Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Recommendation: Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott W. Hahn


Two weeks ago while I was at Notre Dame for a conference, I picked up at the Baker Book table a copy of Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI by Scott W. Hahn. I am just finishing it this evening.

Published by the Baker imprint, Brazos Press, this book is incredible. Hahn does what I had thought would be impossible: he succinctly and clearly presents a rich yet readable overview of the biblical theology of Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a Pope Benedict XVI). So, if you don't the time or the resources to collect and read the many works of the Pope, I highly recommend you purchase and devour Professor Hahn's impressive tome. You can get it via Amazon.com here.

Apparently, I am not the only one impressed by this book. The book's web page on the Brazos website includes the following endorsements, from both Protestants and Catholics:

"Scott Hahn offers us a lucidly written and trenchant study of the biblical theology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict. He shows how one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century gently but firmly corrected the historical critics who dominate much of contemporary academic Scripture study. Hahn further demonstrates how, in making this correction, Ratzinger/Benedict allowed for the recovery of much of the richness of patristic biblical interpretation, including typology, an integrated understanding of the Old and New Testaments, a sense of Jesus as the interpretive key for the whole of revelation, and the deep rapport between kingdom and Church. This is a beautiful and thought-provoking text, one that will prove helpful to any serious student of the sacred page."--Robert Barron, Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture, Mundelein Seminary, University of St. Mary of the Lake

"The increasingly painful bankruptcy of the historical-critical method in our time has created a vacuum precisely at the point where the living Church requires substantial nurture. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken into this crisis like no one else, and his best expositor, Scott Hahn, has done us a tremendous service by synthesizing Benedict's erudite and prayerful biblical theology into a lively, readable, and intellectually reliable conspectus. This excellent volume will be indispensable for all Christians who seek to be more maturely grounded in Scripture."--David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor of literature and the humanities, Baylor University

"The two revolutions that have undermined the Faith most effectively for the young today are surely the sexual revolution and the modernist revolution in biblical theology. As John Paul II's theology of the body is the Church's triumphant alternative to the sexual revolution, Benedict's biblical theology is her triumphant alternative to modernist biblical theology. This book explains the second response to us as Christopher West explains the first. When Benedict writes about the Bible, it is like an archangel interpreting the seraphim; and when Scott Hahn writes about Benedict, it is like our guardian angel interpreting the archangel to us. Thus this is a triply beautiful book!"--Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy, Boston College

"This book arrives at an important time when many exegetes are reflecting on the relationship between historical studies and the theological understanding of the biblical text. Scott Hahn gives us a clear resume of the lifetime of teaching that Joseph Ratzinger has given to this question. Hahn's amply documented study shows Ratzinger challenging the philosophical principles of many practitioners of the historical-critical method, pointing out that faith is not an exterior norm but rather a respectful light that illumines study from within while welcoming whatever is true in the results of historical investigation. I recommend Covenant and Communion to anyone who wishes to read a competent synthesis of one of the great theologians of our time on the questions of revelation, Church, history, and language."--Francis Martin, professor of New Testament, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC

"Covenant and Communion is a compelling manuduction right into the very core of Pope Benedict XVI's theological vision. In this clearly written and cogently argued essay, Hahn makes a convincing and highly pertinent case for what Pope Benedict holds to be the crucial challenge for the Church and theology today--the reunification, and thereby the renewal, of exegesis theologically conceived and theology exegetically grounded. By way of excellently chosen samplings from the pope's sprawling oeuvre, Hahn persuasively demonstrates the way Benedict's theology incessantly arises from and circles around the living Word of God as received and witnessed by God's pilgrim people. Theologically insightful and surefooted, this book is one of the best and certainly the most timely and urgent among the recent introductions to the theology of Pope Benedict XVI."--Reinhard Huetter, professor of Christian theology, Duke Divinity School

"Exploring the foundations of Benedict's theology, Hahn's latest book presents an in-depth exposition of the pope's theology of Scripture. This lucid exposition introduces the reader to Benedict's understanding of historical criticism, faith and reason, typology, covenant, sacrifice, liturgy, and a variety of other topics. The book beautifully models what for Pope Benedict is the central task of theology: it leads believers into a real participation in the mystery of faith."--Hans Boersma, J. I. Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College

"Scott Hahn here renders an important service in so clearly setting forth the hermeneutical principles, biblical framework, and doctrinal positions of Pope Benedict XVI, arguably the world's most important contemporary theologian. The parallels between the biblical theology of the pope and of evangelicals, together with their respective attempts to interpret Scripture theologically in an age marked by modern biblical criticism, are particularly fascinating."--Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Blanchard Professor of Theology, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"As a Protestant biblical scholar, I found Scott Hahn's exposition of Pope Benedict's biblical theology both informative and inspiring. In spite of differences, Protestants need to read this book to understand how deeply we can agree on the primacy of Christ and the Word. Through Hahn, I have a new appreciation for the mind and heart of Pope Benedict."--Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College

"Scott Hahn offers the reader a superb introduction to the way in which the theology of Pope Benedict XVI has been shaped by the Bible. Hahn's crisp and clear analysis puts the reader at the very center of this remarkable pope's thought."--Gary Anderson, professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, University of Notre Dame

"In the growing body of literature on the theology of Benedict XVI, there is a conspicuously missing theme: the consciously biblical character of the pontiff's theology. If John Paul II was at heart always the Philosopher Pope, Benedict is the Exegete and Theologian of Scripture. In his new book, Scott Hahn places this concern for theology as a scriptural--and hence a liturgical--activity center stage with the verve and clarity we have come to expect from him. Hahn uses his encyclopedic knowledge of Ratzinger/Benedict's corpus to tease out many threads, weaving them into a compelling account of the new hermeneutic at the heart of Benedict's vision. Not only students of the pope but also all of us who desire the revitalization of theology and exegesis should welcome the passion and insight that Hahn has brought to bear on his subject."--Lewis Ayres, Bede Professor of Catholic Theology, Durham University

"Scott Hahn's new book on the pope's interpretation of the Gospels and the New Testament is essential reading for any informed Catholic. I have been waiting for someone to expand and bring together the conclusions that Pope Benedict XVI brings to us in his powerful book Jesus of Nazareth. This is a very important book for all Catholics, clergy, religious, and laity alike."--Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR

"This is an extraordinary book. Exploring Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI's theology, Hahn masterfully sets forth the links between Scripture and Church, history and typology, Word and liturgy. In clear and succinct prose, Hahn shows how these links derive from Christ's Pasch. More than an introduction to Ratzinger/Benedict's theology--although it is this as well--Hahn's marvelous book provides an introduction to biblical exegesis, Catholic theology, and ultimately to the life of discipleship itself. This is a book for all readers, a rich feast of spiritual and intellectual transformation."--Matthew Levering, professor of theology, University of Dayton

"Biblical theology--that is, the work of tracing major scriptural themes from promise to fulfillment--is essential for the life and health of the Church. Long before his election as pope, Benedict XVI brought his wide-ranging gifts to bear in this field in a Christ-centered exposition. Even when one disagrees with some of his conclusions, Benedict's insights, as well as his engagement with critical scholarship, offer a wealth of reflection. In this remarkable book, Scott Hahn has drawn out the central themes of Benedict's teaching in a highly readable summary that includes not only the pope's published works but also his less-accessible homilies and addresses. This is an eminently useful guide for introducing the thought of an important theologian of our time."--Michael S. Horton, J. G. Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California

Again, you can get the book via Amazon.com here. Professor Hahn's personal website may be accessed here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"The Lost Art of Catholic Drinking"

That's the title of an article by Sean P. Dailey published at InsideCatholic. Here's an excerpt:
There is Protestant drinking and there is Catholic drinking, and the difference is more than mere quantity. I have no scientific data to back up my claims, nor have I completed any formal studies. But I have done a good bit of, shall we say, informal study, which for a hypothesis like this is probably the best kind.

To begin with, what is Catholic drinking? It's hard to pin down, but here's a historical example. St. Arnold (580-640), also known as St. Arnulf of Metz, was a seventh-century bishop of Metz, in what later became France. Much beloved by the people, St. Arnold is said to have preached against drinking water, which in those days could be extremely dangerous owing to unsanitary sewage systems -- or no sewage system at all. At the same time, he frequently touted the benefits of beer and is credited with having once said, "From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world."

Read the whole thing here.

Michael Bauman on the New Atheists and the Moral Law

My good friend (and Evangelical Protestant), Michael Bauman (Professor of Theology & Culture at Hillsdale College) has published a terrific essay on his website, "No God, No Good: The New Atheism's Futile Quest for Morality, or Hitchens', Harris' and Dawkins' Practice of Stolen Concepts." Here's an excerpt:
One often hears atheists assert that the moral virtues are those virtues without which we humans beings cannot, and do not, flourish because they are rooted in human nature. One also sometimes hears atheists assert that moral virtues are those virtues that enjoy a consensus that spans culture, country, and century, something like the Tao described at the end of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. That moral values described or derived in either of these two ways are not truly moral values, much less moral absolutes, is the burden of this brief essay.

First, atheist values determined either by human flourishing or by human nature are not truly right or wrong, not properly moral absolutes; they are pragmatism or utilitarianism masquerading as good and coöpting the language of virtue and of “oughtness,” to which they have no philosophical or (especially) theological claim...

If, as atheists insist, human nature arose as the chance result of a mindless evolutionary process, a process behind which exists no divine mind and no divine plan, then moral absolutes disappear. That is, if human nature is the result of evolutionary accident (time, plus matter, plus chance), and if right and wrong arise solely from human nature, then right and wrong are accidents, not moral absolutes. Biological chance, evolutionary accident, cannot serve as the philosophically proper foundation for right and wrong; it is their undoing. If human nature and human mind are the unintentional outcome of the chance collocation of atoms and of the mindless and unpredictable meanderings of natural selection (in other words, if the human mind is a mere epiphenomenon contorting and disporting itself for a short while upon the face of physical matter), then we have no convincing reason -- and no metaphysical justification -- for trusting them as indicators of moral goodness; nor have we any real or enduring right and wrong....

That those actions which conduce to the flourishing of the most biologically innovative survivors of natural selection should be called "moral" merely confuses with right and wrong those actions that seem to the atheists of that species to permit that species to flourish at one particular point in its evolution. If in the atheistic worldview species evolve, then the species whose flourishing they appoint as the arbiter of morality was sufficiently different in its earlier stages of development from what it is now, and will be likely be sufficiently different in its later stages of development, that those means by which it now flourishes might be significantly different both from what they once were and might eventually become. We simply do not know. But whatever those unknown facts were in the past and will be in the future, the atheist must endorse them as moral, however grotesque and wicked they might actually be. If so, what are now called right and wrong in the atheist view are not moral absolutes, but simply that set of actions perceived to be most efficient at the moment. What set of actions will be so perceived in the distant future is still an open question, a question that might receive a starkly different answer then than either it now does or previously did, but which the atheist system of thought must nevertheless consider morally correct and universally binding if it is to employ the language of moral absolutes. In short, to our previous charges of species bigotry and biological relativism we now must add time relativism and moral contradiction -- but not moral absolutes. The new atheists cannot find metaphysical grounding for their claims to morality. They cannot talk about how religion ruins everything because the word "ruins" implies a morality not metaphysically available in the atheist worldview. They can say they do not like what religion does, and that they prefer something else. But they can raise no truly moral objection....

The un-Godded worldview does not, and cannot, yield moral oughtness. It yields only competing sets of preferences to which some atheists unjustifiably try to attach the language of oughtness. Other more astute atheists refuse to make that mistake. On that point those more astute and consistent atheists deserve full credit because they understand that no atheistic explanation of morality has the metaphysical rootedness necessary for moral absolutes. Their worldview precludes it. They know that when other more inconsistent atheists want to hold onto atheism and to avail themselves of the language of oughtness, they fall afoul of what atheist Ayn Rand called the error of stolen concepts: They employ ideas and categories to which their system has no metaphysical access. Atheists who invoke morality are idea thieves.

Put differently, it makes all the difference in the world whether we say mind came from matter or matter came from mind. Because ideas have consequences, if you choose the former, you cut yourself off from the consequences that attach solely to the latter. One of those lost consequences is the metaphysical rootedness necessary for moral absolutes, that is, for a morality that rises above the level of mere preference.

You can read the whole thing here:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Richard A. White: "Sola Gratia, Solo Christo: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification"

This is one of my favorite papers. Written in 1987 for a class taught by Harold O.J. Brown at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Richard A. White, then a Calvinist, offers a careful articulation of the Catholic view of justification. (I believe that Dr. White eventually earned his Ph.D. at Marquette University and is now a professor of theology at Benedictine College). Here's how it begins:
The doctrine of justification was, as John Calvin stated, the "hinge of the reformation." James Buchanan provides us with the classic "reformed" definition: "Justification is a legal, or forensic, term, and is used in Scripture to denote the acceptance of any one as righteous in the sight of God." (The Doctrine of Justification, p. 226). Understood in this way, justification is purely extrinsic to the sinner, inasmuch as he is justified solely on the basis of Christ's righteousness graciously imputed to him. The sinner does not become righteous himself, but because he trusts in Christ's work for him, he is considered innocent by God the judge. In this way, works contribute nothing to justification; it is "by faith alone" (sola fide).

In contrast is the Roman Catholic position, which sadly, few evangelicals even bother to consider, let alone understand. In many cases, the issue is naively boiled down to justification by faith, on the one hand (evangelicalism), versus justification by works, on the other hand (Roman Catholicism). This crass caricature has little basis in reality, and hampers the cause for theological truth and Christian unity. In this essay then, I will summarize the Roman Catholic teaching on justification. To accomplish this task, I will consider the Council of Trent's "Decree Concerning Justification," (Session VI) the most authoritative, even-handed, representative Church pronouncement on the issue to date (the Council was held 1545-1563). I will also consider a wide array of Catholic authors, both past and present.

My goal is to set forth the Catholic position, not to critique it. Thus, I will not preface my remarks with such phrases as "the Catholic position says" or "in Rome's view." The reader should assume that all of the text represents the Catholic teaching.

Now the Catholic view of grace and justification is very complex. Due to the scope of this essay, therefore, many subject areas (e.g., metaphysical questions, purgatory, indulgences, the mode of God's indwelling in the soul, etc) relating to the Catholic teaching on justification have been excluded. The reader should consult the bibliography for elaboration on certain points.

You can read the whole thing here. It is one of the many works I read when I was thinking more seriously about Catholicism.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Doug Groothuis's Thomistic letter to National Public Radio

My friend, Doug Groothuis, sent the following letter to NPR. Doug offers NPR a brief instruction on the nature of the human person, not unlike the one taught by St. Thomas Aquinas. (See, for example, my article "The Explanatory Power of the Substance View of Persons.")
Dear NPR:

Your November 24 edition (of "All Things Considered") featured the story of a man who came out of a seemingly unconscious state after twenty-three years--only to report that he was aware of his surroundings during this time. His condition was referred to as a "persistent vegetative state." While this is a medical term, it is erroneous philosophically. No human being can be in a vegetative state, since no human being is ever a vegetable. Humans should always be treated as humans, and never as vegetation.

Sincerely,
Douglas Groothuis

Doug is the co-editor (with another friend of mine, Jim Sennett) of an outstanding volume, In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-humean Assessment (InterVarsity Press, 2005)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pope Benedict from his homily at the Mass of Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome


From the 7 May 2005 mass in the Basilica of St John Lateran:
The Bishop of Rome sits upon the Chair to bear witness to Christ. Thus, the Chair is the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter, and after him, on the Twelve. In the Church, Sacred Scripture, the understanding of which increases under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of its authentic interpretation that was conferred upon the Apostles, are indissolubly bound. Whenever Sacred Scripture is separated from the living voice of the Church, it falls prey to disputes among experts.

Of course, all they have to tell us is important and invaluable; the work of scholars is a considerable help in understanding the living process in which the Scriptures developed, hence, also in grasping their historical richness.

Yet science alone cannot provide us with a definitive and binding interpretation; it is unable to offer us, in its interpretation, that certainty with which we can live and for which we can even die. A greater mandate is necessary for this, which cannot derive from human abilities alone. The voice of the living Church is essential for this, of the Church entrusted until the end of time to Peter and to the College of the Apostles.

This power of teaching frightens many people in and outside the Church. They wonder whether freedom of conscience is threatened or whether it is a presumption opposed to freedom of thought. It is not like this. The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.

Pope John Paul II did this when, in front of all attempts, apparently benevolent to the human person, and in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he unequivocally stressed the inviolability of the human being and of human life from the moment of conception until natural death. The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery.

The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church's pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage.

The Chair is - let us say it again - a symbol of the power of teaching, which is a power of obedience and service, so that the Word of God- the truth! - may shine out among us and show us the way of life.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), abortion, and Holy Communion: Bishop Tobin responds


Published Sunday (Nov. 22) online here, the following is a statement by Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin on Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and his receiving of communion:
I am disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to reopen the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion. This comes almost two weeks after the Congressman indicated to local media that he would no longer comment publicly on his faith or his relationship with the Catholic Church. The Congressman's public comments require me to reply.

On February 21, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating: "In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so." My request came in light of the new statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that said, "If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain." (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, December, 2006)

In the same letter I wrote to Congressman Kennedy, "I am writing to you personally and confidentially as a pastor addressing a member of his flock … At the present time I have no need or intention to make this a public issue." I also indicated, "I am available to discuss this matter with you in person at any mutually convenient time and place. I would welcome the opportunity to do so."

On February 28, 2007, the Congressman responded to me, "I have the utmost respect for the work you do on behalf of the Catholic community in Rhode Island. . . I understand your pastoral advice was confidential in nature and given with the best intentions for my personal spiritual welfare."

I am disappointed that the Congressman would make public my pastoral and confidential request of nearly three years ago that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being.

I have no desire to continue the discussion of Congressman Kennedy's spiritual life in public. At the same time, I will absolutely respond publicly and strongly whenever he attacks the Catholic Church, misrepresents the teachings of the Church, or issues inaccurate statements about my pastoral ministry.

As I wrote to the Congressman in February of 2007, and repeated in my public letter earlier this month, I am willing and even anxious to meet with him, to discuss these matters. My door remains open. However, it should be absolutely clear the Congressman himself has once again chosen to make this discussion a matter of public record.
In the meantime, I will continue to pray -- sincerely and fervently -- for his conversion and repentance, and for his personal and spiritual well-being. I wish him well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alvin Plantinga and Alfred Freddoso on Fides Et Ratio


Two of my favorite philosophers, Al Plantinga (a Protestant) and Fred Freddoso (a Catholic), both professors at the University of Notre Dame, have each published online reflections on John Paul II's 1998 encyclical Fides Et Ratio: On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason.

You can read Platinga's essay here. Freddoso's may be found here. And JP II's encyclical is accessible on the Vatican's website.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cardinal Dulles on "Newman’s Idea of a University And its Relevance to Catholic Higher Education"

Delivered by the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J. on November 10, 2001, here is the opening paragraph:
John Henry Newman, writing in England in the mid-nineteenth century, proposed a vision of Catholic higher education that takes account of major difficulties that were prevalent in his day and are no less prevalent in ours. Although his proposals are for the most part framed in positive terms, I shall summarize them in contrast to four tendencies that Newman found unacceptable. I shall call these tendencies utilitarianism, fragmentation, secularism, and rationalism.
You can find the entire paper here

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking," Bob Dylan in Los Angeles, October 2009

Here's the audio. Lyrics follow.

Lyrics:

Gonna Change My Way of Thinking
by Bob Dylan

Change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools.

Gonna sit at the welcome table, I'm as hungry as a horse
Sittin' at the welcome table, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse
I'm gonna revitalize my thinkin', I'm gonna let the law take its course

Jesus is coming, he's coming back to gather his jewels
Jesus is coming, he's coming back to gather his jewels
Well, we live by the golden rule: Whoever got the gold rules.

The sun is shining, ain't but one train on this track
The sun is shining, ain't but one train on this track
I'm steppin' out of the dark woods, I'm jumpin' on the monkey's back.

Yes, I'm all dressed up, going to the country dance
Said, I'm all dressed up, going to the country dance
Every day you gotta pray for guidance, Every day you gotta give yourself another chance.

Well, there are storms out on the ocean, storms out on the mountains too
Storms on the ocean, storms out on the mountains too
O, Lord, I have no friend but you

Change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna change my way of thinking, Make myself a different set of rules.
Gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools.

Friday, November 20, 2009

United We Stand: The Manhattan Declaration

(Update II: You may download the Manhattan Declaration)
(Update: The Manhattan Declaration's website)

This, just over the AP wire:
Christian leaders issue 'call of conscience'

WASHINGTON — More than 150 Christian leaders, most of them conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Roman Catholics, issued a joint declaration Friday reaffirming their opposition to abortion and gay marriage and pledging to protect religious freedoms.

The 4,700-word document, called "The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience," sounds familiar themes from political and social debates over the health care overhaul and gay marriage battles.

While acknowledging that "Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage," the group rejects same-sex marriage. The declaration states that opening a legal door for gay marriage would do the same for "polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships."

President Barack Obama's desire to reduce the need for abortion is "a commendable goal," but his proposals are likely to increase the number of elective abortions, the document contends.

"The present administration is led and staffed by those who want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development, and who want to provide abortions at taxpayer expense," it says.

Obama has said he wants to strike a balance on abortion coverage in the health care overhaul. The declaration also cites threats to health care workers' conscience clauses and anti-discrimination statutes it argues impinge on religious freedoms.

Signatories include 15 Roman Catholic bishops, including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson; National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson; seminary leaders, professors and pastors.

Once the Manhattan Declaration is online, I will post a link to it.

Of Human Ecology

Great wisdom from the papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate:

If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Every Grain of Sand" - Bob Dylan, on October 30 in Chicago

Here's the audio of Dylan's performance of "Every Grain of Sand" from an October 30, 2009 concert in Chicago. The song is thoroughly Augustinian, IMHO. Lyrics follow.

Lyrics:
Every Grain Of Sand
by Bob Dylan

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There's a dyin' voice within me reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear,
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer.
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light,
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space,
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

Copyright ©1981 Special Rider Music

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Right of Conscience in the Age of Obama

That's the title of an outstanding article in the November 2009 issue of The American Specator, You can read it here. Here are some excerpts:

"Conscience is the most sacred of all property."
--James Madison

Nurse Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo winced as the doctor inserted forceps into his patient's dilated cervix and pushed them deep into her uterus. Then she stood shocked as he carefully plucked, piece by piece, parts of the patient's unborn child, pulling them back through the cervix and vagina, and ultimately placed them in a specimen cup. DeCarlo then was required to pour saline into the cup and deliver the bloody body parts to the specimen room.

On May 24, DeCarlo, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, was forced to participate in the killing of a 22-week-old unborn child by dismemberment. As she began her shift that morning, a superior informed her that she needed to assist in the late second-term abortion. DeCarlo protested that as a practicing Catholic, she had strongly held religious beliefs against killing unborn children.

Though she had repeatedly and in writing made her belief known to hospital administrators since she was hired five years earlier, DeCarlo was told on that day that if she did not participate, she would be charged with "insubordination and patient abandonment." That meant she might lose her job or her nursing license or both. Despite repeated tearful pleas, DeCarlo was refused. The next day, DeCarlo called the Alliance Defense Fund, which has filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf. DeCarlo stated later:
I couldn't believe that this could happen in the United States, where freedom is held sacred. I still remember the baby's mangled body with twisted and torn arms, fingers, legs and feet. It felt like a horror film unfolding. I kept imagining the pain this baby must have gone through while being torn apart with the forceps. It was devastating.

Pro-life advocates have had a year to come to terms with the most strident abortion advocate ever to ascend to the U.S. presidency. Having relied on either a pro-life president or pro-life congressional majority for 26 of the last 29 years, they confront an opposition emboldened as never before.

Nowhere is the scope of the abortion movement's ambition more evident than in its aggressive attacks on the rights of health care providers not to participate in life-destroying procedures. Through their statements and actions, Barack Obama and his abortion industry allies are pushing their goal to make experiences like DeCarlo's much more common.

You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

St. Augustine on Why Punishment is Still Inflicted, After Sin Has Been Forgiven.

From Book II, chapter 54 of On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD):
But, inasmuch as there are not wanting persons of such character, just as we say in answer to those who raise this question, that those things are punishments of sins before remission, which after remission become contests and exercises of the righteous; so again to such persons as are similarly perplexed about the death of the body, our answer ought to be so drawn as to show both that we acknowledge it to have accrued because of sin, and that we are not discouraged by the punishment of sins having been bequeathed to us for an exercise of discipline, in order that our great fear of it may be overcome by us as we advance in holiness. For if only small virtue accrued to the faith which works by love in conquering the fear of death, there would be no great glory for the martyrs; nor could the Lord say, Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends; John 15:13 which John in his epistle expresses in these terms: As He laid down His life for us, so ought we to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16 In vain, therefore, would commendation be bestowed on the most eminent suffering in encountering or despising death for righteousness' sake, if there were not in death itself a really great and very severe trial. And the man who overcomes the fear of it by his faith, procures a great glory and just recompense for his faith itself. Wherefore it ought to surprise no one, either that the death of the body could not possibly have happened to man unless sin had been previously committed, since it was of this that it was to become the punishment; nor that after the remission of their sins it comes to the faithful, in order that in their triumphing over the fear of it, the fortitude of righteousness may be exercised.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Drowning in the Tiber - A Response to Francis Beckwith's 2009 book Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic.

That's the title of a sermon series by Pastor Tony Bartoloucci, which you can access here. I had never actually been the topic of a sermon, let alone 12 weeks of sermons!! So, I am honored by the attention paid to my work, even though it is critical.

Worst Christian Pop Song, Ever?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez: I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.


Joan Baez & Bob Dylan:

Macs | MySpace Video

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine

by Bob Dylan

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,
Alive as you or me,
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery,
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold,
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold.

"Arise, arise," he cried so loud,
In a voice without restraint,
"Come out, ye gifted kings and queens
And hear my sad complaint.
No martyr is among ye now
Whom you can call your own,
So go on your way accordingly
But know you're not alone."

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine,
Alive with fiery breath,
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death.
Oh, I awoke in anger,
So alone and terrified,
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried

Copyright ©1968; renewed 1996 Dwarf Music

Friday, November 13, 2009

Marci Hamilton calls for religious test for citizens to exercise their right to self-government

According to Yeshiva University law professor, Marci Hamilton, the Stupak Amendment is unconstitutional because its supporters are motivated by religion. It's not clear how Professor Hamilton knows the motivations of every single person who supports the amendment. But setting that question aside, why should "religious motivation" matter to the legitimacy of a citizen's participation in the public conversation on an issue over which citizens from a wide variety of traditions disagree? Apparently, according to Professor Hamilton, a citizen who takes his or her religious beliefs seriously is the proper subject of civic disenfranchisement. As I write in an article I published in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly in 2006 ("The Court of Disbelief: The Constitution’s Article VI Religious Test Prohibition and the Judiciary’s Religious Motive Analysis")
[M]otives are types of beliefs...; citizens, including legislators, have an ultima facie right to their beliefs such that the state ought not reward or punish them for having these beliefs..; and a statute’s purpose and the reasons for it are conceptually distinct from the motives of the statute’s supporters in both the legislature and in the citizenry. Therefore, when the Court claims that a statute or policy violates the Establishment Clause because of a legislator’s or a citizen’s religious motives, it is in fact limiting one of the enumerated powers of that legislator or the political rights of that citizen solely based on the religious quality of beliefs that contribute causally to the exercise of each individual’s political powers and rights.

Concerning citizens who hold public office, the Court’s religious motive analysis functions as a de facto religious test in violation of the no Religious Test Clause for legislators since it limits the powers of their office. The fact that the legislators have already assumed office does not seem to be relevant, since it seems to me that an Article VI violation would occur if a state passed a law that forbade only Catholic elected officials from voting on matters concerning human reproduction. Therefore, a religious test that limits a citizen’s right to exercise the powers of public office — whether to limit all her powers by forbidding her to hold office or to limit some of her powers after she holds office — is nevertheless an impermissible religious test for public office under Article VI. Moreover, just because a court, rather than a legislature or an executive branch, offers the test and targets a legislator’s religious motive, rather than her ecclesiology or her creedal commitments, neither makes it any less a government action nor any less a religious test for public office.

When the religious motive analysis is applied to citizens in general, it shows, in the words of the Supreme Court, disrespect for “the individual’s freedom of conscience” and “freedom of mind,” for it results in a subtle coercion of, and provides an incentive to, religiously-motivated citizens to publicly pretend as if they do not have the motives they in fact have. It punishes these citizens because of their beliefs, since their political freedom as citizens to shape their communities is limited by a judicial prohibition of laws and policies that happen to have proponents who are motivated exclusively by their religious beliefs. In addition, the religious motive analysis provides sustenance to a political culture in which citizens are taught that any public disclosure of their beliefs that serve to motivate a legislative proposal may result in the judiciary’s rejection of that proposal regardless of its content or the reasons offered for the proposal.

Read the whole article here.

(Originally posed on Southern Appeal)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wise Words on Skepticism and Humility by Tim Troutman

Writes Troutman:

The proud man, says C.S. Lewis, cannot see God because he is always looking down his nose at things and people, and so long as you are looking down, you cannot see what is above you. We can never let ourselves forget that in this on-going search for truth, the truth will always remain above us. We must approach the truth as children ready to be transformed by and conformed to something greater than ourselves and not as aggressors. We do not conquer the truth; if we seek it rightly, it will conquer us....

But none of this means that we can’t know truth nor that we should too readily profess agnosticism. Arrogance is a danger but skepticism is also dangerous and is not true humility. Recently, there has been some lively discussion in response to Bryan and Neal’s article on sola vs solo scriptura. Some have agreed that there is no principled distinction; others are unwilling to grant the distinction, but the sole objection seems to be this: that the Catholic position is no better. Bryan, myself, and others have given reasons in the combox why we do not believe this to be the case, but I am particularly interested in drawing out a one-liner, not well received and perhaps for good reason, that I left on Chris Donato’s blog. I claimed that “there is a difference between humility and skepticism.”...

I find most counter arguments to be based in skepticism, in fact, and I don’t find that to be a humble approach to history or to truth seeking. E.g. How can we be certain that there is an unbroken line of Apostolic Succession from the Apostles until now? We can’t know who is rightfully pope because sometimes there were multiple claims to the See of Peter. Many of the popes said and did bad things, etc. Now all of these objections deserve answers in due course; I wouldn’t deny it, but I believe that skepticism is a hindrance to one who is honestly seeking the truth in humility. In short, I find skepticism to be a counterfeit humility. True humility consists not in denying knowledge nor in saying that truth is unattainable, but in admitting that one’s knowledge is imperfect and that the truth we do see, is only through a glass darkly.
Read the whole thing here.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

St. Paul's Gospel


(HT: Carl Olson at Ignatius Insight Scoop)

In the November 2009 issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Fr. Kenneth Baker, S. J. has authored an editorial entitled, "St. Paul's Gospel." Here are some excerpts:

Christ is the key to St. Paul. His theology is Christocentric. The Gospel according to St. Paul is that the Son of God became man in Jesus Christ in order to reconcile all mankind to God the Father by his life, passion, death and resurrection. For Paul, Christ is the glorified Christ, now reigning gloriously in heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father.

Here are some of the main points in the theology of St. Paul: 1) Because of the sin of Adam and each one’s personal sins, all men are sinners and in need of redemption (Rom. 3:23; 5:12-21). 2) In order to save mankind, God sent his Son into the world, born of a woman (Rom. 4:4), to make a fitting satisfaction for sin. 3) That Son is Jesus Christ, who communicates his grace and justifies all who believe in him and are baptized. 4) The grace of Christ includes the sending of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the believer as an adopted child of God, a member of the body of Christ, and an heir of eternal life. 5) Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and has established a New Covenant to replace that of Moses; therefore Christians are not bound by the ceremonial and dietary laws and circumcision of the Law of Moses. This means that one does not have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian. This insight of Paul made Christianity into a religion open to all peoples (see 1 Tim. 2:4).

A recent author said that ideas have consequences. That certainly applies to the Christian faith. St. Paul argues in most of his letters, towards the end, that faith in Christ demands a moral way of life based on the Ten Commandments, the law of nature, and the commandment of love of God and neighbor (Rom. 13:9-10). Here he mentions regulations for bishops, elders, old men, old women, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. Christians are to avoid sexual immorality, idolatry and other vices of the pagans. They are to give good example in word and deed to all. He often insists on purity of doctrine, preaching and defending the deposit of faith from the Apostles, and refuting the errors of false teachers (1 & 2 Tim.; Titus).


You may read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The LDS view of deification and Athanasius

On his outstanding blog, Energetic Procession, Perry Robinson provides a fine assessment of the use of, and interaction with, the Church Father, St. Athanasius, by an LDS apologist. I highly recommend Robinson's post. It is a fine example of how to carefully and thoughtfully read the Church Fathers. (For more on the LDS view of God, see my article, "Mormon Theism, the Traditional Christian Concept of God, and Greek Philosophy: A Critical Analysis" in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44.4 [December 2001]: 671-95). Robinson writes:
For some time, the Mormons have been availing themselves of material in the Fathers of the Church regarding theosis in order to render their own doctrines more plausible. There is no shortage of LDS blogs and websites that exclaim with glee that the LDS doctrine of exaltation is within the bounds of Christian teaching on the basis of the Orthodox doctrine of theosis....

What I wish to look at here is one of the principle texts brought out by LDS apologists and its argument that Athanasius’ doctrine of theosis is inconsistent with his doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This claim has become quite common among Mormon apologists and it is well suited to demonstrate the coherence and strength of the Orthodox position.

The specific text is a doctoral dissertation by Keith E. Norman entitled, Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology. It is available in both print and electronic form. The dilemma so far as I can tell from Norman’s text is that if we are to be deified, then we cannot be created ex nihilo and vice versa. And this is so because things created ex nihilo can’t become deified since by essence, God enjoys a kind of underived existence or aseity. Humans are therefore radically different or “wholly other” than God, so much so that it is impossible to become what God is by essence. Something cannot both be beginingless and have a begining. Deification would entail a natural and therefore essential change in humanity which is precluded by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Without such a change, humans can’t be deified and are left in a mutable metaphysical state apart from salvation. The implication is that the LDS can affirm theosis consistently because they reject the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Therefore LDS theology stands in superior position to the Athanasian and by extension, the Orthodox teaching on deification.

You can read the whole thing here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thomas Aquinas and Intelligent Design

A common error is to mistakenly link the arguments of contemporary Intelligent Design (ID) advocates with St. Thomas Aquinas’s argument from final causes in nature. Martha Nussbauma, for example, makes this mistake in her book, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 322. Although it is true that final causes imply design, the ID movement is a project in which the irreducible or degree of specified complexity of the parts in natural objects are offered as evidence that these entities are designed. But that is not the same as a final or formal cause, which is something intrinsic to the entity and not detectable by mere empirical observation. For example, if I were to claim that the human intellect’s final cause is to know because the human being’s formal cause is his nature of “rational animal,” I would not be making that claim based on the irreducible or degree of specified complexity of the brain’s parts. Rather, I would be making a claim about the proper end of a power possessed by the human person. That end cannot be strictly observed, since in-principle one can exhaustively describe the efficient and material causes of a person’s brain-function without recourse to its proper end or purpose. Yet, the end or purpose of the human intellect seems in fact to be knowable.

For St. Thomas (following Aristotle), the formal and final causes of artifcats, like desks, computers, and iPods, are imposed from outside the collection of parts by an intelligent agent. On the other hand, the formal and final causes of natural objects are intrinsic to those objects. This is why, as Aristotle points out, if you own a bed made out of wood and then plant a piece of the bed in the ground, “it would not be a bed that would come up, but wood.” This “shows that the arrangement in accordance with the rules of the art is merely an incidental attribute, whereas the real nature is the other, which, further, persists continuously through the process of making.” In other words, the form and finality of the bed is imposed from without (an “arrangement in accordance with the rules of art”) while the form and finality of the wood is intrinsic to the nature of the tree from which it was taken (“the real nature” that “persists continuously through the process of making”). In the words of Etienne Gilson, “The artist is external to his work; the work of art is consequently external to the art which produces it. The end of living nature is, on the contrary, cosubstantial with it. The embryo is the law of its own development. It is already of its nature to be what will be later on an adult capable of reproducing itself.”

Consequently, for example, a medical scientist may provide an exhaustive account of the mechanics of respiration without any reference to final and formal causes. But it does not follow that final and formal causes play no part in our rational deliberations about the world. In fact, some critics of ID simply cannot resist helping themselves to those causes in their assessments of ID and its advocates, even though many of these critics believe that Darwinian evolution has forever banished these causes from our study of nature. And there is a reason for this: formal and final causes are so much the woof and warp of our lives that we, like the water-skeptic fish submerged in H2O, are blissfully unaware of the role they play in our ontological and normative pronouncements.

As Stephen M. Barr, a physicist at the University of Delaware (and a critic of ID), puts it:

Contrary to what is often claimed, even by some scientists, modern science has not eliminated final and formal causes. It uses them all the time, even if unaware that it is doing so. For example, a liver and a muscle are made up of the same material constituents—hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and so on—acting on each other by the same basic forces. It is precisely their forms, their organic structures, that differ and enable them to play different roles in the body. 


The same is true in physics. The very same carbon atoms can form a diamond (transparent, hard, and electrically insulating) or a piece of graphite (opaque, soft, and electrically conducting). What explains their different properties is the difference in form, in intelligible structure. Indeed, as one goes deeper into fundamental physics, one finds that matter itself seems almost to dissolve into the pure forms of advanced mathematics. 



Some people think that the Darwinian mechanism eliminates final causes in biology. It doesn't; the finality comes in but in a different way. Why does natural selection favor this mutation but not that one? Because this one makes the eye see better in some way, which serves the purpose of helping the creature find food or mates or avoid predators, which in turn serves the purpose of helping the animal to live and reproduce. Why do species that take up residence in caves gradually lose the ability to see? Because seeing serves no purpose for them, and so mutations that harm the faculty of sight are not selected against. (Even a Dawkins would not deny purpose in this sense; he would deny only that these purposes were in the mind of God.) Darwinian explanations can account for very little indeed without bringing intrinsic finality into the explanation.

So, the problem with Darwinism in relation to belief in God is not the Darwinian claim that natural processes, including scientific laws, are sufficient to account for the variety of life forms that now populate the world. After all, for the Thomist, Darwinian mechanisms and algorithms, as well as scientific laws and other natural processes, no more count against the existence and necessity of God (or even final or formal causality) than does the account of my conception by the natural processes of human reproduction count againt the claim that God is Creator of the universe.

For ID advocates Michael Behe and William A. Dembski no design inference about nature is warranted short of achieving that threshold of irreducible or specified complexity. But that means that the person who believes he has good grounds for final and formal causes—while rejecting Behe’s and Dembski’s criteria—has no warrant for believing that the final and formal causes he claims to “see” in living organisms. In other words, Behe and Dembski are implicitly accepting the assumption of the materialists—the opponents of final and formal causes--that God’s role in nature may only be exhibited in properly arranged bits of matter so as to signify an agent cause of the arrangement. But this means that design in nature is more like Aristotle’s bed than the tree from which the bed was made.

Suppose that in the next few years biologists discover another force in nature, similar to natural selection, that has the power to produce in living organisms organs and systems that appear to be irreducibly or specifically complex. According to the ID advocate, the rational person would have to abandon the idea that these organs and systems are intelligently designed, since his criterion would no longer be a reliable detector of “design.” Consequently, the rational person would have to conclude that these organs and systems are probably the product of necessity and/or chance (to employ Dembski’s categories). Thomistic Design (TD), on the other hand, is not threatened by such discoveries, since the TD advocate actually expects to find such laws in nature, since she believes that God created ex nihilo a universe teeming with ends or purposes that depend on laws and principles that cry out for explanation. By rejecting the mechanistic assumptions of both the Darwinian materialists and the ID advocates, TD does not have the burden of waiting with bated breath for the latest scientific argument or discovery in order to remain confident that the universe, or at least a small sliver of it, is designed. It has something better: rigorous philosophical arguments that challenge the philosophical assumptions of both the Darwinian materialists and the ID advocates who unconsciously (though sometimes purposely) offer their assumptions as undisputed premises under the guise of “science.”

It would be one thing if the ID advocates were only offering their point of view as a mere hypothesis subjected to the usual give and take in scientific and philosophical discourse. (In fact, my earlier work on ID assumed as much). But that in fact is not the case. It has over the years morphed into a movement that treats the soundness of its arguments as virtually essential to sustaining the rationality of theism itself. Steve Meyer, for example, suggests that before the 20th century’s advances in biochemistry and microbiology, immaterialism and teleology were down for the count. But now ID stands ready, Meyer contends, to triumphantly procure these advances to help restore “some of the intellectual underpinning of traditional Western metaphysics and theistic belief.” Who knew?

This embellished sense of ID’s importance in the march of history is not a virture. It is an unattractive enthusiasm that clouds rather than showcases ID’s important, though modest, publishing successes and the legitimate questions these writings bring to bear on many issues that overlap science, theology, and philosophy. Combine this lack of academic modesty with the ubiquitous propagation of ID within Evangelical Protestantism and its churches, seminaries, and parachurch groups (and even among some Catholics) as a new and improved way to topple the materialist critics of Christianity, and you have a recipe for widespread disappointment (and perhaps disillusionment with Christianity) if the ID ship takes on too much water in the sea of philosophical and scientific criticism. For this reason, other non-materialist Christian academics, such as Thomists and some Cosmic Fine Tuning supporters, who would ordinarily find ID’s project intriguing and worth interacting with (as I do), are hesitant to cooperate with a movement that implies to church goers and popular audiences that the very foundations of theism and Western civilization rise or fall on the soundness of Behe’s and Dembski’s inferences.

(The above is excerpted from my forthcoming 16,000-word article, "How To Be An Anti-Intelligent Design Advocate," University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy 4.1 (2010))

R. C. Sproul, Jr. and the question of whether sola scriptura can be found in Scripture.


Recently, R. C. Sproul, Jr., wrote a piece in order to answer the question of whether sola scriptura can be found in the Bible ("Is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?"). The reason why this question is worth answering is because it seems to the untutored mind that if one claims that the Bible is the standard by which all doctrine is assessed (sola scriptura) and the doctrine of sola scriptura itself is not taught in Scripture, then the doctrine of sola scriptura is self-refuting. Analogously, if X were to claim that all knowledge comes through the hard sciences, such a claim would be self-refuting, since the claim that "all knowledge comes through the hard sciences" is itself not a deliverance of the hard sciences though X claims to know it.

In any event, Bryan Cross, at Called to Communion, responds to Sproul's essay. Here are some excerpts from Cross's piece:
....Sproul first acknowledges that the Bible does not have a text that suggests that it alone is our final authority. Then he claims that Catholics and Orthodox who point this out are missing the point, because they are aiming their energies at solo scriptura. However, if the point of the Catholics and Orthodox who state this is straightforwardly to point out that the Bible does not have a text that suggests that it alone is our final authority, then these Catholics and Orthodox are not “missing the point,” but in fact making a true claim, one that Sproul himself acknowledges. We agree with Sproul that solo scriptura is “reprehensible.” But if, as Neal Judisch and I have recently argued here, there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura, then the fact that the Bible does not have a passage that suggests that the Bible alone is our final authority, is deeply problematic for those who claim that the Bible alone is our final authority.....

Sproul claims that “the Bible is our alone final authority because it alone is the Word of God.” Nothing he says here actually demonstrates that only the Bible is the Word of God. In other words, nothing Sproul says here shows that the oral teaching of the Apostles was not the Word of God, or that this oral Apostolic Tradition, as it was passed down orally in the Church, was not the Word of God. The Catholic Church agrees that the Bible is the Word of God written. That’s not the point of disagreement. The point of disagreement (between Protestants and the Catholic Church) regarding sola scriptura is twofold: First, whether the Word of God written is the entirety of the Word of God given to the Church from the Apostles, or whether the Word of God spoken, and orally transmitted and handed down by the succession of bishops, is also the Word of God given to the Church from the Apostles. Second, whether or not Christ established a unique interpretive authority by way of apostolic succession from one Apostle to whom Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom. Sproul’s prooftexts do not substantiate the Protestant position regarding either of those two points of disagreement.

If you want to read the whole thing, go here. If you want to read Sproul's essay, you can find it here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ed Feser on Bill Craig's critique of divine simplicity

Both Ed and Bill are friends of mine. Bill and I co-edited a book with J. P. Moreland, To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2004). And Ed and I have been blog-brothers on What's Wrong with the World and the now-defunct Right Reason. And I recently endorsed Ed's outstanding book, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (St. Augustine's Press, 2008). Bill has been for many years been a critic of divine simplicity. Ed does not agree with Bill's view, and explains why in a post on his personal blog.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why I Am Not A Relativist

That is the title of a chapter I wrote for the book edited by my friends Norman L. Geisler and Paul K, Hoffman, Why I Am A Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2006). Here's an excerpt:

In his influential work, The Closing of the American Mind, the late philosopher Allan Bloom made the observation that “there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. . . . The students, of course, cannot defend their opinion. It is something with which they have been indoctrinated.” Bloom was talking about both moral relativism and epistemological relativism. The latter is the view that there is no such thing as objective truth, that knowledge is relative to one’s self, culture, and/or point of view. This type of relativism will be addressed in the next chapter. In this chapter, however, I will focus on moral relativism, a view that is not limited to indoctrinated college freshmen but is dominant in North American culture.

Moral relativism is the view that when it comes to questions of morality, there are no absolutes and no objective right or wrong; moral rules are merely personal preferences and/or the result of one’s cultural, sexual, or ethnic orientation. The fact that one believes there are exceptions or, to be more precise, exemptions to moral rules does not make one a moral relativist. For example, many people who believe lying is wrong nonetheless believe it is not wrong to lie in order to protect someone’s life. These people are not moral relativists, for to permit certain exemptions to a rule one must first acknowledge the general validity of the rule. The moral relativist rejects the idea that any such moral rules exist at all.

Many people see relativism as necessary for promoting tolerance, nonjudgmentalism, and inclusiveness, for they think if one believes one’s moral position is correct and others’ incorrect, one is closed-minded and intolerant. They typically consider moral relativism the indispensable cornerstone of our pluralistic and modern democratic society. Unless we all embrace relativism, they fear we will likely revert to a moralistically medieval culture.


You can purchase the book here. You can download my chapter here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Carl F. H. Henry and the Natural Law

I am presently in Washington, D.C. participating in a consultation on American Constitutionalism and Natural Law at the Heritage Foundation. For this reason, I thought it would be nice to post a few comments on the case against natural law offered by the eminent Evangelical theologian, and founding editor of Christianity Today, Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003). Dr. Henry was a giant, and a man for whom I have the utmost respect. One of the great honors of my life was when I participated in a panel discussion with him and several other scholars at a 1997 conference sponsored by Trinity Law School.

Dr. Henry argues that the Scriptural passages most often cited in defense of natural law (e.g. Romans 1 and 2, especially 2:15, which speaks of the law “written on our hearts”) do not teach what natural law thinkers think it teaches, namely, that there are moral truths accessible to those with no direct contact with special revelation. Henry writes:
The dual reference to law of nature and law of God presumably arose from the Apostle Paul's teaching in Romans 1 and 2. John Murray in his volume on Paul's epistle to the Romans in The New International Commentary series argues that the term “law of nature” is a Christian concept rooted in Scripture, not a secular concept to be grasped independently of a revelatory epistemology. To interpret Romans 1 and 2 in deistic terms of natural religion is unjustifiable.

Although this is not the place to assess Henry’s exegesis, it seems to me that his Scriptural citation is not based on a careful reading or understanding of natural law. For if he had truly grasped the tradition he critiques he would understand that his own point of view--the alleged biblical rejection of natural law theory--is itself dependent on moral notions not derived from special revelation. That is, Henry is affirming and defending a self-refuting position. Let me explain. By claiming that natural law thinkers have incorrectly interpreted the book of Romans, Henry is presupposing a moral notion that is logically prior to his exegesis of scripture: texts should be interpreted accurately. This, of course, is grounded in more primitive moral notions: to accurately interpret a text one should do so fairly and honestly, and one should pursue the truth while interpreting texts. Both these moral commands are logically prior to, and thus not derived from, Scripture itself, for in order to extract truth from Scripture, obedience to these moral commands is a necessary condition. This means that Henry, ironically, must rely on a moral law known apart from scripture in exegeting the scripture that he claims does not affirm the knowledge of the moral law apart from Scripture.

Someone could argue that I am offering a hermeneutical principle (i.e., a rule of interpretation) rather than a moral one. But I do not think that is right. For these are not mutually exclusive, if one thinks that a proper approach to texts is part of what it means to be a virtuous person. After all, if we discovered that an interpreter of Scripture had been negligent, uncharitable, or dishonest in his biblical exegesis, we would not only suspect error in his interpretation, but we would also attribute to him a lack of personal virtue. This judgment would be at its root, moral.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The St. Gregory Society - Waco, Texas


My Baylor colleague, Michael Foley, is founder of the St. Gregory Society. Those in Central Texas may be interested in finding out more about it and the Tridentine Mass the organization was instrumental in supporting at St. Louis Catholic Church in Waco, Texas. Here is what its website states:

The Pope St. Gregory the Great Society is a group of lay Catholics dedicated to the promotion and celebration of the 1962 Missal of Pope Blessed John XXIII (or, “traditional Latin Mass”) at St. Louis Catholic Church. It is named after Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604), the father of the Roman rite and the saint whose relics are in the high altar of St. Louis Church. Though the roots of the group go back to 2005, it was formally instituted on July 14, 2007, following the July 7 promulgation of the Apostolic Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum.

The SGS assists in celebrations of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite by providing specially trained musicians, servers, and ushers. It also hosts occasional receptions and classes on the traditional Latin Mass.

I was baptized in the Tridentine Rite in November 1960, though forced to suffer through the "Folk Mass" of the early 1970s.

More from Cary's essay

Here's more from the essay by Professor Philip Cary, which I already mentioned here. This is good stuff:
This absolute monergism could thus also be called “mono-causalism.” It is contrary not only to Augustine and the whole Catholic tradition, but also to the Westminster Confession, which teaches that the eternal decree of God by which he does “ordain whatsoever comes to pass” works in such a way that “neither is God the author of sin … nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (3.1; cf. also 5.2). The point of this teaching, which is couched in the language of Thomas Aquinas and agrees with his doctrine, is that God’s working in all things does not mean that creatures have no power to work, but rather that the creatures’ power, will and work derive from the work of God, and precisely for that reason are real, just like all God’s works. God’s primary causality therefore does not undermine or replace the secondary causality of creatures, including their free will. God has ambassadors, apostles and other servants with a will of their own and work to do, even while he is always indispensably at work in them. The two forms of causality are not incompatible or in competition with one another.

Mainstream Calvinism is thus at one with Catholicism in rejecting absolute monergism. The place to locate the difference between Catholicism and Calvinism concerning monergism is rather in the fact that the whole Roman Catholic tradition since Augustine is synergist about salvation. For Catholicism our works of love (made possible by operative grace in the beginning and aided by co-operative grace throughout) are necessary for salvation. That’s precisely the purport of Trent’s denial of the sola fide: faith alone is not enough for salvation without works of love (Decree on Justification, articles 10-11).

However, there is a division within Catholicism on the point about monergism with respect to faith. Whereas one important strand of Catholic theology, including Aquinas and the Dominican tradition, promotes an Augustinian monergism about faith, another strand, most powerfully represented by the 16th-century Jesuit Luis de Molina, defends a form of synergism about faith. Molinism is thus something like the Catholic form of Arminianism. In the De Auxiliis controversy around 1600, the Pope adjudicated between these two positions, decreeing that both were legitimate and neither side could accuse the other of heresy. This was of course not a relativist move: the two positions are probably irreconcilable, and if so then at least one of them is in error in some way. But the pope’s decree meant that such error is not heresy and does no harm to the faith, so the debate may continue but must do so in mutually respectful terms.

There is of course no one on earth to adjudicate between Catholics and Protestants. But perhaps it will help to be aware, at least, of the difference between absolute monergism and the more modest monergism about faith, justification and salvation which is the legacy of Luther and Calvin.

This is precisely the level of discourse that should guide our discussions.