Friday, January 30, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

If you're on Facebook then you probably know about the "25 Random Things About Me" deal that has been circling around. I just posted mine and thought, for fun, that I'd post it here as well. Have fun watching your estimation of me dwindle....

1. I am a failed child actor, having been represented by one of the top kids’ talent agencies in Hollywood.

2. You know that thing Mel Gibson’s character does in Lethal Weapon 2 where he rolls a coin over the top of his knuckles? I can do that (it’s easiest with a British pound or a Hungarian hundred-forint coin).

3. Speaking of Hungarian, I speak Hungarian, and do it every day in my head.

4. I sometimes like to dress in women’s clothing, but only when the moon is full.

5. I have been listening to U2 for 2.5x longer of my life than I spent not listening to them. I sometimes wonder if I like a U2 song simply because it’s by U2. Contrariwise, sometimes I wonder, when listening to a song by another band, whether I would like it better if it were performed by U2. Is this what being “in love” means?

6. I was kicked out of Calvary Chapel because I began to affirm the doctrines of grace and deny the pre-trib rapture. Speaking of which, I really, really dislike Calvary, but I also really, really miss it.

7. I am almost completely incapable of hearing white noise. In a restaurant, if someone says something about the song being played over the speakers, I most likely will not have noticed that any music is playing at all.

8. I was arrested as a teenager for fleeing the scene of an accident.

9. I sometimes talk to my friend about whether or not, if one of us were tasked with killing the other without being caught, we could pull it off.

10. My wife often tells me that she’s convinced I may secretly kill her, and that she has hidden notes around the house telling the police that I was the one behind whatever “accident” took her life.

11. I really hope my wife doesn’t accidentally die, because I will be going to jail for a long time. Plus I'll miss her.

12. I can spin a book on my index finger, and keep it spinning without the help of my other hand, for pretty much as long as I want.

13. There are certain movies that I can no longer watch because I know every line by heart. Fletch comes to mind.

14. Speaking of Fletch, if you ever bring up the movie with me and say (as almost everyone does) that the funniest part is where Chevy Chase is dreaming about playing for the Lakers, and the announcer says, “[Fletch is] six-five, with the afro six-nine,” I will smile and nod my head, while inwardly thinking that you have no right to ever watch Fletch again.

15. One of the girls I dated when I was younger went on to become rather famous. Yes, you’ve heard of her.

16. One time I sleepwalked to the point of actually leaving the house. I know this because I woke up with all the newspapers from my neighbors’ driveways at the foot of my bed.

17. I have a weakness for teen dramas, and am ashamed to admit that I know who L.C., Marissa Cooper, Peyton Sawyer, and Serena Vander Woodsen are.

18. I have really awesome views on cultural matters, but I rarely live up to them. Still, they’re really awesome, you should totally listen to me talk about them some time.

19. For example, I am philosophically completely in favor of public education, but I have no plan to send my kids to public schools.
20. I secretly feel bad for people who see the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate as representing the spectrum of the American people’s views on issues. They agree on the “what” and only disagree on the “how” (and that’s what the debates are about).

21. I think it’s because I saw Wyatt Earp before I saw Tombstone, but I have always felt that the former was a much better film. In fact, I inwardly wonder whether people who don’t share this assessment are kind of shallow.

22. I’m not sure which years of a person’s life count as when you “grew up.” I went from age 6 to age 16 during the 1980s and from age 16 to age 26 during the 1990s, and I am more inclined to say that I grew up in the ‘90s than in the ‘80s.

23. I had elective surgery in my early twenties, but am too embarrassed to ever tell anyone what it was for.

24. I get a lot of grief from people because my favorite albums from the ‘90s don’t include bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam, but they do include stuff by Oasis or The Verve. But I have concluded that this is because I was living in Europe for most of the ‘90s and was more shaped by that continent than this one. (Oh, and I miss living in Europe and think about it every day.)

25. I know “the numbers” from ABC’s Lost by heart. If you do as well, then you’ll be able to figure out which 5 of these random things are false.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Definitive Case Against Definitive Justification?

In his reflections on his White Horse Inn interview conducted by Michael Horton, Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis complains that he offered up a perfect test case for the Catholic doctrine of justification, and Horton kept ignoring it. He says:

On the matter of David’s justification that St. Paul mentions in Romans 4:5-8, I mentioned the fact (as I do in my book) that it is obvious from Paul’s treatment of the account that David lost his justification by committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11-12) and that these sins are the very reason that Paul can then use David as an example of a person who, after he committed these heinous mortal sins, can now receive justification when he repents of those sins. If there is any passage of Scripture that supports the Catholic understanding of Justification, this is it. But to my dismay, Horton made no comment about the obvious conundrum the account of David’s justification creates for his own “one-time forensic event” and “eternal security” beliefs to which he holds so dearly in his Reformed theology, even though I referred to David’s account THREE times in the interview. Rather, each time I mentioned David he quickly turned to another topic of discussion and pretended as if the example of David didn’t even make a dent in his view.
As I understand it, here is Sungenis’s argument in a nutshell:

Major Premise: Paul cites David as an example of his doctrine of justification, quoting from Psalm 32 (“Blessed is the man whose lawless deeds are forgiven, etc.”).

Minor Premise: The event to which David is referring is his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah.

Conclusion: Since David was described as “a man after God’s own heart” prior to this sinful episode, Paul’s calling David’s receiving of forgiveness “justification” demonstrates that, for the apostle, justification Is not a one-time event that occurs at the beginning of the Christian life, but rather is a process that is repeated with each new occurrence of mortal sin and receiving of forgiveness.

What do you think of Sungenis’s case? Is it strong? Weak? And why?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Christian Speech: Common or Commandeering?

In our continuing debate over the nature of justification, the conversation seems to be going like this:

Protestant: “You Catholics are misusing the term ‘justify’ (dikaioo), claiming that it means everything from ‘receive into God’s family’ (which the Bible calls ‘adoption’) to ‘make one a partaker of the divine life’ (which the Bible calls ‘regeneration’), when the actual word itself has a much more limited meaning, namely, to ‘acquit’ or ‘vindicate.’”

Catholic: “Well, even if the Greek term has a more limited meaning that the one we assign to the doctrine named after it, it doesn’t matter. Justification is an in-house doctrine, a teaching of the church that is uniquely ours, and therefore we oughtn’t ask Jewish or pagan lexicographers how to speak our own tribal, peculiar language.”

An interesting response, I admit. William Willimon would be proud.

I think it is necessary to clarify the Protestant position here. We are not saying that we should prefer the technical definition of the best lexica over that of Paul and the subsequent church fathers. Rather, we are saying that Paul used the term in accord with how it was commonly understood in the vernacular of his own day. In other words, he didn’t commandeer a common legal term and transform its meaning without bothering to let anyone in on the joke.

Though the dikaio- word group has a pretty broad semantic range, Paul uses the term “to justify” primarily to denote the act of God rendering to a person his legal due in response to the moral actions he has (or has not) performed. There are two kinds of justification in Paul, one ordinary and the other extraordinary. According to the former, God simply rewards a man according to his works (see Rom. 2:13). Extraordinary justification, on the other hand, occurs when the Father does what he often claims is impossible for him to do, namely, when he “clears the guilty” and “justifies the wicked.”

The reason he can do this is because he has provided for himself an airtight theodicy—he has punished his Son in the sinner’s stead and has imputed to the sinner Christ’s own righteousness as a free gift, thus remaining “just, and the justifier of the one who believes” the gospel (Rom. 3:23-26).

But semantics can be tedious, after all. What I’m really interested in finding out is whether or not the Catholic can accept what is said above, regardless of what they call it.


Friday, January 23, 2009

The Answer... Kind Of.

I will be heading out of town in a couple hours for a speaking engagement and won't be back until late Sunday, so I figured I shouldn't leave you all hanging concerning the answer to the recent Who Said That? I heard the quote in a Protestant/Catholic debate involving Michael Horton, but I'll let you listen to the clip to find out the quote's original source.


Who Said That?

"[The Greek word translated 'justification'] always has a certain forensic flavor which prevents its becoming a mere synonym of regeneration or re-creation. In later theology, however, this sense is often lost, and justification comes to mean nothing more than the infusion of grace. Now when Paul applies the juridical terminology to the new Christian reality, it acquires an entirely new meaning. It refers now not to the future but to the past (Rom. 5:9), not to the just man but the sinner (Rom. 4:5). And so the basis of justification must also be different. It can no longer be observance of the law. It must be Christ, whom God has made our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30), which is the same thing as saying that we are justified by faith in Christ" (Rom. 3:28).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Calvin's Kingdom Theology

At Westminster Seminary's recent conference on Calvin I picked a copy of David VanDrunen's essay titled The Two Kingdoms Doctrine and the Relationship of Church and State in the Early Reformed Tradition (a very catchy title, I know. Just rolls off the tongue). I hope to do a couple posts on it, but for now, here's a snippet:

Though many advocates of the transform-ationist view suggest they are following the lead of John Calvin and the Reformation, Calvin in fact offered a different theolgical foundation for thinking about social and cultural issues through his doctrine of the two kingdoms. By means of this doctrine, Calvin distinguished clearly between Christ's redemptive rule in the spiritual kingdom, experienced now in the church, and God's providential rule in the civil kingdom, comprising the state and various areas of life outside the church.

Contemporary Reformed transformationists recognize the importance of a theology of the kingdom of God for their vision, but affirming one (redemptive) kingdom that extends to all human activities and institutions presents a decidedly different vision from Calvin's kingdom theology.
As we jump into this essay I will be curious to hear from my Catholic readers how they understand the relationship between the two kingdoms, or "cities" as Augustine called them. And though this post is only a bare introduction, feel free to begin dialoguing now....

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Pleasantville and the Visible Church

As our discussion seems to have morphed into one about the visible vs. invisible church, I think a valid question that arises (but is not begged) is, “What, exactly, is a ‘church’?”

I would argue that a “church” is a self-governing ecclesiastical body that administers the Word and sacraments, meaning that a pastor-led congregational assembly is a church, Calvary Chapel as a whole is a church, and the PCA is a church (I’m putting aside for the moment the issue of whether these churches are any good).

And according to this definition, the Catholic Church is also a visible church.

The tricky part, however, is determining whether Protestants believe in a visible church at all, or simply in visible churches. If I visit a Missouri Synod Lutheran church I will be denied the bread and cup, despite the fact that I’m a Presbyterian minister. If one of my kids joins a Calvary Chapel (shudder) in high school, he or she will be offered a re-baptism, one that “really counts.”

So much for the sacraments having anything to do with unity in our circles....

So for better or worse, we Protestants must function as though “church” = “autonomous local body” or “denomination.” Perhaps some space could be made for a group like NAPARC (to which most conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations belong), but that is only a loose affiliation with no real jurisdiction or control over what, say, the PCA or OPC do.

Once we have sufficiently convinced ourselves that the visible church is small enough only to contain those who are under the authority of our particular denomination or body, then we can allow passages like Matthew 16:19 to play a significant role in our ecclesiastical practice. When someone becomes unrepentantly delinquent in doctrine or morals, we exercise our proper jurisdiction and remove such a one from our assembly.

But while all of this painful, sober, and faithful discipline happens we have this nagging thought in the back of our minds that the excommunicated person can just run out and join one of many other churches in the area, and that the chances that those churches will take seriously our disciplinary sentence are slim to nil. So he’s not really “delivered over to Satan,” but delivered over to Lakeside Community Church.

My point is two-fold. First, Protestantism doesn’t really believe in a visible church but in visible churches, and secondly, it is only in the context of any one of these distinct churches that spiritual authority and discipline make any sense. But like the residents of Pleasantville, once the members of an isolated church figure out that Main Street is not a big circle but a line that could dangerously lead to other ecclesiastical options, the game could very well be over.

This is a problem that needs to be fixed. But how?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cogito, Ergo Sum [Protestant]?

On his blog Pontifications, Fr. Kimel puts forth a kind of Van Tilian, presuppostional defense of the papacy, building his case on the argument of Cardinal Manning, whom Kimel quotes at length:

The doctrines of the Church in all ages are primitive. It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? No individual, no number of individuals can go back through eighteen hundred years to reach the doctrines of antiquity. We may say with the woman of Samaria, “Sir, the well is deep, and thou hast nothing to draw with.” No individual mind now has contact with the revelation of Pentecost, except through the Church. Historical evidence and biblical criticism are human after all, and amount at most to no more than opinion, probability, human judgment, human tradition.

In the same way that a Reformed presuppositionalist would argue that it is a subtle display of rationalism to demand evidence for God's existence or the veracity of Scripture, so Kimel, echoing Manning, is insisting that it is also rationalism to insist that the Catholic Church's claims about its papal authority be historically proven.

The reason why such evidence is demanded, Kimel admits, is that the pope is the very icon of scandal and offense in the eyes of many.

I grant Manning’s point, yet still it seems appropriate to ask for evidences to support the Church’s teaching on the papacy. The Pope is, after all, is the rock upon which so many stumble. Even Paul VI conceded that “the pope—and we know this well—is without doubt the most serious obstacle on the ecumenical road.” The pope hypostatsizes the skandalon that is the Catholic Church.
I must admit, this argument is clever (if not a bit too convenient as well), for it puts Protestants in the unenviable position of having to sift through the historical data on the church and weigh it in the balances, all the while disassociating it from the testimony of the very church it is seeking to understand. Better, Catholics would argue, to simply believe the Church on its own authority than to subject it to the bar of human reason and inquiry.

In a word, apply all the stuff Van Til said about Scripture to the Catholic Church, and voila!, all our problems will be solved.

What do you think? Clever or convenient?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Preaching to the QIRE: Lewis on Liturgy

I came across this quote by C.S. Lewis in another book I’m reading. He is dealing with the essential nature of ritual and ceremony, highlighting the fact that many aspects of life—holidays for example—are marked off from the ordinary by means of special meals, special traditions, and special ceremonies. On “the language of a liturgy” Lewis writes:

Regular churchgoers are not surprised by the service--indeed, they know a good deal of it by rote; but it is a language apart…. [Liturgy] is a pattern imposed on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable, which hands over to the power of wise custom the task (to which the individual and his moods are so inadequate) of being festive or sober, gay or reverent, when we choose to be, and not at the bidding of chance.
When the church pursues what Scott Clark calls the QIRE, or, the quest for illegitimate religious experience, it places the believer in the impossible position of needing to achieve some level of spiritual feeling in order for his worship to pass as genuine and worth the hassle, all the while having no way of determining what that degree of experience is or measuring it once it has occurred.

But when we realize that we are inherently liturgical creatures (this, after all, is what separates our experience of birth, sex, and death from that of animals), then we will be free to embrace the structure of liturgy without being afraid that we will stifle the Spirit in the process. If the Spirit brought order to the original creation’s formlessness and void, is it not warranted that we understand him to bring order to the new creation as well?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Goin' Back to Cali (Cali, Cali)

I'll be traveling down to Southern California tomorrow to attend Westminster Seminary's annual conference later in the week, so I'll not post tonight (but hope to do so tomorrow evening).

Oh, Scott Clark will be "live blogging" the event for those of you who know what that means.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Which Came Last, the Chicken or the Egg?

More from Pilgrim Theology....

A second qualification that must be made before we admit to the charge of escapism concerns whether or not our “being too heavenly-minded makes us no earthly good.” If we spend all our time hoping for harps and halos, it is asked, when will we ever find the time to work toward earthly happiness and humanitarianism?

As Kreeft points out, the charge that heavenly-mindedness diminishes earthly goodness is not necessarily true (though in some cases it might be). Let us answer the question with a question: Who is more likely to quit smoking during pregnancy, the mother who plans for an abortion or the one who plans to give birth? The answer should be obvious. Roads that actually lead somewhere are usually better maintained than dead-end ones, and likewise, when our earthly sojourn is seen as just that—a sojourn on the way to our heavenly home—then it is reasonable to assume that this pilgrimage will be taken with great seriousness and care. If death is not the end of the road, but actually ushers us into the presence of the God who gave us life and demands an account of how we lived it, then is it not to be expected that the pilgrim with an eye on his destination will live more purposefully than will the tourist, the goal of whose trip is to get as much bang for his buck? [1]

In short, we must realize that if we long to live like the divine image-bearers that we are rather than like the animals that the Darwinists want us to be, then the first thing we must do is dwell less upon our past and more upon our future. The chicken is indeed produced by the egg, and, likewise, we are the product of our ancestry in some sense. But all of that pales to the deeper question of what the chicken is for. Sure, the “origin of the species” is important, but not nearly as important as its final destination.

[1] See

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Trickle-Down Missionomics

In Carl Trueman’s recent post on the seeming obsession that many Christians have with popular culture, he lists a number of areas of caution, beginning with what he calls a “coincidence of concerns of the cultural Christian types and those of the middle class chatterati.” He writes:

Plenty of talk about Christian approaches to art, music, literature, sex, even international politics. All very interesting subjects, I'm sure, and the topics of many a chardonnay-fuelled discussion after a hearty dinner party. But what about subjects that aren't quite so interesting? Take street sweepers, for example; or hotel lavatory attendants; or workers on an umbrella manufacturing line. Why no conference on the Christian philosophy underlying these vital callings and trades? After all, imagine how gruesome a Christian conference on international poverty would be if it was held in the pouring rain in the Ritz Carlton hotel in some big city, but there were no road sweepers, lavatory attendants, and umbrella makers. Wet, dirty and unhygienic, I would guess.
Amen and Amen.

I have been observing for years how that the market-driven Catholicity that fuels much of the missional movement is concerned primarily with all things artsy and fartsy rather than nitty and gritty. To state it differently, if you want a write-up in the latest issue of Authentic Church Planting magazine, your target audience should be Hunter the Poet rather than Joe the Plumber.

It is sad that the modus operandi of the market also fuels so much of the American church. Just as prime real estate would never be given to build low-income housing, so neither would prime missions funding be given to reach the people who live in low-income housing.

Three cheers, therefore, for those who follow the footsteps of Jesus and spend themselves for the poor and unnoticed. And for those who insist that God has a special place in his redemptive plan for (the hip, edgy, bohemian parts of) “the city,” well, it may be the case that this approach to missions is the ecclesiastical equivalent of trickle-down economics: Sure, the blue-collar proletariat will get a morsel here and there, but only if it happens to fall from the table of the cultural bourgeoisie.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Will the Real Escapist Please Stand Up?

I'm a bit uninspired of late, so until I think up something new to talk about (suggestions welcome), enjoy this excerpt from my book, Pilgrim Theology....


“Ah,” says the skeptic, “isn’t all this talk of ‘heaven’ and ‘eternity’ just escapism, a desire for ‘pie in the sky when you die’?” It would be quite tempting (and truthful) to answer “yes” to this question. After all, the fact that heaven is ultimate while earth is only penultimate necessarily demands the conclusion that a willingness to settle for the latter is foolish at best, and masochistic at worst. Who wouldn’t hope to graduate from the temporal and attain the eternal, to “escape” the provisional and arrive at the permanent?

Still, the negative connotations inherent in the charge of escapism demand that we only admit to it if we are allowed to make some qualifications. First, heaven is to earth what the outside world is to the womb. If there is such a thing as birth, then it follows that the womb is only temporary. Likewise, if there is such a thing as the new birth, then earth must be temporary as well. Is it “escapist” for a fetus to want to emerge from the womb? As Peter Kreeft says, “‘There is a tunnel under this prison’ may be an escapist idea, but it may also be true.”[1] In other words, whether or not a hope is escapist is incidental to whether that hope is grounded in fact. If it is factual, then its being escapist is beside the point. Consider Kreeft’s parable:

There was a rumor among the caterpillars that they were destined to become butterflies. Some caterpillars believed it; others disbelieved; and still others doubted. Now what would be the reasonable attitude of each of the three groups of caterpillars toward this rumor? Which could reasonably call it escapist? Would not even the uncertain want to explore it further? For if it is true… it is not escapism. The charge of escapism therefore logically boils down to the charge of falsehood; only those who are certain the rumor is false can reasonably call it escapist. Otherworldliness is escapism only if there is no other world. If there is, it is worldliness that is escapism.[2]
We mustn’t miss Kreeft’s point here. The label “escapist” really only applies to the desire for heaven when the one applying it is certain that heaven does not exist. But once we recognize that such certainty is impossible, then the charge becomes mere wishful thinking. And if the unbeliever is merely skeptical about heaven’s existence rather than certain of its non-existence, then is it not he, rather than the believer, who is the real escapist? After all, sometimes heaven is that which we desire to escape from rather than to. Avoiding God is easier than embracing him. Before the prodigal can come home, he first must run away.

[1] Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Greatest Longing (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989) 164, emphasis added.
[2] Ibid., 168.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bono, Luther, and the Seeds of Modernity

I’ve been on a bit of a ‘90s U2 kick of late (possibly due to the scheduled release of No Line on the Horizon in March, which has been compared to Achtung Baby), and so I’m (re)reading Bill Flanagan’s U2 at the End of the World. The author has been a close friend of the band’s since the early ‘80s and was given permission to follow them around during their ZooTv tour (’92-’93) and basically be privy to every show, every party, every conversation, and every recording session. Not a bad job this Flanagan fellow has.

Anyway, I read this passage the other night that I found interesting:

Bono is quick to admit that many of his ideas are instinctive, not intellectual—he does not have the time to be rigorous in researching or testing them. One of the theories that gets him into great arguments is that he believes that modernism started with Luther, with the Reformation, with the dismantling of the iconography of the culture and insistence on simplicity and function…. Bono is convinced that all this stripping down and directness goes back to the Protestant impulse, back to Luther, and that the modernists made the great mistake of taking on the antireligion of the existentialists and lost that thread. (It’s one of the wonders of Bono’s considerable intellect that he can construct a unified field theory of all his interests—even when they have nothing to do with each other.)
Now I know that my Catholic readers will jump on this and say, “See? Even Bono realizes that the seeds of modern man’s supposed autonomy are to be found in the Reformation with its individualistic doctrine of Sola Scriptura.” And it may very well be the case that when you mix together Sola Scriptura, anti-authoritarianism, and Descartes, you may not exactly like what you get as a result. Still, I can’t help but wonder how we are to avoid some degree of individualism, whether our home is Geneva, Saddleback, or Rome. We are all evaluating some body of data, whether it is Scripture or the early church fathers (or both), and coming to some conclusion or another about what they have to tell us.

So maybe evangelicals should stop dismissing Presbyterians for our refusal to let the Bible speak for itself; and maybe Presbyterians should soften our self-congratulatory tone when slapping ourselves on the back because of how well we avoid the individualism of the Bible-only, Anabaptist evangelicals out there; and maybe Catholics should stop looking down their noses at all of us and admit that they employ the same private judgment to determine that the Magisterium replaces private judgment as we do when we determine that the Bible speaks clearly enough on its core teachings that even children can understand its basic message.