Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dr. James White on Justification and the Uniqueness of Christ

One of Dr. White's speaking engagements while in Australia was to give a talk on Justification and the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ. While I am told that a YouTube video may follow, you can get the audio now at the following link (link). That site has a handy embedded player. If, however, you'd like to just download the mp3s, the links are (part 1)(part 2).

Enjoy to your edification!


Yes - Every Sin Deserves the Eternal Wrath of God

Mr. C Michael Patton has a rather disappointing post up in which he denies that every sin deserves an eternity in hell. He calls this idea "stupid" and declares that it "trivializes sin and makes God an overly sensitive cosmic torture monger." "Stupid" is a bit extreme for something that's a part of the doctrinal standards of most Reformed churches in the Scottish tradition. To say that it trivializes sin is absurd, and to accuse God of being an "overly sensitive cosmic torture monger[er]" is blasphemy.

First, the traditional historic Reformed position on the matter:

From the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Q. 84. What doth every sin deserve?
A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.[175]

[175] Matthew 25:41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Ephesians 5:6. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. James 2:10. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

From the Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 152. What doth every sin deserve at the hands of God?

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty,[982] goodness,[983] and holiness of God,[984] and against his righteous law,[985] deserveth his wrath and curse,[986] both in this life,[987] and that which is to come;[988] and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.[989]

[982] James 2:10-11. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

[983] Exodus 20:1-2. And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

[984] Habakkuk 1:13. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? Leviticus 10:3. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. Leviticus 11:44-45. For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

[985] 1 John 3:4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. Romans 7:12. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

[986] Ephesians 5:6. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

[987] Lamentations 3:39. Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Deuteronomy 28:15-18. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store, etc.

[988] Matthew 25:41. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

[989] Hebrews 9:22. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. 1 Peter 1:18-19. Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

Second, a response to Mr. Patton's arguments.

Mr. Patton's main argument is based on his failure properly to understand the atonement. Mr. Patton makes a comment suggesting that he holds to a view of penal substitution: "Many of us believe that Christ’s atonement was penal substitution." He then, however, goes on to outline a scheme of the atonement that is essentially merely a commercial transaction: Jesus had to suffer thus-and-such an amount to atone for thus-and-such an amount of sin. That's not the position of penal substitution. Penal substitution says that Jesus suffering was the same punishment (death) that was accepted in place of the death of the sinners. It is not the same in the person being punished nor is it the same in the precise nature and duration of the punishment (was humiliated culiminating in Christ dying on the cross, being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time - whereas sinners deserve to remain under the power of death and in suffering for eternity). Christ's death on the cross was accepted by God in place of the eternal suffering of the elect. There is a commercial aspect to the work of Christ (to be sure) but Christ's death was not a purely commercial transaction.

Mr. Patton's secondary argument seems to be based on two ideas. One idea is the faulty notion that if every sin deserves eternal punishment, then all sins are equally heinous. We may readily dispose of that idea by noting that the punishment in hell may very well have degrees of severity. Thus, while all of the denizens of hell will be punished forever, some may be punished with greater severity than others. Dante provided a colorful illustration of this concept in his work.

The second idea of Mr. Patton's secondary argument seems to be the idea that actually no sin deserves God's eternal wrath and curse, but rather that sinners in hell will commit an infinite series of sins, which will lead to an unending succession of individually finite punishments. There's nothing in Scripture to suggest this (from what I've read) and there are passages of Scripture (such as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the comment that "all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed").

Will men in hell still hate God? Perhaps so. God does not promise to regenerate the nature of those who go to hell so that they will turn from hating God to loving God. Will they continue sinning and racking up more condemnation for themselves? Perhaps they will! But every sin is an offense to the dignity of an infinite God and demands eternal condemnation.


N.B. Mr. Patton's approach (which I've also heard from William Lane Craig) does find a way to defend hell without claiming that any one sin deserves eternal punishment. My problem with it is that it's not biblical, not that it's not helpful in arguments with atheists.

Interview of Dr. White

Nathan Bingham at the website has interviewed Dr. James White. The interview is in two parts (first part) (second part). It's not a very long interview (12 questions and answers), but it covers a range of topics from the atonement to Australian food.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out of Tune with the Roman Magisterium?

Mr. Shea has posted a still further response on the topic of Mary's birth pangs or lack thereof and the woman of Revelation 12 (link to Shea's post). Mr. Shea seems to think our arguments "flat-footed" and compares discussing this with us to discussing music appreciation with a deaf man. This flatfloot, however, is less interested in arresting Mr. Shea for playing such bad music, but for doing so without the proper license.

Mr. Shea characterizes his previous arguments with respect to Mary's birth pangs and Rome's teaching or not on that subject as follows: "the whole point is that Rome acknowledges this opinion, but does not commit us to it." Here, however, the flatfoot in one thinks to investigate. Does Rome merely acknowledge the opinion or actually teach it? Are we tone deaf, or is Mr. Shea out of tune with his magisterium?

The Catechism of Trent, most recently (that I could find) promulgated by the encyclical In Dominico Agro, on June 14, 1761, by pope Clement XIII included the following paragraph:
The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is, Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is, Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent, Eve brought malediction and death on mankind, and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of The divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race. From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.
Notice how Clement XIII's catechism not only makes the connection that Mr. Shea previously attempted to criticize ("By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17-19)."), namely that because the sufferings were part of the curse, therefore, Mary didn't suffer them. So, the tones of Mr. Shea's song seem to be a bit off, if we're permitted to use the official teachings of his church as our tuning fork for what constitutes Roman Catholicism - after all, they are the licensed magisterium, but I don't think he can claim that same privilege.

In fact, and germane to our discussion, this paragraph it is not just from any old catechism, but from an official catechism. You will recall earlier that Mr. Shea built his argument that Rome doesn't teach the view on the grounds that: "But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn't go to the mat on this question." By Mr. Shea's apparent reasoning, Clement XIII's Rome did "go to the mat" on this question, whether or not the ambiguous wording of the more recent 1980's catechism does. Yet Mr. Shea seems insistent on relying on the silence of the current catechism on this particular issue.

Even in his latest post, Mr. Shea writes:
Note what is not demanded here. There is no clause saying "The faithful must, on pain of excommunication, believe and profess that Mary suffered no birth pangs." So it's rather a stretch to say "Rome teaches" this. In fact, Rome acknowledges it as a very common opinion and it is certainly something many great Catholics have held.
This kind of comment simply shows how out of touch Mr. Shea is with the life, discipline, and history of his own church. As Clement XIII explained regarding the Catechism of Trent:
The popes clearly understood this. They devoted all their efforts not only to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error, but also to cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error. So the Council of Trent condemned those heresies which tried at that time to dim the light of the Church and which led Catholic truth into a clearer light as if the cloud of errors had been dispersed. As our predecessors understood that that holy meeting of the universal Church was so prudent in judgment and so moderate that it abstained from condemning ideas which authorities among Church scholars supported, they wanted another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.
So, the purpose of the Tridentine catechism was to be "another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error." In fact, according to Clement XIII, the catechism was drawn up in a minimalist way: "they proposed that only what is necessary and very useful for salvation be clearly and plainly explained in the Roman Catechism and communicated to the faithful."

Is the miraculous/painless birth something to which denial has been penalized with an anathema? I'm not aware of any such promulgation. Does that mean Rome has not explicitly taught that view and even grouped it as being a matter that is "necessary and very useful for salvation"? But Mr. Shea thinks that he's free to accept it or not accept it: cafeteria-style Roman Catholicism at its most polemic (How polemic is his cafeteria position? he compares the view of Mary's birth of Jesus being painless to geocentrism and the idea that Jews are accursed).

Mr. Shea claims: "In similar ways, the Catholic Church has had all sorts of schools of opinion on all manner of subjects, while the Magisterium has refrained, sometimes for centuries, from plumping in favor or one or the other." I don't know about you, but to me putting something in a catechism and saying in an official papal encyclical that the catechism only has matters that are "necessary and very useful to salvation" sounds like "the Magisterium" taking sides on the matter. As Clement XIII points out, after all, the Roman Catechism (as it was then called) was actually the product of Pius V (pope from January, 17, 1504 – May 1, 1572).

Moreover, as I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Shea has yet to show us someone who holds to "in partu" virginity of Mary and yet asserts that Mary had birth pangs. This is not like the Thomist / Molinist controversy in which the popes simply avoided taking sides and eventually permitted both views to be maintained. Despite Mr. Shea's lack of assistance, I've looked diligently for another side to this supposed controversy. The closest one finds is Ludwig Ott:
2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus: Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)

The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary's physical virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains (cf. S. th. III 28, 2).

However, according to modern natural scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists in the non-fulfilment of the sex act ("sex-act virginity") and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed ("seed-act virginity") (A. Mitterer). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood. It follows from this that from the concept of virginity alone the miraculous character of the process of birth cannot be inferred, if it cannot be, and must not be derived from other facts of Revelation. Holy Writ attests Mary's active rôle in the act of birth (Mt. 1, 25; Luke 2, 7: "She brought forth") which does not seem to indicate a miraculous process.

But the Fathers, with few exceptions, vouch for the miraculous character of the birth. However, the question is whether in so doing they attest a truth of Revelation or whether they wrongly interpret a truth of Revelation, that is, Mary's virginity, from an inadequate natural scientific point of view. It seems hardly possible to demonstrate that the dignity of the Son of God or the dignity of the Mother of God demands a miraculous birth.
Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 205

Ott himself doesn't come out and advocate a lack of physical integrity in Mary, but he does criticize the physical integrity in partu position on the basis of (of all things) Scripture. He ends up expressing uncertainty over whether the Fathers were "attest[ing] a truth of Revelation" or "wrongly interpret[ing] a truth of Revelation" based on "an inadequate natural scientific point of view." That kind of agnosticism over the issue is far to the "other side" as I was able to locate from any kind of authority in Roman Catholic theology. Of course, the body of Roman Catholic literature is enormous, and I may have overlooked something.

Mr. Shea eventually ends up consenting as well, if somewhat grudgingly. He states: "None of that is to say that it is wrong to think Mary suffered no birth pangs. I think the patristic logic is sense," although he goes on to insist that since there is no anathema "that's a matter of liberty, not of 'Rome teaches'."

Finally, Mr. Shea gets to what he views as the argument. He wants to interpret the birth pangs of the Revelation 12 woman as not being literal birth pangs but some kind of psychological pains such as those experienced by Mary when Jesus was crucified.

While that might seem like an escape, it undermines the identification of Mary with the Revelation 12 woman. After all, the main reason to identify Mary with the Revelation 12 woman is the fact that the woman there gives birth to a man child. In other words, one has to interpret that giving birth literally in order to connect Mary to the Revelation 12 woman. Then to turn around and make the travails non-literal seems arbitrary at best. Finally, to make them the psychological pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified ignores the temporal sequence found in Revelation 12, and further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the association between Mary and the woman of Revelation 12.

Mr. Shea might think that having to defend his position is "like arguing about music appreciation with a deaf man" and call our arguments "flat-footed," but that flat platform apparently leads to sure-footed stability of consistent explanation and a knack for detective work in tracking down what Rome actually teaches. Likewise, while we may be deaf to the sirens of Rome (though it seems to be Mr. Shea who is not quite in tune with Rome's orchestra), we lack the inner ear problems that result in the wobbly (and eventually toppling) arguments trying to link Mary and the Revelation 12 woman.


The real Francis Turretin on: Invocation of Saints by Prayer

Marc Lloyd has kindly provided a nice collection of quotations from the real Francis Turretin on the invocation of dead saints by prayer. (link). Of particular note, Turretin deals with the argument from requesting prayers from our fellow brethren. This argument's been around a long time and is just as wrong today as it was when Turretin addressed it.


Monday, August 17, 2009

The real Francis Turretin on: Centrality of Justification

John Fonville, of the Paramount Church, has kindly selected as his weekly quotation a nice selection from Francis Turretin on the importance of justification (although the quotation includes the questionable attribution of a particular quotation to Luther that may only be a paraphrase of Luther). (source)