Deuteronomy are distinct covenants with very different emphases. He writes:

Thus, the two accounts of the Mosaic covenant (Exodus and Deuteronomy) are actually complementary records of two different covenants distinguishable in time and space.... The Exodus narrative of the Sinai covenant accentuates the familial bond which was formed by the covenant ritual (Exod. 24:1-11); whereas the Deuteronomic covenant—ratified by oaths replete with curse-threats (see Deut. 27)—reconfigures that relationship in terms of suzerain-father and vassal-son (p. 65).

Deuteronomy serves to reconfigure the familial bond between Yahweh and Israel in terms of vassalage (i.e., a treaty-type covenant between a suzerain-father and a rebellious vassal-son).... Deuteronomy implicitly recasts the filial status of Israel into a more servile form... (p. 66).
The evidence Hahn adduces for this claim includes: (1) Deut. 29:1 explicitly states that the covenants made at Horeb with the first generation and at Moab with the second generation are different, separated not only by location, but also by forty years time; (2) The Sinai covenant law was to be kept—inaccessibly—inside the ark in the Holy of Holies, whereas the Deuteronomic law was kept by the Levites "by the side of the ark" (Deut. 31:25-26); (3) The purpose of the additional Deuteronomic covenant was directly related to Israel’s idolatrous apostasy at Beth-peor (Num. 25), which was a sin as heinous for the second generation as the golden calf episode was for the first (Exod. 32); (4) Further characteristics of the Deuteronomic covenant include the fact that it was given in order to punish and then restore Israel; it includes many more layers of mediation between Yahweh and Israel than did the Sinai covenant; its focus is primarily upon curses for disobedience, the committal of which is a foregone conclusion (27:9-26; 28:15-68); and it serves to constitute the nation as a theocracy with a centralized cultic ministry.
In my next post I will draw out some implications of Hahn’s exegesis, but for now, let’s discuss what we’ve seen so far. Do you agree with this distinction? Can you anticipate where he’s going with it?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

My Life According to U2

Here's my version of Facebook thing that's going around....


Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to people you like and include me. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think!

Pick your Artist: U2

Are you a male or female: Drowning Man

Describe yourself: Stranger in a Strange Land

How do you feel? Numb

Describe where you currently live: City of Blinding Lights

If you could go anywhere, where would you go? The Playboy Mansion

Your favorite form of transportation: Kite

Your best friend is a: Lady With the Spinning Head

You and your best friends are: Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World

What's the weather like? Bad

Favorite time of day: 11:00 Tick Tock

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called?: Alex Descends into Hell for a Bottle of Milk

What is life to you: Running to Stand Still

Your current relationship: Party Girl

Your fear: Staring at the Sun

What is the best advice you have to give? Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me

Thought For the Day: Love Is Blindness

How I would like to die: Miracle Drug

My soul's present condition: So Cruel

My motto: Love and Peace or Else

Anything Else to Add? I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight