Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today was my first day back at seminary. It's a conservative evangelical seminary of some repute, committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (with no real gripe against other confessionally Reformed documents). I doubt anyone can see my own doubts about Reformed Theology or Protestantism in general. [Well, now they know, idiot.--ed.] Yeah, well. I'm jazzed about my professor for Psalms and Wisdom Literature; I was mad that his Wikipedia entry is threatened with deletion for lack of notability. He's "BA" as my brother would say. I've made friends with some prospective Catholic priests, and their laments about modernism overtaking some of their teachers sadden me. I know if not for that thorny problem of visible communion with the Catholic Church, they would be ridiculously blessed by him, as we are. I don't know whether to root for this or not; obviously, if I did, I would place myself in communion with the successor of Peter. That may well come, but Rome must show the legitimacy of her claims until I cannot do otherwise. Perhaps they understand this, but I fear that many do not. If the Catholic Church is correct in all that she claims, all Christians everywhere must return to her, insofar as we know and understand those claims. That remains highly offensive, but it cannot be ignored. Let me say that again: it cannot be ignored. If we as Christians take another position on some matter of faith, it seems to me it must be principled. And exactly at the point where we tend to make our stand, Scripture and hermeneutics, this is the point where it makes the least sense. We've not bothered to deal with Protestant variance in scriptural interpretation (with some major soteriological implications we just gloss over) though the method(s) and source are the same, nor have we defined what makes a Christian a Christian, though we all seem to know. I can see with the eyes of faith that all who love Christ truly are connected. I know that it crosses boundaries even as significant as justification. I am open to the possibility that I had it right all along, but if so, we MUST solve the issue of subjectivity in the individual interpretation of Scripture. We absolutely cannot simply appeal to the Holy Spirit in each of us, because it does not prevent even the most careful interpreters from 1) significant disagreement; and 2) the possibility of making oneself the ultimate arbiter of truth. A "burning within my bosom" could tell me anything, and who could objectively challenge my deeply held opinion? God in his grace often sees fit to utterly ruin the plans of those who "make it up as they go along," but this isn't always so, as the many wolves in sheep's clothing show us. I recall a post (ah, here it is) from Peter Leithart (yes, Peter Leithart) mentioning disapprovingly an "invisible church" ecclesiology, and what jars me about it is, our half-arsed one-paragraph answers for the Reformation seem to utterly depend on such an ecclesiology! Read the WCF lately? Supposing just for the moment that something of God's people is living outside the Reformed faith, (shocking, I know) what is this "true" religion? In which doctrines exactly does it consist? When do you go from "mixture and error" to "synagogue of Satan?" I'm betting, quite frankly, that the number one synagogue of Satan in their view was Rome, but then again, they don't say. My favorite questions I want to ask, one I asked to my noble friend John H. Armstrong: "Do you stand by your remarks at the end of your book, 'Understanding Roman Catholicism' to the effect that saved Catholics are thus in spite of their church, not because of it?" He truthfully and courageously said, "I don't know" at that time. To Leithart, and not as an accusation: "Why aren't you Catholic?" It would be, I'll bet you, one of the most interesting conversations I've ever had. He's clearly done more than sample the Church Fathers, as I have so far. But obviously, he hasn't swum the Tiber. Don't you want to hear what he says? Still waiting on Keith Mathison's promised response to the provocateurs at CTC. Bryan Cross, this is free advertising. Feel free to send money to...just kidding. I'm open to the idea that they are being unfair. But in my universe, they are simply raising questions that I must answer.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I feel always a little bit betrayed when I consider that one alleged proof-text of double-imputation: 2 Cor 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (ESV) That "might become" seems fairly significant, no? But don't jump to any hasty conclusions. [grabbing BGAD lexicon] Um, I did not find a verse reference for the exact form in the Greek, but the subjunctive after the "in order that" strongly implies the "might." Anyway, it most assuredly does not say, "possess the righteousness of God". It says "in order that we might become the righteousness of God." As in, we are not currently displaying it. Same problem in Romans 1 and 3: However full our forgiveness and security may be, the text really isn't talking about an alien righteousness; it's talking about the character of God shown forth in us as a whole. In fact, it may be significant that the verse ends with the "in him," so that it reads, "in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him." [that is Christ] All that "reconciling the world to himself" in Christ in v. 19 is intriguingly couched in present-tense (or at least ongoing aspect) type of verbs. Which means, it seems to me, that it's not over, in some sense. Though the mercy of God is always available through the work of Christ, and indeed we enjoy great benefit and blessing now as sons of God, so long as we are not yet what we hope to be, we can't get complacent. We know this, but we (Reformed) are always trying to deny it. This text is about union with Christ. The problem is, if union with Christ is essentially what we want and need now and forever, (and what the Scripture teaches) then imputation cannot be true, because the union would not be real, but only legal. For our lives and actions to matter, for holiness to matter, we must participate. But participation implies the possibility of non-participation. See where this is leading? Sheesh. R. Scott Clark is absolutely right to disavow "union with Christ" as the dominant soteriological motif of the New Testament if we are to remain consistent monergists. The problem is, the Scripture doesn't seem to balk at participation like Reformed systematic theology does. Perhaps I am being unfair. But those middle-ages synergists are looking pretty smart right now. I hate it when that happens.
I need to follow up on what I said yesterday; I thought I covered my bases in terms of my intention not to speak with any binding or wide-ranging authority. In addition, though I was discussing something important, I surely felt some parts would go down easier when leavened with a little humor (the success of which you are free to dispute). And I definitely am not trying to shut down discussion among different groups of people (various groups of women, or men and women); in fact, the opposite is the case. But I definitely needed to say what I said. I'm open to disagreement, correction, and whatever else. That post, however, was my view of things as a relatively young, single, pseudo-evangelical with an admittedly big mouth and a keyboard. My small yet quickly arriving sample size of correspondence on that piece is of two kinds: 1. "How dare you hate on 'Lost'! It's the greatest show ever made/on today/I've ever seen!" And my only comment on that is that you're probably right. I don't care. 2. "Why don't we all wear burkhas then, you fascist!" And I'll get my buns kicked for this, but the only thing wrong with the whole plan is that it covers over (pardon the pun) the second-class nature of being a woman in some places, the abuse of women, and it blames the victim when those abuses occur. "Frumpy" actually has a fairly wide range; it's my shorthand for "modest." It's not a hard and fast rule; all I was saying is that it seemed to me in general that we'd stopped talking about it, and it's reflected in our dress. The wider culture would tell you that you were frumpy or plain if you showed as a woman that you had thought about it. That's generally true. [And why don't you post a link to another country song so AKR vomits her coffee, or at least rolls her eyes?--ed.] It'd be funnier if you hadn't said anything. And besides, I am one of the lost sheep of Israel on this point, and she is resigned to my ignorance. I may well enjoy tons of music of a classical bent in the end, but I can't see ever hating Lionel or Kenny or Martina et al because of a certain simplicity, or late composition, or whatever. On the other hand, Aquinas is probably right that there are infinite grades of beauty, truth, etc. (with God as the end of them all) so there must be some things which are better than other things, though both are not sinful. But it pains me to admit it. I'll probably listen to The Jets as my final act of rebellion. Wow, that side-rant should marked accordingly. Anyway, any offense re: modesty is largely unintentional. ["I Can't Help It, I Must Annoy The Country-Haters" Musical Diatribe/Video: I have always loved this song. I know Patty Loveless got some noise from Christian groups because it could be heard as an ode to adultery or fornication, but I will give her a pass, because I saw a clip of this song where she dedicated it to her husband. Can't argue with that. On the other hand, isn't it funny how when a song says something isn't wrong, it usually is?]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Having no other authority than that which I might assign to myself, and in truth, whatever is granted by my entry into the baptismal font of the Triune God, I feel compelled to discuss an issue of great importance to this generation: modesty. I have no wish to bind the consciences of my fellow believers beyond what the law of Christ requires, and that which is appropriate for my influence and station. But it is worth discussing. I begin with an illustration. Two twenty-something Christian women come up behind you or I; one turns to another well within our earshot and says, “Girl, you look cute today.” Simple words, indeed. Nothing inherently threatening or overtly wicked about any of them. And I cannot say that I myself have fled sexual immorality in every case of testing, as the Bible commands. But what I can tell you is that when I hear these words, I run. I don’t turn and look. I don’t see if I know them. I just run. In fairness, if a girl says this to her other girl friend, there is only a 66.4% chance that the first girl is showing too much skin. If she replaces the word “cute” with the word “hot” in her compliment, the chances that she is a Jesus-loving tart in that instance rise to 99.7%. It’s really simple: Homosexual attraction, though tragic and becoming all too common (as is the sin that attends it) is rare. But if your man-loving friends think you’re delicious, imagine what men will think. We can take responsibility for our sins. We men always have a choice. But the point is, stop helping us all descend into the pit of hell. Your mother and your “frenemies” who tell you that you dress too plain and will never find a man are full of it. Most of us aren’t picky, and again, we have no trouble admiring your form or every other thing about you. You could wear brown ankle-length dresses for a year and no makeup—every single one of you—and I don’t think your prospects would change in the slightest. There is still variation, sure, but you know that. And I’ve seen enough attractiveness-unbalanced couples to know that there is something more than physical beauty at work in your brains, too. The point is, have you discussed this with your friends, and better yet, a man who would tell you the truth? I can’t personally see a difference between how Christian girls are dressing in our times, and everyone else. Maybe the problem is me, but I doubt I’m far off. I’m not trying to run your life. I only know that it seems like you have no idea what real men are like. Real Christian men, not those “sanctified” robots you seem to favor (a rant for another day). I’m telling you: If you dress on what you think is the cautious side of frumpy, you’ll be doing the whole lot of us men a huge favor. The Christian cultural commentator Denis Haack once said that Mandy Moore’s character in “A Walk To Remember,” Jaime, had an overdone frumpy look. Here, I respectfully disagree. I think all women should dress kinda like Jaime. Sure, she wasn’t an adult. But given everything the Scriptures say, how much liberty on this do you need or want? Unless you are indifferent about lust, if you want to be more than an object of desire, act like it. Unless I am married to a woman, there are parts of her (God help me) I don’t need to see. And you need to know that your American culture’s definition of “attractive, yet tasteful” is a joke. A pile of compost. And that’s an insult to a rotting pile of grass. I beg of the mercy and grace of God each day for pardon and strength to walk faithfully each day in chastity, though I am bombarded (not even by choice) with sex. My question and challenge which you must ask yourselves my sisters, is this: “Am I doing all that I can to assist my brothers in walking before the LORD in righteousness?” It applies in every situation, but so much more in this matter. And I’d say that if the focus of female reflection has not moved from “my wants, my needs, my freedom, my expression” to the good of all of us in the body of Christ, it needs to start. See how loving God and loving neighbor can fit so well together in these things? This is not a blame game; in point of fact, it’s a plea for help and understanding. [Semi-Related Side-Rant About “Lost” And Whatever Else: No, I haven’t seen “Lost.” I don’t intend to. I’m not being contrarian. I’m sure it’s an amazing show. I saw a really creepy snippet of approximately ten seconds. But have you noticed how in all the previews, every character is either: A) Running earnestly with furrowed brow half-naked toward something, or B) making out with another character, or C) tied up, facing torture/death/injury while (conveniently) half-naked? I saw one preview for this show and decided it should be called “Lust” and hence, should be avoided. If you can watch it, awesome and swell for you. But I know when I’m being toyed with, and I have no wish to make my life any harder. Personally, I wish the word “cleavage” referred only to butcher knives; I think shampoo should be advertised by men. Women who can’t wear dresses make me nervous; short-haired “progressive” women need Jesus and a husband; I think Psalm 73:3-8 reminds me of Hugh Hefner; I’d like it if Cary Grant’s character in “The Philadelphia Story” yelled at half the women I know like he did to Katharine Hepburn’s character; I’m tired of being lonely, but tired of trying not to be; I won’t mind if a woman is never president; I don’t think this is chauvinistic; neither is this; I think Vivien Leigh’s Scarlet O’ Hara embodies everything I hate about women; A scant few embody everything I love about them; I’d like a wife who’s smarter than me; I’d like a wife who’s better than me; I hate shorts; I think the editors of beauty magazines are sick; there are no gentlemen in gentlemen’s clubs; I’m done being polite.]

Monday, August 23, 2010

“Hannah And Her Sisters”

This post is named after a Woody Allen movie. In honor of Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Feingold, a Thomist Catholic scholar friend of some note, to whom I have affectionately affixed nicknames, such as “The Hebrew Catholic Jack Collins” (high praise indeed) and “The Hebrew Catholic Woody Allen,” it is so named. [Don’t lie to everyone; you did it because you have/had a childhood crush on Barbara Hershey.—ed.] Guilty as charged! “Beaches” tears me up at the end. [Homophone Alert: I was trying to use the present tense of “torn up” when I realized that they both suffice; I tear up at that movie, and it tears me up. In any case, while I have you here on an aside, I should note that I figured out something about crying in this culture between men and women I think I should share. Tons of men cry; some men have been taught that crying equates to weakness, (which is absurd and unhealthy) so even the healthy ones have some sort of Crying Threshold, where if they cross it, their buddies will note the grossly sad/happy nature of the occasion, and none will recall this when retelling the story, except to say that “X is not one to cry at the drop of a hat,” which paradoxically serves to affirm the ultimate manliness of the person in question, as in, “If X cried at that, you’ll cry an ocean.” Thankfully, women cry often, and few if any have told them not to do it. Weddings, funerals, (obvious) holidays, good movies, whatever. I told you that story to tell you this story: Before I realized the deleterious effects of the gratuitous display of female body parts, I can remember an episode of “Baywatch” where the boy, Hobey, befriends The Giant That Nobody Likes. I can tell you, you are a heartless cad if you are unmoved by it. Sheesh.] I thought it might be fun to do a little survey of the ecclesial landscape with “Hannah” (The Catholic Church) and her “sisters.” Note: No claim is made as to the validity or invalidity of said communities, and no offense is intended, unless you sorely need it (and let’s be honest, some of you really do). And of course, this doesn’t follow the movie; that would be horrible. This is a blog post, not a church history class!
Hannah has a lot of sisters. Her sister Methodist is fond of saying, “I hate how you dress, and how you tell everyone what to do, but I agree with you a lot when you argue with the others. Don’t tell them I said that.” Her sister Lutheran loves to borrow her clothes, and they sort of look alike, the others say, but the two of them had a nasty fight awhile back, and Lutheran is still really mad about it. Most of the time, Lutheran hangs out with the other sisters and piles on when they say nasty things about Hannah, but they’ll hang out every once in a while, as long as Hannah doesn’t say anything to the others. Her sister Reformed is confused; she changes her story a lot, depending on who she’s with, and what they’re arguing about. But the others agree she might be the smartest. Hannah only gets to hang out with Reformed at night, after weeks of secret planning, under pain of death if she ever tells. Orthodox looks like Hannah, talks like Hannah, and joins Hannah against the others when they argue, but Hannah trashed Orthodox’s room when they were little, and Orthodox isn’t over it. Hannah says it wasn’t an accident, but it wasn’t on purpose. She swears up and down that that one mean girl from up the street started a fight and did most of the damage, but that doesn’t make Orthodox feel better. Baptist really hates Hannah, or at least she says she does, and often says she is not part of the family. Joshua and Dad always tell her kindly to knock it off. When she stops screaming and yelling, “I can’t hear you! La, La, La!” long enough to listen, she’ll come around and admit that Hannah isn’t totally nuts, just mostly. Most of them agree their sister Charismatic is prone to saying weird things, and that she can’t stay on task, but they admit that “listening to the Spirit” is good advice. Anglican is frankly the ugly sister; she’s covered with leprosy. Sometimes she hangs out with Reformed; sometimes with Hannah. But they’re all worried about her, because she runs off and sleeps with men she doesn’t know. Between that and the drugs, they wonder how long she’ll be alive. When she is coherent, she accuses Methodist of trying to be like her, and Methodist admits it but says it’s because Anglican gets arrogant and domineering like Hannah, so she had to leave. Restorationist is the sister none of the others like, and she doesn’t like them. When Dad leaves a note on the days when all the girls stay at the house, she’s the first to grab it and say that she alone knows what it means. She accuses them all of willfully misrepresenting the “clear message” of the note. She hates Hannah the most, saying that she abused her authority from the beginning. She gets most mad when Hannah creatively interprets the note, putting things in there beyond what the words mean. And half the time, the others agree with at least part of what Hannah says! The sisters can go a long time without seeing each other or talking, and have long since gotten their own apartments pretty far apart, but are always back together when their father asks. It’d be hopeless except for the fact of the terrible accident that left them orphaned and alone. They all agree Joshua saved them and Dad adopted them, and every once in a while, they remember this. They also remember that bath they all had: how Dad and Josh washed them, and Dad dried them with his very breath when they got out. Hannah, for her part, says that it’s her house; she’s the oldest, and she lets the others stay here because Josh wanted it that way. And she says she has the key, and that the others weren’t meant to have their own places, but to live there with her in charge. Mostly, the others scoff at that. They all know Josh will sort it out when he returns, but Hannah hopes they’ll sort it out her way before then.

Surely this is imperfect Trinitarian theology here, and it doesn’t at all reflect the nuances inherent in those theologies and their interactions. And it does reflect something of my current views, though exactly how, I cannot say. And of course, if you’re not Trinitarian with a Trinitarian baptism, you’re not, in my view, part of the “family.”