Wednesday, October 24, 2012

ILT Theological Conference

For those you that I saw at the theological conference, it was nice meeting everyone in person.  There was wonderful fellowship and discussions.  Hopefully I was able to convince some of you of a few things, though if not I look forward to future dialogue.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Top Three (Bad) Arguments against Objective Justification

A few nights ago I received a comment from one Mr. Ron Smith on my post on the Rydecki situation.  Mr. Smith used three main arguments that are typically used by anti-OJ proponents.  And in my opinion, these arguments are not very good.  As a response to Mr. Smith, I would like to show how the arguments he offers are problematic.  In debating Rev. Rydecki in the future (among other people) I think this can be a helpful model for those who wish to uphold the biblical and confessional doctrine of objective justification.  It should be born in mind, that when dealing with Rev. Rydecki, he generally is only guilty of using aspects of the second and third arguments and I greatly respect him for not using the first argument.  Despite the fact that I disagree with his theology, he behaves in an honorable manner to his opponents.

1. Personal attacks, insults, and "poisoning the well.": 

Mr. Smith writes of my previous post: "Come on Kilcrease!! [Your] Defense of UOJ reads like a college freshman’s term paper."  A similar argument was made by another opponent, namely that I argue like a "high school student." Both opponents were unclear about what exactly in my writing resembles that of a high school or college student.

Generally this form of argumentation is referred to in logic text books as "ad homien arguments." They not only fallacious, but reveal how weak the counter-argument is.  If a person needs to attack his or her opponent's character, then they can't have much of an argument.  The another argument (identical with the fallacy "poisoning the well") that pops up against me is that because I work at institutions with Roman Catholics and former ELCA folks, that I must secretly be either Roman Catholic or ELCA, and consequently I'm not worthy of listening to.  Again, very fallacious.  A person's character or belief system tells us nothing about the quality of their argument.  Moreover, even if it was the case that I was secretly Catholic or ELCA (which I am quite clearly not), this does not mean that I cannot correctly explain Lutheran doctrine.  I explain different theological systems than my own all the time in my world religions course- I talk about Islam and Judaism and correctly explain their theology without believing in it myself.

2. Justification always means to communicate forgiveness and salvation.  Consequently, OJ is either universalism or, (if you also emphasize SJ) contradictory- i.e., if you're already justified through OJ, why do you need SJ?

Mr. Smith writes:

"What the pro-UOJ perspective forgets is that it is not possible for a guilty person to be in God’s presence for all eternity just as it is not possible for an innocent man to be separated from God for all eternity. So, the problem UOJ proponents run into is defending the notion that “all” have been absolved of sin, declared righteous, etc. and yet come up with a Scriptural reason for Hell’s existence."

Again, we've dealt with this before.  The argument only works if you assume that the word "justify" always means the same thing in every context.  Words don't function this way-that's simply a fact.  In theology, when we apply the word "person" to an human being and to the three persons of the Trinity, we don't exactly mean the same thing (independent center of identity vs. subsisting relation). Moreover, that these words are functioning differently is indicated by the adjective affixed to them (objective/subjective).  Everyone knows, that OJ simply means for God to give a verdict of grace.  SJ means for human beings to receive it by faith.  Very simple stuff and very easy to understand.

Some of the anti-OJ folks claim that this is simply arbitrarily making up the meanings of words as we go along.  But again, this makes little sense.  These words have historically been understood by German and then American Lutherans in roughly the same way for about 200 years.  And so, they themselves are the ones making up new meanings for words, since, in order for their argument to work, they have to claim that the word "justify" means to communicate salvation and forgiveness in every context, without exception.  In other words, to win, they must define terms in a way that their opponents do not and never have.

Of course, for many laypeople unfamiliar with how the terms were used historically, this comes off initially as a slam dunk argument.  I can't tell you how many times I've read in reaction to the theological phrase "objective justification": "Well that doesn't make sense.  If everyone is forgiven, why do you need to have faith?  How come people can be eternally lost?"  Again, this isn't a real argument.  It's merely a misunderstanding of words.  When you have to rely on your audience's unfamiliarity with theological terminology to win the argument, it means that you don't really have one.

3. Ron ended his diatribe against me by posting all of Romans 10.  I think his intention was to show that Scripture says that salvation comes through faith and that (as he put it) all my fancy "jargon" laden arguments couldn't stand up against the simple words of the Bible.

Indeed, the Scriptures and the Confessions (I would also mention an Ecumenical councils) are authoritative for theology.  I would never dispute that.  Nonetheless, I would make a number of points about how one appropriately uses Scripture and secondary creeds and confessions.

A. Doctrines are concepts.  Concepts are different than words.  Many different words can be used to express the same concepts.  Neither the Bible, nor the Confessions, nor the Ecumenical councils use language in a consistent and uniform manner.  If you want to see what I'm talking about, I've already provided many, many examples of this in earlier posts.  So, appealing to certain language as authoritative for all time is arbitrary and historically incoherent.

B.  Quoting passages about subjective justification does not exclude the reality of objective justification.  In fact, passages about SJ presuppose OJ.  Saying that one has been touched by sun light (SJ) presupposes that there is a sun (OJ).  Opponents of OJ frequently compile long lists of quotations from Scripture, the Confessions, or the Lutheran scholastics about SJ and think that this excludes OJ.  This is of course false- saying one reality exists does not exclude another.  Better yet: positing that one reality exists (SJ), when it is know to be dependent on another reality (OJ), proves the existence of that other reality (OJ).  Athanasius used a similar argument against the Arians: If the Father is eternally the Father, he must eternally have a Son.

Moreover, this argument assumes the earlier false premise- namely, that the word "justify" always means the same thing in every context.  So, anti-OJ folks assume if they show that justification is received by faith, then their opponents must be wrong that there is an OJ- which they identify with a kind of universal communication of justification apart from faith.  But of course no one teaches this and therefore the argument utterly falls apart when the terminology is understood correctly.

C.  The Scriptures and the Confessions are complex documents that need to be closely analyzed before making theological judgments.  Hence listing off Bible verses or passages from the Confessions isn't very helpful unless you explain their meaning in its historical context and the overall pattern of meaning found in the documents themselves.  For that reason, I personally tend to argue about the complexity of meaning in these sources of the faith and its implications.  I do not simply list off verses or passages.  I consider to be theologically inept and dishonest- it is an abuse of these documents, not their use!

Many opponents accuse me of Rationalism and then appeal to Luther's statements about "whore reason."  Again, I would encourage them to read the modern Luther scholarship to get a better perspective on what Luther meant by this.  Luther did not mean that you should not use your brain in analyzing biblical or church-historical texts.  Rather, his statements to this effect are usually against his Reformed opponents who opposed the sacraments on rationalisic grounds.  Luther says that human reason is meant for dealing with the law and the problems of this world.  God's grace and promises can't be limited by human reason since they are beyond the law and the kingdom of the world.  So, in effect, my opponents are misusing Luther in order to promote their own abuse of scriptural and confessional texts.

Hopefully this list will help others in the future cut through some of the more incoherent arguments against OJ.  In making this list, it is my utmost hope that I can in the future help as many people as possible appreciate the objectivity and unconditionality of God's grace in Christ.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Unfortunate Attacks on the CPH Apocrypha

I was reading a blog the other day and the person was complaining about CPH publishing the Apocrypha and saying that they were abandoning the true theology of the Lutheran Fathers. That's weird. If you read most of the older Lutheran scholastics, they quote the Apocrypha a ton and highly value it, in spite of the fact that they do not consider it to be Scripture or capable of establishing the articles of the faith.  In fact, anyone who has spent a significant amount of time reading the Lutheran Fathers (particularly Gerhard) knows that they cite the Apocrypha with other Scriptures without making any (explicit) of a distinction.  I would also note that Walther preached on the Apocrypha and that many of the classical Lutheran liturgies makes reference to the Apocrypha or even quotes it.  The "Song of the Three Young Men" (part of the additions to Daniel) is contained in several traditional Lutheran liturgies.  Hence, all attacks on the publication by CPH of the Apocrypha reveal themselves to be highly ignorant of the Lutheran Fathers and the historic Lutheran liturgy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gerhard on Romans 4:25

Interestingly enough, Rydecki has translated the full section from Gerhard's Romans commentary that I cited yesterday:

 In the first two paragraphs, Gerhard says that Christ died for everyone's sins, but we receive redemption individually by trusting in his death and its saving power. For some reason I think he thinks that this is somehow damning to the position of OJ.  It's not.  Redemption accomplish is different than redemption received.  Again, no one thinks that salvation is communicated apart from faith. 

Then he cites the last part, which I cited partly yesterday from a Hoenecke translation.  This is Rydecki's own translation and not mine:

With respect to the actual application from sin. Just as the heavenly Father, by delivering Christ into death for our sins, condemned sin in His flesh through sin (Rom. 8:3)—that is, condemned it because it had sinned against Christ by putting an innocent man to death, and so He withdrew from sin its legal right against believers so that it cannot condemn them any longer; or He also condemned it, that is, punished in Christ our sins that were imposed on Him and imputed to Him as a Substitute—so also, by raising Him from the dead, in that very deed absolved Him from our sins that were imputed to Him, and hence also absolves us in Him, so that the resurrection of Christ may be both the cause and the pledge and the complement of our justification.

Again, I think what Rydecki believes that he finds in this passage is his view that there is a universal atonement, but no universal justification.  In point of fact, the very opposite is the case:

1. First, Gerhard believes that all sins were imputed to Christ.  When the Father raises Christ, he reveals his reaction to this death of Christ, namely, that he absolves Christ from all the sins impute to him.  This means  word of universal forgiveness actualized in the resurrection and subsequently received by faith.  Notice that the absolution is a reality in Christ prior to it being received by us.  In other words, it is objectively real prior to the existence of our faith.  We of course do not participate in apart from faith (SJ), but it is already a reality before our faith (OJ).

2. Regarding the Trinitarian dimensions of atonement and justification, the passage largely exposes the incoherence of Rydecki's position (universal atonement yes, universal justification no).  If the Son atones for sin before the Father, then the Father has a reaction to it (absolution, as Gerhard says) and attaches a word to the Son's atonement.  He reveals this Word by raising the Son from the dead.  The Son in turn gives this Word to the Church.  Notice the first thing that Jesus does after the resurrection is give the disciples the Word and the Spirit he has received from his Father in reaction to his atonement: "receive the Holy Spirit, those sins you forgive are forgiven... etc."

If universal atonement was right, but universal justification were wrong, the Son would in a sense keep the satisfaction he renders to himself.  But that is not the case.  He offers it to the Father and the Father gives a Word of forgiveness to the Church through the Son in the power of the Spirit.  Therefore, for Rydecki to be correct, faith wouldn't have an object, because it wouldn't have a word to believe in, just the bare historical event of the atonement without any divine promises of forgiveness attached to it.  As Luther points out in one of his Easter sermons, historical events without a word to preach in relationship to them are meaningless.  Hence, it is difficult to see how his position can be viewed as coherent. 

Aquinas and Chemnitz Article to be Published.

Just received news that with some revisions my Chemnitz and Aquinas on the two natures in Christ article is going to be published in Lutheran Quarterly.  Thanks to all who help me edit it (namely, my wife Bethany) and gave me helpful responses (my friend Michael Cummings).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Calov Quote on Objective Justification.

A number of people have questioned my use of the Calov quote regarding the distinction between objective and subjective justification (well, actually just one!).  Rydecki apparently got wind of this and translated the passage himself on his Facebook page.  Again, this is the translation of the man himself and not mine.  So you need not question my motives in how the words are chosen.  Here it is:

"Therefore, we do not effect anything in God through faith. Instead, we merely receive that which God offers to us and to our faith, and as a result we are justified by God and absolved and made heirs of eternal salvation.

You say: If justification, that is, the remission of sins, is the object of faith, how can it be the effect of faith, inasmuch as faith is an instrument?

We reply: Justification is the object of faith in that it is offered by God in the Gospel. It is the effect of faith, so to speak, inasmuch as, once we have laid hold of grace by faith, the remission of sins happens to us by that very act. Faith lays hold of the grace by which God wishes to remit sins to us. Once faith lays hold of grace, it actually obtains the remission of sins."
I think for some reason that Rydecki believes this to be damning of the position of his opponents.  All I see is a clear articulation between SJ and OJ.  Justification is the object of faith.  Hence, it's already an objective reality (OJ) prior to us receiving it (SJ).  We receive it through faith and are saved by it.  No one claims that we get saved or receive God's objective grace apart from faith or the means of grace.  We take hold of something that's already there.

Again, Rydecki's position only works if you assume that the word "Justification" is being used exactly the same manner in both contexts (i.e., the communication of forgiveness and salvation)- opposed to a verdict given (OJ) and a verdict received (SJ).  That it is not, is clear from the modify adjective "objective" vs. "subjective."  Since everyone who advocates the OJ and SJ distinction says that it's the latter and not the former, then I don't really see how you could claim that the word "justify" does mean the same thing.  Much like Jackson and his followers, to win the argument Rydecki basically has to attribute a position to OJ people that they don't hold.  Again, this is strawman and not much of an argument.

For a bonus, here's how Johann Gerhard deals with Romans 4:25 and 5:18 provided by Pr. Shawn Stafford:

“By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved Him from our sins which had been imputed to Him, and therefore He also absolved us in Him, that Christ’s resurrection might thus be the case and the proof and the completion of our justification.”Johann Gerhard, Annotations in epist. Ad romanos, Jena ed. 1666, p. 156.
Notice Christ is absolved of all the sins imputed to him.  And it was the the sin of the whole world that was imputed to him.  Ergo, in Christ, all sin is absolved as well.
“Because in Christ’s resurrection we are acquitted of our sins, so that they can no longer condemn us before the judgment of God.” Johann Gerhard, Disputationes theologicae, Jena, 1655, XX, p. 1450

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Rydecki Situation

As many of you probably know, Rev. Paul Rydecki was suspended by the WELS for his rejection of objective justification this last week.  Generally I haven't commented on this because I thought that other people would do that for me.  The fact of the matter is that that hasn't happened and so I feel a need as a theologian within the Church to do this.

Why?  Specifically because I consider Rydecki to be dangerous theologically.  He's dangerous because unlike someone like Gregory Jackson, Rydecki has a lot of ecclesiastical support.  People who I know disagree with him theologically wouldn't say a word against him on Facebook or on other blogs.  Unlike Jackson, who is generally viewed as a dishonest, self-serving, and quasi-comical figure, Rydecki is a serious and honest person, who has earned a lot of capital by opposing Church-growth and contemporary worship in WELS.  Who could argue with that?  Also, unlike Jackson, Rydecki states his theological position in a calm and intelligent manner, rather than by lying about the position of his opponents or by making up falsehoods about them personally.  For this reason, he gives a greater credibility to the rejection OJ than a person who's idea of an argument is to cut-and-paste a million short and uncontextualized quotations from the Book of Concord onto a banner with the head of some synodical official or theologian photo-shopped onto the body of a baby, animal, clown, or character from Star Wars.

In order to respond to what Rydecki is specifically teaching, here is his own response to his suspension:

In response to his response, I have couple of observations:

1. Rydecki seems to be operating with the rather odd perspective that the language set down by the Formula of Concord is authoritative for all time.  He also says something similar in the intro he wrote the the Samuel Huber book.  The first question is: why?  Obviously the Lutheran Confessions themselves show terminological evolution (justification in the Apology can mean either justification proper or sanctification, "sacrament" is defined differently in different documents- so the question of how many sacraments is answer different in different contexts- 4, the Apology; 3 the Catechisms; 2 the FC!).  The Bible is the same way.  Paul thinks of faith primary as something directed to the past (what Jesus did on the cross for us)- Hebrews has that aspect, but then also includes eschatological expectation in this as well- what Paul would probably call this "hope."  Melanchthon and Calvin easily reconciled Paul with James by pointing out that what Paul means by "justification" is appearing righteous before God, whereas James is talking about appearing righteous (i.e. showing evidence of our faith) before other people!  The early Reformers understood what a lot of people (especially in the WELS, it would seem!) don't seem to get: Doctrines are concepts.  Concepts can be expressed in a lot of different ways.  Just because a word isn't present, doesn't mean that a concept isn't present.  Remember that Luther never uses the word "justification" in the Small Catechism.  Nevertheless, he teaches the doctrine on every page.

2. Nevertheless, why should we use different words in different situations?  Why doesn't the Church just decide on certain terms and keep with them forever?  The fact of the matter is that theological terminology develops over time in order to deal with issues at hand. Someone who didn't say homoousia in the 2nd century wasn't a heretic, but after 324 AD they were. The same goes for objective justification. The terminology of OJ and SJ is intended to deal with problems that developed in the mid-17th century and afterwards. Pleads to maintain a certain primitive terminology are problematic, in that language only functions appropriately in a particular context. Once new controversies arise, the Church must generate new language to deal with the problem either 1. To clarify certain points (think "nature" vs. "person" by the Cappadocians after 324). 2. Heretics take over certain language- for example, the Reformed use "this is my body"- hence in order to keep the true meaning, we must say "this is the true body of Christ" etc.  For this reason, what Rydecki fails to see is that innovation of theological terminology is necessary to maintain conceptual orthodoxy.  Old terms in new contexts will not function and therefore promote heresy.  If the Cappadocians had, for example, continued to insist that the anathema at the end of the original Nicene Creed had set down terminology for all time ("Let anyone who says that the Son is of a different hypostasis or ousia than the Father be anathema!") then in the new theological context of post-Nicene Christianity, they might have rightly been accused of Modalism.  Neither would they have been able to make the clear conceptual distinction between "person" and "nature" which ultimately made Nicene orthodoxy conceptually coherent in the minds of many people. 

3. What then was the situation that promoted the Church to use the terms OJ and SJ?  The terms seem to develop somewhat later.  Nevertheless, the sainted Kurt Marquart pointed out that the clear conceptual delineation of the terms came for the first time from Abraham Calov in response to the Catholic apologist Robert Bellarmine.  Bellarmine pointed out that justification by faith was contradictory because the person was supposed to believe that they were justified when they in fact weren't actually justified until they had faith. Abraham Calov responded to this in his commentary on the Augsburg Confession by pointing out that the word of God's grace is objectively true and pre-exists our faith. Actually, since it causes it, logically it must be objectively prior to our subjective appropriation of it. Moreover, if one did not accept that it was objectively true in this way, faith wouldn't be a receptive organ , but a condition that somehow makes justification real. Hence, as Bellarmine pointed out, we wouldn't preach "your sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus" but rather "if" you believe, then they will be. The gospel becomes a law! 

4. Part of Rydecki's problem is that he does not understand that the word "justification" is being used differently when applied to OJ and SJ.  When applied to OJ, the word merely means for God to pronounce a particular verdict on the human race.  It does not mean for them to receive it.  In the context of SJ, "justification" means to have receive that verdict.  That is, to appropriate it.  Because a check is written (OJ) does not mean that it is necessarily cashed (SJ).  Because I have beer in my basement, doesn't make me drunk.  His argument that having two justification doesn't make any sense because if the world was already justified at the cross and empty tomb why does it need to be justified again by faith (an old Jackson favorite as well!) is incoherent because it assumes that the word is being used the same way in both contexts.  When one realizes that this argument rest on a very flat understanding of language (words mean the same things in every context) then the argument completely falls apart.

5. Lastly: Part of Rydecki's problem is that he tends to think about these issues in overly abstract terms.  In other words, he thinks of OJ as an abstract and general relationship that God somehow has with all human beings, rather than a description of what God does under his various masks within creation and through the means of grace.  For this reason, he finds it odd and incoherent to say that God in general and in some abstract sense is reconciled with the world when there's still wrath.   Much of this I suspect could be remedied by a good reading of 20th century Luther scholarship, which I don't believe many of the anti-OJ advocate have done (Jackson once admitted that he hadn't even read standard works like Paul Althaus' The Theology of Martin Luther- quite shocking!).  God doesn't interact with the world uniformly, but takes on different masks (larva Dei). In his mask of law and political order, he isn't a forgiving presence. When he wears the mask of the police officer and throws me against the hood of the car and hand cuffs me, that's not absolution. The point though is that when I come to the means of grace, God is a presence and a word that is already real and actual as forgiveness. God as he is present in the word of absolution that he gave the Church has already forgiven me objectively.  When I leave the sphere of the law and enter into the sphere of the gospel (i.e. the means of grace) then I merely enter into that sphere where God is already real as grace.  My faith doesn't actualize God as forgiving.  If it did, then it would be a requirement and not a gift.  Nevertheless, if I don't look for him in the means of grace, then I won't find his already forgiving presence.  Rather, I will find him as wrath, law, and hiddenness outside of them.  When it comes to grace and wrath, God in general, above the spheres of his dual activities (law and grace), cannot really be known.  Hence God is "hidden" above his masks, as Luther repeatedly states. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Post-Baptismal Sin and the Logic of the Lutheran Doctrine of Baptism

I'm reading over again a bunch of stuff on the North African Fathers for my history of Christian thought class at the Institute of Lutheran Theology- and it occurred to me how good it was that people in early Christianity eventually changed their minds about the idea that you couldn't be forgiven post-baptismal sins unless you died as a martyr.   Beyond that fact that this stands in contradiction of the Scriptures and the biblical gospel, it would have been an unsustainable in the post-Constantinian Church.  No one was dying as a martyr anymore and so, how would people ever get forgiven?

But I was also thinking of some sort of sci fi scenario (or alternative history- think Larry Turtledove!) where in modern American Christianity this was still the expectation. Would we have people buying tickets in their old age to go to countries hostile to Christianity just so they could figure out a way to get martyred?  Older southern Baptist ladies spending their last retirement funds to go to Pakistan perhaps?  That would be deeply odd.

The question still remains: How did they come up with this bizarre theology?  Perhaps that isolated passage in Hebrews that sort of sounds like you can't sin after baptism?  Personally, I doubt that that can entirely account for it.

For an alternative theory, here's what I've been thinking. I can sort of see how they came up with this idea based on how one views the function of baptism. If baptism is a definitive break with the power of sin (as doubtless Paul says it is in Romans 6!) how does one conceptualize this while allowing for post-baptismal repentance? It's hard. Why? Because if baptism forgives sins and regenerates, and subsequent repentance does the same thing, how are these things functionally different- and beyond that how is baptism special? It just seems one instance of forgiveness and sanctification among others. Ergo, if it's special and definitive, why not conclude that it's the only instance of forgiveness and regeneration! Again, all the language in the NT about baptism being the definitive break with sin could easily be seen as supporting this.

One can therefore see this logic worked out or modified in different traditions depending on what implications they historically drew from this.  The Roman Catholics and Evangelicals deal with this problem differently.  For RC's baptism is a definitive break with sin and this can't be repeated.  RC's then say that penance repairs the complete reality of baptism- this was the way they ultimately came up with of dealing with the fact that people did sin after baptism in the ancient Church. Of course, this then created the problem of the fact that it appeared that the work of the penitent was supplementing the work of Christ and also that people weren't getting all their penance done on earth before they died (hence purgatory!).  Subsequently the tried to solve the former difficulty by distinguishing between temporal and eternal punishment, and by saying that penance was an entry into the sufferings of Christ rather than supplementing them.   

Likewise, Evangelicals and most other low-church Protestants see baptism as symbolic of initiation into the Church.  If it were a break with sin, it would only be one instance among many.  Consequently, it must not be a real break with sin, but only a symbolic entry into the community and perhaps (if you're Baptist) the public pledge that you're really going to try to live the Christian life now.  The idea of a public pledge of really, really trying to work hard to avoid sin is how they reconcile the language of the NT about the break with sin with the fact that they actually don't believe that baptism does anything. 

In light of this, the Lutheran understanding of baptism and repentance takes on new significance. Baptism is the definitive break with sin.  It is the end and there is no moving beyond it- moving beyond it is moving away from it and is by definition sin.  Hence, repentance does not supplement baptism, but is a return to baptism.  This is all rooted in Christology.  Since baptism is dying and rising with Christ, and Christ is present in all of human history according to both natures (he is confined to neither time nor space- this being due to the genus majestaticum), this presence allows for our continual return to the ever present reality of his death and resurrection through divine word of promise. Other Christian groups who deny the genus majestaticum and therefore Christ's omnipresence according to both nature, don't have that possibility.  For this reason, baptism remains as something that happened in the past.  It can only be repaired in the present through some supplemental act (penance) or naturally degenerates into merely symbolic act of having joining the Church.  The only other alternative would be to return to the position of the ancient Church and deny post-baptismal sin.