Saturday, February 23, 2013

Legalism is Antinomianism, just as Antinomianism is a kind of Legalism.

Reading WELS and LCMS blogs, there generally seems to be a paranoia regarding antinomianism in American Lutheranism.  I think that this is generally not unreasonable within certain limits.  The Seminex crew certainly interpreted Scripture, Luther, and the Lutheran Confessions in an antinomian fashion and this has carried over into the theology present throughout most of the ELCA.  Therefore, I don't have any trouble with people pointing out the rejection of the law present throughout American Christian culture.  What I think is problematic though is when the cause and the solution for this antinomianism are misunderstood.  Namely, these bloggers seem to think that the problem with antinomianism is that it really is what it claims to be (lawlessness!) and that the solution is the harder and harder application of the law to whip people into shape.

The problem is of course that antinomianism is in fact (as Gerhard Forde rightly says!) the "impossible heresy."  This is the case because our existence is never something disembodied.  Rather, whether we like it or not, we live and breathe in structures created by God.  The law of God is really just a clarification of these structures, as the book of Proverbs tirelessly points out.  The original antinomians, the Gnostics, understood this and therefore rejected the body and all physical things when they rejected the law of God.  God has set up the universe so that bad activities (for the most part) have bad results.  God has set human nature up so that men and women naturally interact with one another according to set drives and when one works against these drives stuff goes haywire and much evil results.  Hence, even secular people when they want to get along in the world must obey God to a certain degree.  Similarly, those who want to reject God's order entirely have to protect themselves against that order through artificial means (such as the reliance on others to clean up the messes created by their behavior!).

It should also not go unnoticed that those who reject the law must create new laws in order to prevent people from obeying the real law of God and thereby simply establish a new legalism.  Case-in-point: mainline Protestant endlessly complain about the legalism and intolerance of conservative Protestants, but will turn into junior Torquemadas the moment anyone says anything negative about homosexuality, abortion, women's ordination, or the historical-critical method.  As my old teacher Steve Paulson used to say, the problem with the ELCA is not that they don't have a third use of the law, but that they only have a third use of the law (that is, their own perverse version of it)!  Likewise, as antinomianism as current college campuses are, try to break the speech-codes established since the 1970s and see what kind of reaction you get. 

Likewise, legalism is a kind of antinomianism.  This is the case because a proper understanding of the second use of the law makes legalism impossible.  The law simply doesn't work as a source of righteousness coram Deo, since law cannot be kept by fallen human beings.  And so the solution is devised that the works of the law need to be cut down to size so that we are capable of obeying them.  Hence, the law's claim of the total annihilation of human righteousness coram Deo, is abrogated and thereby the law is itself denied.  Hence legalism itself becomes a kind of denial of the law.

What is even more annoying about legalists, is that not finding God's actual law hard enough to obey, they set about making up new laws for themselves (as if God's law was so easy in the first place!).  There are of course well known examples of this in NT and in the medieval Church.  This is also true of conservative Lutheran types (and other conservative Protestants) who I have noticed have had an unfortunate tendency to make up rules for themselves and others based on the assumption that American cultural standards of the 1950s=the law of God.

Legalists also tend to go a step further in their antinomianism.  Having established new rules not present in God's Word (but rather made up by them to feel self-righteous) they ignore the Word of God itself in favor of their made up rules.  Case-in-point: I am familiar with an LCMS blogger (who will not be named) who has been banned from a number of websites for being something of a troll and nevertheless has violated his agreement with those websites to stay off, having returned under an assumed name to cause trouble all over again.  Meanwhile, this individual has accused friends of mine of being antinomian because they use language or tell jokes that he objects to, though none of this language is ever made off limits in the Word of God.  Conversely, it goes without saying that breaking one's agreements and lying about one's identity certainly is a violation of God's law.  Similarly,  whenever a certain ex-WELS pastor blogger (again, who will go unnamed) posts about me or my theology, he never really writes any meaningful critiques, but instead engages in character assassination (the logical fallacy of poisoning the well).  As any google search will demonstrate, most of what he says about me is actually a lie or, taken out of context so as to sound bad, when it isn't in the first place.  This particular blogger must know what he's saying is a lie, since, as I observed, a person can google search the information and find out that it's a lie pretty quickly.  His goal is all this is of course to attack my belief in objective justification (which is certainly taught in the Word of God).  This blogger's major objection to OJ is that it leads to antinomianism (which is false) since it presupposes that grace is too free.  And so he abandons the Word of God itself to enforce his self-created legalism. 

Whereas liberals think that antinomianism is the way to overcome legalism, and conservatives think that legalism is the way to overcome antinomianism, the fact of the matter is is that both end up in the same place: self-justification and therefore ultimately a rejection of God's law itself.  Indeed, this is how any use of the law without the gospel ends!  The only way of overcoming both extremes is through a true articulation of the full force of the law and the gospel.  As Luther shows in the third part of the Smalcald Articles, when understood properly, the law and the gospel are the two great absolute truths about our relationship with God.  The law without qualification makes us guilty before God.  This put an end to all self-affirmation of the liberal Protestant variety.  Not one of our inner desires are pure.   This ends all antinomian pretension, since no one can escape this annihilating judgment.  Likewise, the gospel tells us that we are absolutely and unilaterally forgiven, without qualification.  And this also puts an end to all claims that we need to really, really work ourselves into a repentant state or that we need true religious affections to be forgiven.  There is nothing on our part that qualifies this Word of God and therefore this ends all legalistic posturing as well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Importance of Knowing Theological and Philosophical Terminology

I was looking around at the new Ecclesia Augustana blog (it seems to be a group of college student fixated on the anti-objective justification heresy) and I came across this post:

The gist of what is said here is as follows: Polycarp Leyser states that faith is the "instrumental cause" of justification.  The theologians of the old Synodical Conference said that it was God's Word and the merit of Christ that was the cause of justification, and not faith in and of itself.  Hence, they are out of step with orthodox Lutheran theology and wrong.

This post is very odd because Daniel Baker (the person who wrote it) is apparently unfamiliar with Aristotle's metaphysics and his scheme of four causes (formal, material, efficient, and final). I leave it to the reader to look these up, but put succinctly: If faith were the sort of cause that they want it to be in regard to justification, it would probably be an efficient cause of justification. But Polycarp Leyser doesn't say that.  Rather, he says that faith is an "instrumental cause" (a finer categorization of the categories of cause, divised by the medieval scholastics).  An instrumental cause is a means or organ through which the efficient cause or agent actualizes the reality.  For example, a hammer is the instrumental cause of a table.  It is used by the efficient cause (the acting agent, the carpenter).  It isn't the idea what what a table is (formal cause) or the wood the table is made out of (material cause).  Neither is it an acting agent (the efficient cause).  Rather it is merely the passive means through which the material receives its shape based on the idea of the mind of the builder.  Consequently, Leyser is stating that faith is merely a passive receptacle for the already existing reality of justification, which is to be found in the gracious will of God and in the merits of Christ distributed through God objective word of promise made manifest in Word and sacrament.

Therefore, not knowing this, Baker has totally misinterpreted the quotation as being in favor of the anti-OJ position, when really it's in favor of OJ!  If faith is merely an organ or instrument, then justification is a reality that pre-exists faith.  Faith is therefore only a means of receiving this reality.

Moreover, Baker ridicules Walther and the other theologians of the Synodical Conference for not understanding that faith causes God's verdict of justification.  Nevertheless, when the term "instrumental cause" is understood correctly, Walther and the rest of them are vindicated.  Also, it should be noted that these theologians do in fact did use the term to describe how subjective justification is actualized.  Walther and the rest of the Syncon theologians say this on a number of occasions (when they are getting technical).  Also, it should be observed, that the Baier Compendium (which Walther used in seminary instruction before they had Pieper) describes justification in basically this way.  Here we read:

"The instrumental cause of our faith are the words of the Gospels and baptism." (Baier, 3.11)

In other words, the reality of God's grace in Christ is merely channeled to faith through the means of grace (instrumental causes).  Our faith doesn't cause it's reality, it just receives it through the instruments.  Again we read in the next chapter on justification:

"6. The efficient cause of the act of justification is the triune God.  7. The internal impulsive cause is the goodness or free grace of God.  8. The external impulsive cause, and the principal and meritorious cause, is Christ the mediator, by reason of his active and passive obedience. 9. The lesser principal impulsive cause [a Protestant scholastic sub-category of instrumental cause] is faith in Christ.  10. Besides this faith truly nothing else is able to be held on our part as part of the cause of justification." (Baier, 4.6-10)

There are a number of posts like this on the website, that is, where the author being cited is badly misunderstood because of unfamiliarity with the source material (the one on Augustine's understanding of 1 Cor. is chief among these!). 

I have a suggestion: before a person starts making pronouncements about what the orthodox fathers said (while insulting Walther, who knew them very well, in the process!), bother to read their sources and understand their theological method!  It's also very important to know how certain theological and philosophical terms are being used.  There are many good books out there on theological methods and terminology among the Lutheran fathers. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some Observations about Paul Rydecki's Response

As some of you are aware, Rev. Rydecki responded to some of my criticisms of his theology last October.  I didn't find out until much later, namely because he neither told me, nor did he come on my blog to address the criticisms that I made.  You can find his response here on his blog:

I'd like to make a couple of observations about this.  Again, if Rev. Rydecki would like to respond, I am fully willing to debate him directly.

1. I find this response rather disappointing in a number of ways.  First of all, much like most of my opponents (with, interestingly enough, the exception of Herman Otten and his two page long attack article on me in the Christian News!) Rydecki wasn't willing to debate me directly.  He never came onto my blog to respond to my arguments.  I guess I'm a bit puzzled why he was relatively shy about an actual debate.

2. I could go point-by-point with argument he makes against me, but there's really no sense in that.  For whatever reason (I can't publicly speculate about it) he doesn't want to engage any of my arguments.  A precondition to me responding directly would be for him to present counter-evidence or meaningful refutations the things that I said.  He simply doesn't do that.  He mostly does a couple of different things:  He personally attacks me.  For example, he says I don't take the Formula of Concord serious because I'm not ordained and therefore never took a vow to uphold it.  Everyone who reads my writing knows that I take all the Lutheran Confessions very seriously and uphold them (also, as a LCMS Christian day school teacher and church elder, I am actually sworn to uphold all the Lutheran Confessions, if that means anything to him!).  He generally takes sentences I write out of context and then attacks them in a rather ad hoc fashion.  The sentences function in larger arguments that he apparently has decided not to respond to (again, I don't know why!).  The oddest example of this is the claim that I don't really understand the The Bondage of the Will based on the fact that I uphold OJ.  He then just sort of gets mad and says that he's read the book, and understands it. He doesn't even attempt to overcome the objection that I make about his lack of consideration regarding how Luther understands divine agency in that work.  Lastly, he accuses me on a number of occasions of slander.  Why?  Namely because I draw out the implications of his positions and show how the implications are problematic for other articles of the faith.  He seems confused by this and assumes that I am attributing the positions to him which he does not actually hold.  Again, in every case that he accuses me of slander, I'm doing no such thing.  Rather, I'm showing the internal inconsistency of his position: I know he doesn't believe these things- that's the point!  If he followed the premises of his theology to their logical conclusions, he would- but he doesn't!  This is of course normal procedure in academic debates regarding philosophy and theology.  Oddly enough, he seems unfamiliar with this fact (though he appears to not be alone in this among Jackson's followers!:

3.  Overall, I find Rydecki a bit unusual.  He's obviously an honest person and bright enough to translate all that German and Latin.  Nevertheless, he's chosen for some strange reason to make a series of unsustainable arguments.  My personal theory (and bear in mind I have no way judgment the truth or falsehood of my supposition) is that something else is going on here.  I have evidence, but it is merely suggestive.  First, note that the whole objective justification debate isn't really an intellectual debate in a normal academic sense.  In most academic debates, there is a kind of give and take.  One side mounts arguments and evidence and then the other mounts them.  Depending on the ambiguity of the evidence, one side eventually wins, or, there may be a draw.  But in the OJ debate one side demonstrates the falsity of the other side's premise almost immediately (usually this has to do with the observing the the term "justify" is being used in distinctive manners with regard to OJ and SJ.  BTW, this is not equivocation, since the term is qualified by the adjective "objective" and "subjective") and then the argument is pretty much over.  The anti-OJ folks then proceed to ignore all arguments made by the pro-OJ and repeat themselves over and over again, never even attempting to account for the fact that their initial premise was self-evidently false if one understands the terminological distinctions involved.  Jackson and his crowd are an extreme versions of this, Rydecki is a softer version of it (for example, notice his blog is purely devoted to translating early Lutheran texts and noting that they don't use later terminological distinction between OJ and SJ, as if this was somehow a meaningful measure of the doctrine being found there!  He seems to have little appreciation that terminology and doctrinal concepts are distinct realities!).

4. When the situation is like this, the issue is clearly (as my old high school psychology teacher used to say) "psychological" and not "logical."  In a word, if one is arguing with a reasonably intelligent person and yet they persist in believing something which is self-evidently false, then there's obvious something else going on.  Here's what I think may be the case: notice that all the persons involved with the anti-OJ forces have some sort of ax to grind against the various church hierarchies in American Lutheranism (Jackson and Rydecki most notably against the WELS- bear in mind that both individuals turned against the WELS hierarchy long before they got on the anti-OJ bandwagon).  They also are distraught about the decline of the Lutheran Church in America, which they blame the institutional hierarchy.  Their concern is therefore may not really about justification per se, but about a certain perceived institutional crisis and its source.  They need a master explanation for the institutional crisis and also a club to use against the institutions from which they feel alienated.  The issue of OJ is a useful one for them, because like all other human beings after the Fall, their psychological default mode is legalism and self-justification.  "If only grace was less free!", they say, "we could really get things done!  People would know that they really, really needed to repent!  People wouldn't engage in such bad behavior!  We could strong-arm the situation and turn it around!"  This line of reasoning is particularly evident in Jackson's odd fixation on sex scandals in the various Lutheran denominations.  He repeatedly states that people sin because they think they can do anything because they're already forgiven (interestingly enough, a Roman Catholic argument against Lutheranism from the time of the Reformation to the present!  Also, note that this was an argument made by Pietists as well in their quest to make justification depend on sanctification!)  Likewise, Jackson's recent convert Rev. Nathan Bickel's website "moral matters" (where incidentally he promotes Sandy Hook trutherism!) also seems to point in this direction as well.  Of course simply beating people with the law cannot inculcate faithfulness and virtue.  The law cannot create, it can only order what is already made, or, ultimately, pacify with death!  Nevertheless, it seems very comforting to them to think that it could all work out if people would only listen to them (one also notices this same attitude among many in the LCMS and WELS.  Many seem intent on proposing a kind of 4th use of the law: the law's use in bludgeoning people into behaving as if it's 1955).  There are other appealing aspects as well.  After all, it gives them control over God's mysterious electing power to justify and sanctify whom he will through the Word.  Grace is indeed like a rainstorm (as Luther says) which moves in and then is later gone (America is no exception!).  Hence, if this is correct, we are not dealing with a lively academic debate here, but rather an indirect means of expressing a sense of alienation from the institutions of American Lutheranism.  It is this, and little more.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

To Reject Objective Justification is to Reject Election

I was looking at the Intrepid Lutherans blog earlier today (which has now pretty much turned into Paul Rydecki's own personal soap box) and I noticed a curious thing: LPC (a follower of Gregory Jackson) finally has let the cat out of the bag on election.  He doesn't believe in it!  Jackson and he have insinuated this in the past, but I've never been able to get a straight answer out of them.  Here is the statement:

"If I may, I wish to add what I view as the arrogance of C F W Walther when it came to the doctrine of election. Apparently his opponents kept on quoting to him the writings of the BoC writers. Here is what he had to say...

'The principal means by which our opponents endeavor to support their doctrine, consists in continually quoting passages from the private writings of the fathers of our Church, published subsequent to the _Formula of Concord_. But whenever a controversy arises concerning the question, whether a doctrine is Lutheran, we must not ask: "What does this or that 'father' of the Lutheran Church teach in his private writings?" for he also may have fallen into error;'

Is it likely the BoC writers erred on the topic of election as Walther supposed? Is that the only possibility?
Granted the BoC fathers were not fallible [I think he means "infallible"] and they could have been inconsistent with themselves, but is that likely they deviated from what they wrote?
What about the possibility that it was Walther himself who misunderstood the teaching of the BoC when it came to election?
Which possibility do you test first, I say test first Walther before you test the BoC Fathers.
This is like saying the framers of the US Constitution should not be consulted when you want to understand what they meant as they might have been confused in their writings.
Is the BoC an art work that you can extrude it from those who framed it?
That is the height of folly.

A couple points should be made here:

1. Here LPC clearly suggests that Walther was indeed wrong in teaching the doctrine that God elects all those who are saved through the means of grace.  For Walther, God's choice of a specific number of persons in light of the atonement of Christ and made known through the means of grace is the sole cause of election, and not any kind of foreknowledge based on human choice (Melanchthon, Arminus) or preservation of faith (Lutheran Orthodoxy, etc.).  The questions he poses would make no sense if it were not for the fact that he rejects Walther (and therefore also Luther and the author's the FC's) doctrine of election.

2. In response to LPC's question: First of all notice that what Walther says is not that he rejects what some of the authors of the FC taught prior to their statement on the subject in the BoC say, but rather what they may have taught subsequent to the writing of the confessional document.  This is a good hermeneutical principle.  Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party's Revolutionary Suicide should not be interpreted on the basis of his subsequent conversion to Christianity and joining the Republican Party.  Likewise, later deviations from the orthodoxy should not interpret earlier orthodox statements of the faith.

3.  Though many Lutheran theologians of the early 17th century deviated from the confessional doctrine of election relatively quickly (Leohard Hutter would be a good example of this- Gerhard also sounds like he does  in many of his writings, though Robert Preus insists otherwise!), one can in fact also find a significan cash of quotations from the author of the FC themselves which endorses Walther and Luther's interpretation of election.  You can find a list here:

4. The FC endorses and extensively uses Luther's Bondage of the Will, where a hard doctrine of election is taught against Erasmus and the via Moderna.  Also, Reformation histrography has over the previous century come to understand the authors of the FC as clearly teaching a somewhat modified version of the doctrine of election taught by Luther and later abandoned by the Lutheran scholastics.  In other words, Walther and not his opponents have historical science on their side!  See this book, which is a tour de force of scholarship and relies almost exclusively on an extensive use of primary sources:

5. LPC is apparently unaware of how confessional Lutherans understand confessional subscription.  Confessions are the public confessions of the whole Church.  Believers are only bound to writings that serve as a public confessions of faith and not necessarily to the private writings of a particular theologian.  The FC endorses this view as well. The only documents it quotes are the Bible and the earlier confessions.  The one exception is of course, the writings of Luther, since he is viewed by them as having a special calling in these last days for reviving the gospel.  Moreover, not every writing of Luther is endorsed (since many of them are wrong- especially his early writings), but a specific body that agrees with the earlier confessions and Scripture.  Consequently, Walther was standing on firm ground when he insisted that the confessions need to be read on their own terms and not on the basis of private writings which lack any authority.

6. LPC (and also Jackson, who btw endorsed this statement on his website) rejection of election makes sense in light of their rejection of OJ.  If one rejects OJ, one is pretty much left with two options: Calvinism or the Intuitu Fidei heresy.  In other words, if in response to Christ's death God does not speak forth a universal word of reconciliation, but simply pronounces reconciliation on those who believe, we are left with two options:

Option 1: Since there is no universal word of reconciliation, God only intended the atonement for those who believed, namely, the elect.  Those who believe, believe because he chooses them to do so and made atonement for their sins.  Hence, there is a limited atonement and Christ did not die for the reprobate.

Option 2: Since God only pronounces his word of reciliation on those who believe subsequent to their belief, his decision to save them must be caused by their faith.  In other words, God's choice must be conditioned by his passive foreknowledge of the faith of those who believe.  If such a choice on God's part pre-existed their faith, God would have already had made his decision about the person.  But since God's decision is contingent on belief and therefore subsequent to belief, there can be no election- since election presupposes a prior decision of grace, which subsequently creates faith through the means of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.  For this reason, it makes sense that those persons in the Old ALC (and before them, the Iowa and Ohio synods-Lenski for example) who rejected OJ also rejected election in favor of the Intuitu Fidei heresy.  Likewise, LPC has in the past sung the virtues of anti-Missourian literature produced by the Ohio synod after the election controversy  (Stellenhorn, The Errors of Missouri- perhap I'm spelling it wrong).

7. Doubtless these observations will lead to some sort of charge of "Rationalism" on their part (by which they mean almost anyone who uses evidence and coherent arguments), but these facts are certainly worth examining in light of the the problematic nature of their rejection of OJ.  In a word: rejection of OJ also compromises the Lutheran doctrine of election (something I do not think Paul Rydecki appreciates, since he still claims to believe in election!).  Doctrines do not exist in isolation from one another, but must be coordinated in light of the overall analogy of faith.  Damage one part of the wheel, and the rest of the wagon functions more poorly.