Archive for the ‘Response’ Category

Responding to Martini’s Answers to Objections

July 21, 2009

Gabe Martini at The Franciscan Mafia has a post up (incidentally, while I believe Mr. Martini was previously associated with the Federal Vision group, it appears that he has now switched his allegiance to Eastern Orthodoxy)(link to post). The post is designed to answer an objection to the Eastern Orthodox. Here’s the objection:

The Orthodox Church teaches that it is infallible; that is, incapable of any error. The Orthodox Church claims that it is incapable of erring in not only its interpretation of Scripture but also in its teachings, dogmas, canons, and decrees. There is, in other words, no possibility of reform within the Orthodox Church and the Tradition of the Church is therefore not subject to the authority of the Scriptures.

Mr. Martini responds to this objection in a rather unusual way. He does not directly dispute any part of the objection, instead he asserts that it misrepresents “the origin or source of the Church’s infallibility.” With all due respect, Mr. Martini’s assertion is incorrect. In fact, the objection as stated doesn’t identify (at all!) any alleged origin or source of the EO church’s alleged infallibility.

What Mr. Martini seems to be trying to argue (without properly establishing the matter) is that the EO church is infallible because she is the mouth of God. Of course, if the EO church were really the mouth of God, how could she err? Can God err? But the idea that the EO church is the mouth of God is not a premise we’re willing to concede just because Mr. Martini asserts it.

Mr. Martini also asserts: “The major disagreement between Protestants and the Orthodox, for example, is not between one’s view of “tradition” but between one’s view of Truth.” This argument doesn’t especially support the main thesis of misrepresentation, but it may have some value. Let’s explore what Mr. Martini means:

Since Protestants view Scripture as “objective truth” which we subjectively understand (and leaving the possibility that our understanding can be shown as incorrect in light of future understanding), they not only view Christ as just another “objective truth” which we need to apprehend intellectually (which is how many will define “faith”) but they view tradition and other issues in the same way as well.

The wording of this comment does show Mr. Martini to be less than thrilled with the academic rigor of “Protestantism.” Furthermore, it is the case that some “Protestants” (perhaps even some of the Reformed) can find themselves viewing their faith in Christ as purely intellectual assent (although such is contrary to the teachings of the Reformed churches.

Mr. Martini’s anti-intellectual comment, though, seems to be well connected with the anti-intellectual milieu of Eastern Orthodoxy. But Mr. Martini wants to drive a wedge between objective truth and what he calls “personal truth,” which sounds like pure relativism, especially in light of comments like this:

Therefore, the infallibility claims of the Orthodox Church are related to “objective truth” and not personal Truth as She understands it. Truth can only be personal, for we can only be individuals in the context of a community and so it is with Truth. God’s Truth in His Holy Church is expressed to us by means of People and the faithful life of such community — of such communion. The claim to being capable of infallibility is not about having the best scholarship or the best traditions, it is a claim that what we have been given and what has been preserved by the blood of martyrs is the Personal Truth given by God through Christ and His Apostles and handed down to us through the Liturgy, Councils, Canons, Fathers, Saints, Martyrs, and Icons of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

This sounds for all the world like: “We aren’t saying that our traditions are objectively true, but rather that we believe them to be true and we got them from the apostles somehow.” When we examine the apostolic teachings handed down to us (“traditioned to us” if you will) in Scripture, we discover that the EO teachings (however strongly they are sincerely held by the EO churches) don’t fully align with the teachings of the apostles.

Mr. Martini continues:

When Protestants approach the Church Fathers, as well, they assume that the infallibility of the Church means that all so-called Fathers of the Church are infallible in everything they say.

This certainly is a common mistake, both in addressing the errors of EO as well as in addressing the errors of Roman Catholicism. Of course Roman Catholicism accepts the concept of objective truth, so the response that Mr. Martini is about to provide would help them, but both EO and Roman Catholicism recognize that their “saints” were fallible men.

One commenter allied with Rome noted on my blog that his church permits their saints not to agree in every respect with modern Rome. We might likewise say that the EO permit their saints not to agree in every respect with the modern teachings of whichever EO church one is considering (the EO have a much less centralized hierarchy). Mr. Martini’s response:

Many Fathers say things that seem to be at odds with one another, and some Fathers are even later condemned by Ecumenical Councils as heretical in their teachings, or in specific teachings (e.g. Origen, Tertullian). The problem with this approach again lies in the Protestant’s rationalistic approach to truth and understanding; i.e., that of objective truth or subjective truth. They can only conceive of Church Fathers who are making objective truth claims and therefore only approach them as sources of objective truth, forgetting all along to approach them as living people, alive with us in Christ to this very day.

Mr. Martini’s comment here seems misplaced. It is plain from reading the writings of even fairly “Eastern” fathers (such as Gregory of Nyssa) that he thought he was providing objective truth in his writings. He sought to “prove” his positions from Scripture, and he demanded Scriptural proof from his critics. This is also seen from the councils that condemned as heretical some of the teachings of earlier “church fathers” such as Origen. They were not willing to simply accept Origen as a “living person, alive with us in Christ to this very day,” but were willing to condemn his doctrines or practices as false in certain aspects.

But the vacillating argument of Mr. Martini does not stop there. He continues:

The truth of the Church is the life of Christ Himself. Only when one assumes a “rationalistic” or “nominalistic” view of truth and the false dichotomy of “objective” and “subjective” truth would one also have trouble with the truth claims of Holy Orthodoxy. For in Orthodoxy, it is not incumbent upon every person to equally have a full knowledge and understanding of all things theological or doctrinal, as you’ll find encouraged within Protestantism[.] This is simply because Protestants and Westerners view truth as an object to be grasped while the Eastern Church views truth as Christ Himself; a Person to know and be known by through our living of his life again and again in the Liturgy and life of the Church itself. As a result, there can be no “individual” discovery of truth within Orthodoxy in the sense of rational discovery or intellectual accomplishment. The truth of Holy Tradition is found in the conciliatary nature of the Church and our living together as a community united by One Faith and One All-Holy Trinity.

That first sentence sounds quite grand, but it lacks content. What does it mean that the “truth of the Church is the life of Christ”? Well, apparently (and we have to say “apparently” because there is no explicit explanation) the comment is intended to suggest that what the EO church says is true, because the EO church is, in some sense, Christ. This is actually quite the same argument that Catholicism makes, and is as unsupported by EO assertion as it by Roman assertion. While Christ is united with his church, the church is made up of all those who believe, not a particular sect.

There is another and more uniquely EO argument in that string of thought, however. The argument is that we should treat the saints not as individuals but as a collective. There’s certainly some intuitive value in this approach. The major problem, of course, is that the “saints” wrote as individuals, not as a collective (leaving aside a small handful of allegedly ecumenical councils). Approaching those writings as a “collective” is a difficult task, to say the least. Indeed, individual inconsistencies within individual fathers can make fully understanding their thought difficult. So likewise, and much more so, it can be difficult to get a strong sense of the shared beliefs of a particular school of patristic thought (such as the Alexandrian, Antiochian, or Cappadocian schools). Trying to say “the fathers believed ‘x'” without at least qualifying the statement by century and school seems rash, since there is so much variety of thought among them. In short, the proposal of trying to consider them as a collective is largely untenable.

Well, it is untenable if you hope to discriminate truth from error. Mr. Martini, however, seems content not to separate truth from error. He quotes approvingly the following statement: “The Church is infallible, not because it expresses the truth correctly from the point of view of practical expediency, but because it contains the truth. The Church, truth, infallibility, these are synonymous.”

The danger of Mr. Martini’s approach can be illustrated by an example. Suppose that one has a basket full of wheat and arsenic. It would be absurd to say that the bag was pure wheat simply because it contained wheat. Likewise it is absurd to say that a church which may contain both truth and damnable heresies is infallible. Does EO contain the truth? Well, they have Bibles and those Bibles teach the truth. But that doesn’t address the objection.

The objection is about reform. Is reform impossible in EO? Is it impossible that the teachings of the EO are in error? If so, then it seems the objection holds, and if not – then it seems that the objection may be misplaced.

Martini claims:

Regardless, the Orthodox Church never claims that She is “in every way and instance” infallible. However, there are truths of the Faith which are considered to be “trustworthy” and “without error,” and fully believed to lead one into salvation and proper devotion to Christ. It is only in these areas that the Church is to be considered infallible and that is appropriately expressed and found in various places within the life of the Church (such as Her liturgy, prayers, psalms, icons, canons, apostolic doctrines, ecumenical councils, etc.).

The “in every way and instance” seems to be a straw man. Not even Rome claims that kind of infallibility.

Martini’s final argument:

Finally, the idea of the Orthodox Church in its infallibility not being subject to the authority of the Scriptures is a strange objection, as according to Orthodoxy, the Scriptures are truly the authoritative Word of God.

I’m not sure why this seems odd to Mr. Martini. Rome makes the same kind of claim. Both Rome and the EO churches say that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God, yet both view reform of official church teachings in light of the Word an impossibility. That’s not “a very sincere reverence for the Scriptures” (as Martini claims) but lip service.

Martini also included, in his concluding paragraph, a reference to the creed:

Indeed, the meaning of the words “I believe in,” found within the Symbol of Faith (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) imply trust, and when we confess our faith/trust in the Church alongside our faith in the All-Holy Trinity (and strikingly, not in the Scriptures alone or separate from our faith in the Trinity and the Catholic Church), there should be no confusion left about how we are to view the Church.

Sadly, there is much confusion in this description of the creed.

First of all, it’s worth noting that the clause including reference to the church is part of the additions made at the Council of Constantinople. It’s not part of the core Nicene creed, but that’s at least implicitly recognized by the name Mr. Martini gives it.

Second, the creed as a “symbol of faith” is a summary of Scripture teachings, not some new teachings. As Augustine (circa A.D. 354-430) explained:

We have, however, the catholic faith in the Creed, known to the faithful and committed to memory, contained in a form of expression as concise as has been rendered admissible by the circumstances of the case; the purpose of which [compilation] was, that individuals who are but beginners and sucklings among those who have been born again in Christ, and who have not yet been strengthened by most diligent and spiritual handling and understanding of the divine Scriptures, should be furnished with a summary, expressed in few words, of those matters of necessary belief which were subsequently to be explained to them in many words, as they made progress and rose to [the height of] divine doctrine, on the assured and steadfast basis of humility and charity.

Augustine, Of Faith and the Creed, Chapter 1

Note that it is especially for novices, for those not yet familiar with Scripture.

Third, while the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed may be confusingly worded, the historic understanding was not that we believe “in the church” as the object of our trust, but rather that we believe in the existence of one church.

Rufinus (circa A.D. 344-410) explains with reference to the Apostles’ creed:

36. “The Holy Church; The Forgiveness of Sin, the Resurrection of This Flesh.” It is not said, “In the holy Church,” nor “In the forgiveness of sins,” nor “In the resurrection of the flesh.” For if the preposition “in” had been added, it would have had the same force as in the preceding articles. But now in those clauses in which the faith concerning the Godhead is declared, we say “In God the Father,” and “In Jesus Christ His Son,” and “In the Holy Ghost,” but in the rest, where we speak not of the Godhead but of creatures and mysteries, the preposition “in ” is not added. We do not say “We believe in the holy Church,” but “We believe the holy Church,” not as God, but as the Church gathered together to God: and we believe that there is “forgiveness of sins;” we do not say “We believe in the forgiveness of sins;” and we believe that there will be a “Resurrection of the flesh;” we do not say “We believe in the resurrection of the flesh.” By this monosyllabic preposition, therefore, the Creator is distinguished from the creatures, and things divine are separated from things human.

Rufinus, A Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, Section 36

Martini also throws out another interesting claim:

Nowhere do we read in the Scriptures that the “Bible” (which didn’t exist until the 4th century and wasn’t readily available to Christians even up until the 17th or 18th centuries at the earliest) is the “pillar and foundation of truth” — only the Church.

What Mr. Martini seems to be unaware of is that there have been various interpretations of the verse he identifies. For example, the earliest implicit interpretation (of which I’m aware) is this one from Irenaeus (circa A.D. 115-202):

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 1

Notice that Irenaeus considers the “ground and pillar of our faith” to be the Scriptures, not the church. In fact, he goes on to say that Gospels are ground and pillar of the church (not vice versa):

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 11

Irenaeus provides one interpretation, but Gregory of Nyssa provides another, he says that Paul is speaking of Timothy personally (link). Gregory of Nazianzen seems to have a similar view in that he refers to his father (link) and Eusebius Bishop of Samosata (link) each as a “pillar and ground of the Church.” And, of course, the apostles were viewed as pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.) so it should be no surprise that the writings of the apostles, together with the other Scriptures should be the foundation of the Church whose who object and purpose it is easy to support and defend the truth.

Thus, we in Augustine’s response to Petilianus’ question the same thing:

Petilianus said:

David also said, ‘The oil of the sinner shall not anoint my head.’ Who is it, therefore, that he calls a sinner? Is it I who suffer your violence, or you who persecute the innocent?

Augustine answered:

As representing the body of Christ, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and mainstay of the truth, dispersed throughout the world, on account of the gospel which was preached, according to the words of the apostle, “to every creature which is under heaven:” as representing the whole world, of which David, whose words you cannot understand, has said, “The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved;” whereas you contend that it not only has been moved, but has been utterly destroyed: as representing this, I answer, I do not persecute the innocent.

Augustine, Answer to the Letters of Petilian, the Donatist, Chapter 104, Sections 236-37

Notice how Augustine views the Church as the pillar and mainstay of the truth, not in itself but by virtue of “the gospel which was preached.”

Before commending himself to Christ at the intercession of the saints, Mr. Martini provides one last jab:

Indeed, if the Church was in any way successful in infallibly preserving the true Faith of Christ, then that should be made evident, and the blood of the Martyrs and lives of the Saints who have gone before us and “finished the race set before them” are proof enough for this very fact.

To which I respond:
1) The Faith of Christ is passed down in Scriptures, which are able to make one wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:16);
2) Scriptures are able to furnish one for martyrdom and for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17); and
3) Martyrs are a powerful testimony, but do not forget that four hundred fifty priests of Baal were slain in one day by Elijah’s command (1 Kings 18) who Jehu subsequently imitated (2 Kings 10). Dying for one’s faith may show sincerity, but it does not prove particular doctrines to be correct. And do not forget, there have been no shortage of martyrs who have confessed the name of Jesus but have not been in communion either with Constantinople or Rome.

In Conclusion

Every church ought to recognize that it is a church, not the church. As such, it ought to be willing to modify its positions if it can be shown from Scripture that those teachings are wrong. Conversely, a church ought not to bind men’s consciences with doctrines not taught in Scripture. Any church who seeks to be a pillar and ground of the church should have no problem with such requests, just as any teacher who wishes to be a pillar should obtain his own foundation in the Holy Scriptures.


Response to Challenge to Calvinists

May 4, 2009

Jamsco at The Responsible Puppet has a challenge for Calvinists: “Show me any passage in the bible [sic] that says that God allowed or permitted something to happen.” (source)


Two immediately come to mind.

Job 1: God permitted Satan to variously hurt Job in his possessions, servants, and children but without touching Job himself.

Job 2: God permitted Satan to hurt Job so long as Satan did not take Job’s life.


Can We Say "God Bless You" To Roman Catholics?

April 15, 2009

The subject question is one that is posed by Mr. William Albrecht’s latest video (link). The question is an interesting one. On the one hand, we certainly do wish and pray and act for the good of Roman Catholics. A substantial number of the posts on this blog of late have been directed toward Roman Catholics and Roman Catholicism with the aim of doing them good, and they are accompanied by prayers to the same end. Let there be no doubt about this.

Let there be no doubt, we are addressing the claims of Roman Catholicism primarily for the good of those who are in that religion or tempted to become a part of that religion. It is not for our benefit, and it is certainly not out of any hostility for the people who make up that religion.

And that is not just true of Roman Catholicism, but of Atheism, Islam, Mormonism, and all men of whatever creed or anti-creed they may have, with whom we engage. We do not challenge the claims of others out of any negative animus but out of love for them and concern for their souls.

On the other hand, we do not want to give them the impression that God is favorably inclined to them while they remain opposed to the gospel. Thus, while we proclaim the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone, we do not suggest that God presently is favorably inclined on those who oppose the gospel: He is not.

Recall the words of the prophet:

Jeremiah 6:14 They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

This is why we do not normally say “God bless you” to an enemy of the faith, although we do wish God to bless them with the grace of regeneration and the gift of faith, because the expression is typically viewed as suggesting that we view them as already in God’s favor where they are.

But yes, I do wish for God’s blessing on you, Mr. William Albrecht, and I will (as you asked) pray for you: not that you will continue on in opposition to the gospel that Paul preached, but that you will be overwhelmed by the Scriptures and brought to faith in Christ alone for salvation.


GreenBaggins on Theonomy – A Response

April 6, 2009

Lane Keister at GreenBaggins has a post in which he argues that “Theonomy is Biblically-Theologically Wrong” (link). I can summarize it thus: “redemptive-historical theology removes the O.T. civil laws while natural law replaces them.”

1) Limited Agreement on the Church-State Distinction

I agree that the church and state are not one and the same thing in the New Testament.

a) However, I should note that Mr. Keister (because of his Redemptive-Historical framework) has failed to notice that church and state were not one and the same thing in the Old Testament. A redemptive-historical approach is so focused on the earthly ministry of Christ that it tends to lose sight of the original context of Old Testament passages. While there are redemptive-historical themes and a significant amount of typology in Scripture, we must never permit these themes to prevent us from understanding the literal sense of Scripture.

b) Additionally, I should note that Mr. Keister has failed to notice that even in the New Testament the civil government (whether that be king, governor, or whatever) is considered a “minister of God” (just as in the Old Testament, see Exodus 24:13 and Romans 13:4). In fairness, Mr. Keister does mention Romans 13 (and even mentions that the magistrate is ordained by God), but argues that there is nothing in Romans 13 that cannot be argued on the basis of natural law, which brings us to the second point of limited agreement.

2) Limited Agreement on the Natural Law

I agree that God has provided information about himself through the created order and especially through the conscience, which we can refer to as “Natural Law” and that we must not go contrary to Natural Law any more than to any other divine revelation.

a) However, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law is necessarily universally applicable. That is to say, God’s revelation of himself through Nature and Conscience was also applicable to Old Testament Israel.

b) Additionally, Mr. Keister overlooks that the Natural Law tends not to be propositional. Thus, for example, Natural Law can tell us that crime must be punished, but it may not be able to tell us whether theft should be a capital offense. This actually brings us to a point of disagreement with Mr. Keister.

3) Mr. Keister’s Arguments Against Capital Punishment for Violation of Second-Table Commandments are Unsupported and Unsupportable Either from Scripture or Natural Law

Mr. Keister states:

However, it is not the civil magistrate’s job to execute a boy for cursing his parents (as was true in the Old Testament civil laws). It is the church’s job to instruct and to exercise church discipline.

There are two problems with this claim:

a) Mr. Keister is arguing for church discipline to handle the affairs of civil government. Although he doubtless does not intend to do so, Mr. Keister is violating the two-kingdoms principle that civil affairs are within the authority of the civil magistrate: attempting to take this away from the civil magistrate and give it to the church. However, the church is not charged with punishing crime: that is not within its sphere of authority.

b) The issue of insubordination of children to parents is an issue of civil law, as is recognized by the Old Testament and in the Natural Law. The Old Testament explicitly ordains the death penalty for cursers of parents and places it, contextually in this list:

i) Regulation of Slavery (Exodus 21:1-11);
ii) Capital Punishment for Premeditated Murder and Relief for Accidental Homicide (Exodus 21:12-14);
iii) Capital Punishment for Battery of Parents (Exodus 21:15);
iv) Capital Punishment for Kidnap (Exodus 21:16);
v) Capital Punishment for Cursing of Parents (Exodus 21:17);
vi) Restitution for Battery (Exodus 21:18-19);
vii) Application of (ii) and (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:20-21);
viii) Punishment for Battery of Pregnant Woman (Exodus 21:22-25);
ix) Further application of (vi) in the case of slaves (Exodus 21:26-27);
x) Punishment of Homicide by Chattels (Exodus 21:28-32);
xi) Punishment for Damage to Chattels by Pit-digging (Exodus 21:33-34); and
xii) Punishment for Damage of Chattels on Chattels (Exodus 21:35-46).

Within that context it should be fairly clear that cursing one’s parents is part of the civil code of Israel, and it is the responsibility of the civil magistrate (the “judges” mentioned, for example, in Exodus 21:6) to address these issues. It is not a matter governed through the church (i.e. through the priests) and it is not a matter connected with the ceremonial law or with an issue unique to the nation of Israel (as, for example, the land of Canaan).

c) It is worth noting that, in this instance, Mr. Keister has gone beyond even many fairly radical non-theonomists in suggesting that a second table offense should not be governed by the civil government.

d) Mr. Keister does not provide any real argument from the Natural Law in support of his contention that the Natural Law does not suggest such a penalty. On the contrary, Natural Law teaches that men must obey their parents, that parents deserve a special dignity, and that the greater the dignity of the offended party the worse the punishment should be on the offender. In short, while someone might argue that the specific punishment of death for cursers of parents cannot be gleaned from the Natural Law (given the inspecific nature of Natural Law), nevertheless the Old Testament civil law provides an example well within the bounds of Natural Law and fully consistent with it and certainly Mr. Keister’s opinion that death penalty is inappropriate cannot be supported by natural law, even if the natural law does not clearly require such a penalty.

4) Mr. Keister’s Situation-Specific Dismissal Is Too Unspecific

Mr. Keister asserted: “Now, the theonomist will probably reply that the civil law of Old Testament Israel is of a piece with and is the outworking of the moral law given in the Ten Commandments. True, it is. But it is an outworking of the Ten Commandments for a particular place and people.” (emphasis in original)

I certainly agree that it was for a particular place and people. That’s a very true statement, and yet it does not follow that therefore the civil law of Israel would not be a good law for other places or peoples. There’s nothing in the Bible or in the Natural Law to suggest that the hearts of post-Pentecost men are less hard than the hearts of the Jews from the time of Moses to the time of Pentecost (or till A.D. 70 or whenever it is alleged that the civil law of Israel ceased to have effect by those who reject what they refer to as “theonomy”). Furthermore, the Bible does tell us that the civil laws of Israel were given good laws:

Nehemiah 9:13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:

In fact, they are set forth in Scripture as the paragon of all laws for governing nations:

Deuteronomy 4:8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

In principle, I agree that where the judgments are specific to Israel they are naturally not applicable to us – but judgments like those on honoring one’s father and mother are not specific to Israel.

5) Mr. Keister Overstates His Point in Abandoning Old Testament Principles

Mr. Keister stated:

In other words, Jesus Christ is the apex of the trajectory of Old Testament Israel, and the church is in Christ. Therefore, it does not make sense to say that modern-day governments should run themselves according to principles that were given to Old Testament Israel as Old Testament Israel.

Surely, Mr. Keister is right that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the Bible. It does not follow, however, that the good laws given to Old Testament Israel are not based on principles that must be followed by any government that wishes to follow the law of God.

Mr. Keister has plainly overstated his point here, since Mr. Keister acknowledges the role of Natural Law. Nevertheless, since God cannot be inconsistent with Himself, and since the Natural Law is a Creation ordinance (at the latest, upon the Fall and the obtaining of the knowledge of good and evil), therefore the “principles” of the civil law of Israel must be the same principles found in the Natural Law (otherwise the civil law of Israel would not be good laws).

6) Mr. Keister’s Redemptive-Historical Framework Causes Him to Conflate Categories

We see a conflation of categories in Mr. Keister’s comment:

And yet the principles in the New Testament for church government say nothing of the sword. Instead, the weapons are spiritual, for we fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual enemies. Ephesians 6, by the way, is one reason why I believe the application of Old Testament Israel’s holy wars draws a straight line to spiritual warfare today in the church.

(emphasis in original, link omitted)

Mr. Keister is right in one way: the church (either of the Old or New Testament) was not entrusted with the sword. That’s the duty of the civil magistrate – the king, governor, judges, etc. depending on the applicable form of government. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testament the civil magistrate does bear the power of the sword (See Romans 13:4).

The roles and duties of the church and the state are different, just as the roles and duties of the parents and the state are different and the roles and duties of the parents and the church are different (although there are various overlaps at pints).

This leads me to the final point (prior to the conclusion).

7) Mr. Keister’s Conflation Actually Undermines the Proper Two(or Five) Kingdoms Distinctives

Elsewhere I’ve discussed how there are not just two, but actually five, kingdoms (link). Each has its own proper sphere of authority, and the existence of one sphere of authority does not negate or invalidate the other spheres. Mr. Keister’s emphasis on the duties of the church with respect to sin (i.e. church discipline) seem to suggest that because the church has some responsibilities with respect to sin “X” that therefore the civil government does not also, and in parallel, have responsibilities.

Specifically (so the argument seems to go), because the church is called on to excommunicate those who curse their parents, the civil government has no responsibility to put such villains to death. This flawed reasoning would seem to destroy the proper multiple kingdoms distinctives and cause the church to usurp the roles of the other spheres, especially the civil sphere.

Let me give some illustrative counter-examples.

Example 1: Man commits adultery, two witnesses observe this, and the offended wife brings the matter before the judges.

Reaction by State: It would be appropriate for the state to punish this man for his crime. I see no reason (notwithstanding the Pericope Adulterae) why that punishment must not be death.

Reaction by Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).

Reaction by the Adulterer’s Father: Condemnation of his son’s misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.

Reaction by the Adulterer’s Spouse: In this case, the offense has destroyed this particular sphere of authority. Thus, the woman is not required to “submit” to the adultery, although she ought to seek to forgive this man who has sinned against her.

Reaction by the Adulterer’s Employer: Condemnation of his employee’s misdeed, and exhortation to repentance.

Example 2: Man (out of hate) kills someone who works for him, two witnesses observe, and the family of the deceased brings it before the judges.

Reaction by State: Death for the murderer.

Reaction by the Church: Discipline, up to and perhaps including excommunication (upon following the appropriate protocols).

Reaction by the Murderer’s Father: Condemnation of his son’s misdeed, and exhortation to Repentance.

Reaction by the Murderer’s Spouse (if applicable): Exhortation to Repentance.

Reaction by the Murderer’s Employees: Exhortation to repentance.

We could go on and on with other examples. The point of these examples would simply be to show that each sphere of authority generally can react to any given sin. That reaction may be different in one sphere of authority or another. Thus, the fact that the state is going to execute the death penalty for murder does not preclude the church from acting to discipline the man, perhaps even excommunicating him if the circumstances warrant. Likewise, a father need not remain silent when his son does something wrong, but can condemn him for his sin and exhort him to repentance.

In some spheres, the ability to exhort to repentance may be limited: for example, one may be able to exhort one’s employer or husband to a godly life of repentance largely through example. Nevertheless, each violation of God’s law should provoke the appropriate reaction from each of the sphere’s of authority.


Accordingly, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Keister’s contention regarding theonomy (in general – as opposed to a specific flavor of theonomy) being Biblically and/or Theologically Wrong. I must, of course, qualify that disagreement. If theonomy causes one to lose sight of the preeminent role of Jesus in the Bible, then theonomy (in that instance) is wrong. If one is so focused on the duties of the civil magistrate that one commits the opposite error from that identified above, and places all the responsibility for reacting to sin in the hands of the state, then that species of theonomy is wrong.

But a true, Biblical theonomy embraces the multiple (two, five, or however many) kingdoms and the ministers of each of those kingdoms: the father has his duties, as does the parent, the spouse, the employer/employee, the elder/deacon/layman, and the king/subject. One does not trump the other, and one does not usurp or supplant the other. The King must be honored, so must the master, the father, the husband, and the elder. Each is to be honored and obeyed and each has certain responsibilities. God has given these spheres of authority, and each should be governed according to the word and law of God, as revealed both in Nature and Conscience but also in Scripture.


John of Damascus vs. An Allegedly Ecumenical Council

April 4, 2009

This is a video response (as usual, audio only) to a post by Matthew Bellisario (link). Although Bellisario starts off his post by saying “Once again we see that Turretin Fan is clueless when it come to Biblical exegesis,” he fails to back it up, not identifying any exegetical errors or even providing any of his own exegesis, but simply quoting from a work attributed to John of Damascus.

In addition to what is in the video, let me add this:

According to Bellisario, John of Damascus wrote this:

I worship the image of Christ as the Incarnate God; that of Our Lady (thV qeotokou), the Mother of us all, as the Mother of God’s Son; that of the saints as the friends of God. They have withstood sin unto blood, and followed Christ in shedding their blood for Him, who shed His blood for them.

(the Greek transliteration there is for the term “the Theotokos”)

One question for Bellisario, since he quoted these words, does he accept them? Does Bellisario worship “the image of Christ” and the image of “Our Lady” and the images of “the saints”?

Notice that I said “worship” just as Bellisario has quoted John of Damascus. I’ll even give Mr. Bellisario a bit of a break, since John of Damascus seems to suggest that he does not worship the image itself but the the thing the image represents. So, does Mr. Bellisario worship (in addition to Jesus) Mary and the martyrs? Because most Romanists won’t actually admit this – they’ll claim that they only worship God.


Hebrews 1:8 – A Proof of Jesus’ Divinity

April 1, 2009

This is a response to a video (link) that seems to suggest that we cannot use Hebrews 1:8 to establish the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. I respectfully but firmly disagree, for the reasons I set forth in more detail in video (sorry, audio only, plus a slideshow in case you must watch something).



>Princes of this World?

March 16, 2009

>An anonymous reader asked: In 1st Corinthians 2:7-8 who do you think are the “princes of this world”? and what is their goal? Thanks in advance.

I answer:

1 Corinthians 2:6-8
6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The princes of this world refers either specifically to the Jewish leaders or to both the Jewish and Roman leaders. Either way, the point is that those with power in this world did not, when Christ came, recognize who he was. Thus, the bigger point is that not only are the general masses of the world spiritually unwise, but so also are the elite of this world.

Their goals are not mentioned specifically in the passage. Generally, the princes of this world seek for themselves power, riches, and glory in this life. In contrast, in this life we receive persecution and sometimes death, but we seek good things in the life to come, because we seek the city of God.


>Response to Jay Dyer’s Audio Remarks

March 15, 2009

>Mr. Dyer has provided an audio response (audiocorresponding page at Dyer’s blog) to several of the comments I have provided to his critique of Calvinism. For the bigger context, including my thirteen-part series defending Calvinism from his accusations, see my index of interactions with Mr. Dyer (link).

I’ve broken up the response into three parts, since it is around 30 minutes long (compared to about 50 minutes for Mr. Dyer’s audio response).

Part 1

In the series I challenge a number of significant assertions by Mr. Dyer. To put it very briefly, I think Mr. Dyer’s claims seem to hang on what he thinks are the logical consequences of Reformed doctrines, but it seems that Mr. Dyer has erred in understanding what the Reformed authors teach, at least some of the time.


Response to Nick Regarding Spiral Argument and Private Judgment

March 5, 2009

Nick has provided a response to my rebuttal of Karl Keating’s “Spiral Argument” (link).

Nick wrote: “I think you should distinguish between private judgment and a circular argument. Each of those terms correspond to different issues.”

That’s true. They do often correspond to different issues. The come together, however, because the spiral argument employs private judgment.

Nick wrote: “Private judgment involves looking at some data and coming to a personal conclusion. You are right to point out that everyone must engage in private judgment.”


Nick wrote: “A circular argument is when something that is trying to be proven true is in fact (re)stated as it’s own evidence/witness.”

That’s more or less the case. It could be worded other ways.

Nick wrote: “Private judgment, at least to some degree, is necessary and alright. A circular argument, which is not the same thing, is neither necessary nor alright.”

ok …

Nick wrote: “The “spiral argument” is not circular, but does require private judgment.”

I explained why it is circular in my original article. Unfortunately, your comment does not address the explanation found there.

Nick wrote: “Basing the Bible’s inspiration on it’s own testimony is circular and no different than what a Mormon does with the Book of Mormon.”

a) The reason why the Bible says that it is inspired is so that we will believe it. Any other reason for why the Bible says it is borderline irrational. The reason that the Bible makes statements is so that they will be believed, as can be seen for example, from John’s Gospel:

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

b) Believing that the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it, isn’t employing a circular argument. It’s not an argument at all. It’s a proclamation. The Bible proclaims the truth, and it can be believed or not.

c) If one calls that a circular argument, though, then – as I pointed out in my post, it turns out that similar circularity exists within the spiral argument.

d) The comparison to the Mormons is irrelevant. We don’t accept things based on whether Mormons reject them, and we don’t reject things based on whether Mormons accept them. Getting into what Mormons actually believe to dispute this is a waste of time that I won’t bother with, right now.

Nick: “When you said: “Rather than simply accepting the Bible as Inspired Word of God based on one private judgment, this “spiral” argument requires one to employ private judgment over and over and over again.” This is a mixing of circular argument and private judgment.”

No, it’s not. It’s a comment that focuses on the advantage of a “smaller circle” if a “circle” must be used and if “private judgment” is bad.

Nick: “Catholics are not deriving Church authority nor Scripture’s inspiration from a circular argument, but we are engaging in private judgment.”

I explained how circular reasoning is used in the original article.

Nick: “We are looking at the historical evidence and coming to a conclusion.”

The Bible is itself the primary historical evidence relied upon. Why not just say, “We are looking at the Bible and coming to a conclusion”? I think it is partly because that is what “Protestants” are being faulted for.

Furthermore, the Bible (or equivalent evidence) as historical evidence doesn’t lead one to the issue of infallibility/inspiration. What I mean to say is that the Bible as historical evidence can substantiate a claim that Jesus told the apostles to found churches. Even if we assume (for the sake of the argument) that the Bible disclosed Jesus founding a single, globally-scoped institutional church, that doesn’t get us to infallibility/inspiration of that entity – and it cannot. The infallibility/inspiration is not, strictly speaking, a question of history.

Nick wrote: “We could be very wrong in our conclusion, either because the evidence is bad or we miscalculated, or both, but that is not at all the same as a circular argument.”

No, the circularity comes in as I stated in my original article.

Nick wrote: “The real issue is who can present the stronger argument and that usually rests upon who’s argument requires us to assume the least.”

One real issue is whether the Bible requires an infallible interpreter in order to be reliably understood.

Another real issue is whether the Bible anywhere teaches that “the church” is infallible.

The truth of the matter is the real issue, not the “strength of the argument.”

Nick: “An element of faith (private judgment) is certainly always present, but not all arguments are equal.”


Nick: “A Mormon accepting the Book of Mormon on ‘burning in the bosom’ is not as strong an argument as a Christian looking to historical evidence that the Scriptures were preserved (among other factors).”

There is some faulty parallelism here. The historical evidence of the Scripture’s preservation tells us that we know what it said when it was written. It doesn’t tell us whether the Scripture is inspired or not. Since the Book of Mormon was only recently written, that’s essentially a non-issue. There’s no historical way to investigate the golden plates claim to any earlier authorship date than Joseph Smith’s own life.

But this “strength of the argument” issue is rather subjective. Some people find one argument strong (i.e. it persuades them better) and another weak – for others it is reversed.

Certainly, we could probably agree on certain defects that make arguments less persuasive in general. If reliance on private judgment is bad or if faith is bad, we can evaluate two arguments to see whether one of the two arguments uses “more” faith or “more” private judgment.

Nick: “Moving onto a specifically Catholic-Protestant issue, the canon of Scripture, each side must engage in private interpretation.”

Each person must exercise private judgment. It’s not necessarily a question of interpretation, as such.

Nick: “The ‘deciding issue’ is which side presents a more coherent case for why one canon is accepted over another.”

The deciding issue should be “which side is right.” The argument is the demonstration of that issue.

Nick: “Pointing to Fathers and Councils who share a particular canon is far more of an argument/evidence from which to based your private judgment on than claiming the various books give a inner conviction of their inspiration.”

The argument on the canon is virtually never “I have an inner conviction.” So, again, there is faulty parallelism being employed. I assume that you intend to address “Protestant” position from the context of your comment, but your comment doesn’t actually address the arguments used by “Protestants” regarding the canon.

Additionally, there is conflation of categories here. The ultimate answer to the question, “How do you know that Isaiah is canonical?” for the Reformed believer is that the Holy Spirit persuades him. On the other hand, the ultimate answer to the same question from the perspective of someone within Catholicism would seem to be, because Trent said so. But if we then pressed that issue back further, we start running into the same problem (if it is a problem), that some things are accepted by faith.

Nick wrote: “Again, a Catholic could be totally wrong when it comes to interpreting evidence, but that does not make it circular.”

That was never my argument in the original article.


No Escape from Circularity for Karl Keating

March 2, 2009

One common attack used by the apologists of Rome is to assert that a Protestant’s ultimate authority is private judgment or, as they sometimes pejoratively label as being “protestant personalism” or a person being his own “mini-pope.” Supposedly, this problem of private judgment is solved by referring to an infallible magisterium. In fact, however, the recourse to the infallible magisterium is just further application of private judgment.

This argument against private judgment can take various forms. One form of the argument is a syllogism in the form:

1. If God gave us a way to know the truth, that way would give us knowledge of the truth with reasonable certainty.

2. Private judgment doesn’t provide reasonable certainty, because reasonable people differ in the application of private judgment.

3. Therefore, private judgment is not the way God gave us to know the truth.

There are several problems with this argument. The number one problem is that it employs the fallacy of skepticism. The way that it employs the fallacy of skepticism is in establishing the minor premise, i.e. private judgment doesn’t provide reasonable certainty.

This is a logical fallacy for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is that private judgment is necessarily used to deny that private judgment provides reliable conclusions. If the conclusion is correct (i.e. that private judgment does not provide reliable conclusions) then the conclusion itself is not reliable since it obtained by private judgment.

Second, this is a logical fallacy in the sense of simply being a universal denial of knowability of information. That is to say, this argument lacks uniqueness. It is not particularly a criticism of the “Protestant” position. It is a modus tolens argument that can be applied mutatis mutandis to any epistemology.

Specifically, this same argument can be applied to the epistemology of Catholicism, because Catholicism too requires, at some link in the chain, one to use private judgment. This is illustrated in the attempt of certain of Rome’s apologists to escape the apparent circularity of Rome’s epistemology.

The apparent circularity is this:

1. The Bible is right because the Church says it is.
2. The Church is right because the Bible says it is.

There, the circularity is obvious. It is bigger than the circle of:

1. The Bible is right because the Bible says it is.

… but it is still a circle.

To try to escape this circle, some apologists for Catholicism use what they call a “spiral argument” that was apparently developed by Karl Keating, one of the more prominent apologists for Catholicism (although I cannot recall him debating anyone from the Reformed side of the Tiber river in a long time).

Here’s one presentation of the argument:

A Spiral Argument
Note that this is not a circular argument. We are not basing the inspiration of the Bible on the Church’s infallibility and the Church’s infallibility on the word of an inspired Bible. That indeed would be a circular argument! What we have is really a spiral argument. On the first level we argue to the reliability of the Bible insofar as it is history. From that we conclude that an infallible Church was founded. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired. This is not a circular argument because the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired) is not simply a restatement of its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable), and its initial finding (the Bible is historically reliable) is in no way based on the final conclusion (the Bible is inspired). What we have demonstrated is that without the existence of the Church, we could never know whether the Bible is inspired.

(link to source) (Notice how, unlike Mr. Patrick Madrid, we’re not afraid to let the reader see the writings to which we’re responding.)

Let’s assess this argument. The core of the argument is:

1. [W]e argue to the reliability of the Bible insofar as it is history.
2. From that we conclude that an infallible Church was founded.
3. And then we take the word of that infallible Church that the Bible is inspired.

We could reasonably expand this argument to the following:

1. The Bible is an historically reliable document.
2. The Bible records the founding of a church.
3. The Bible indicates that this church is infallible.
4. This infallible church is the church headed by the pope.
5. This infallible church teaches that the Bible is inspired.

It could probably be expanded even further, but this is enough for the purposes of illustrating the problems with this supposedly spiral argument.

Problem 1: Private Judgment Vastly Multiplied

Rather than simply accepting the Bible as Inspired Word of God based on one private judgment, this “spiral” argument requires one to employ private judgment over and over and over again.

First, one uses private judgment to answer the question of historical reliability.

Second, one uses private judgment to decide the meaning of Scripture as to whether a single, institutionally unitary church or many institutionally separate churches were founded.

Third, one uses private judgment to decide that this single church is taught as being infallible rather than as being fallible.

Fourth, one uses private judgment to identify this single church as the Roman Catholic church instead of, say, the Eastern Orthodox church or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Fifth, one uses private judgment to decide that the Roman Catholic church teaches that the Bible is inspired, as opposed to teaching that the Bible simply contains God’s word.

This is a vast multiplication of private judgment over, for example, simply accepting the Bible on historical grounds and then accepting that the Bible says that the Bible is inspired, or simply accepting the Bible’s claim of inspiration as true in the first and only step of the process.

If private judgment is inherently bad, the “spiral argument” uses more of it.

Problem 2: Bootstrapping Error

The Spiral argument attempts to avoid the obvious “jump” from nothing to accepting the Bible’s claim of inspiration by steps. But each (or at least several) of the steps are “jumps” in themselves.

There is a jump from nothing to accepting the historical method as providing reliable conclusions.

There is a jump from using the historical method to confirm the general reliability of the Bible, to accepting a particular historical account in the Bible.

There is a jump from accepting an account as historical to accepting the doctrine taught in the event as truth.

There is a jump from accepting the general idea that a church was founded to accepting that a particular church is that church.

If making jumps is bad, breaking up a big jump into several smaller jumps doesn’t solve the problem, it just distributes it.

Problem 3: Inspiration Smuggled Back In

In fact, the “spiral argument” is circular, because inspiration is smuggled into step 3 of my expanded formulation of the argument, or step 2 of the original formulation of the argument. That is to say, the teaching of an “infallible church” is accepted allegedly because the Bible as a historically accurate document is accepted. But the claim of infallibility is a theological claim, not an historical claim, and it is accepted either because of the authority of the Bible or the person speaking in the Bible.

Problem 4: Church Infallibility Smuggled Back In

Furthermore, the “spiral argument” has a second circularity, in that the infallibility of the church is smuggled back into the argument twice. It is smuggled back once in telling people which church to accept as “the church,” and again (more importantly) in interpreting Scripture as teaching an infallible church in the first place.

Specifically, the claim that the Scriptures disclose the founding of “an infallible church” requires loads of eisegesis – of reading into the text, rather than of obtaining teachings from the text.

Problem 5: Scripture Promotes Private Judgment

Worse (for Catholicism) than the issue simply being a matter of silence, Scripture actually encourages the use of private judgment. For example, the Scripture many times and in various ways encourages people to apply personal judgment to arrive at the truth. For example, the Bereans are commended for using private judgment and Scripture to judge Paul, and Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make one “wise unto salvation.” Furthermore, John tells us that his gospel was written so that we would believe it and have life through faith in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.


So, next time a person tries to tell you that the difference between Protestant interpretation and Romanist interpretation is that the Protestant makes himself his own ultimate authority, be prepared to challenge that deceptive claim. Everyone uses private judgment. If private judgment is inherently untrustworthy, the Roman position is actually worse off than the “Protestant” position.

Furthermore, while it might be nice to hand over one’s brain to the church, so that one doesn’t have to think about the meaning of Scripture, that’s just not how God ordained things. The fact that it would be convenient or handy doesn’t make it so.

Instead, God provided fallible churches with fallible elders over them. These fallible teachers are to teach the Scriptures to their people, but the unchanging Scriptures serve as the rule and measure of the Christian faith, with the fallible churches serving as guides.


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