Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rebuttal to Hubner's Response to DeYoung

Jamin Hubner has posted a response to Kevin DeYoung on the topic Baptism and the covenant.

Jamin quote KDY as stating: “If circumcision was for Abraham a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith, then we cannot say the cutting away of the flesh was simply an ethnic identity marker or a sign of mere physical import.”

Then Jamin responds:
Not true. Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith because he had faith. Obviously, if he didn’t have faith, circumcision wasn’t and isn’t a sign of his faith! I honestly don’t know how Kevin misses that one since it’s explicit in the text.
It's really unclear what Jamin is trying to object to. His comment doesn't really seem to address what KDY said, and later on in his comments he seems to agree with KDY that the sign was not merely of physical import. Perhaps Jamin just misread something.

Jamin quotes KDY thus:
And if this spiritual sign—a seal of the righteousness that comes by faith—was administered to Abraham and his infant sons, then we cannot say that the thing signified must always be present before the sign is administered. Isaac was circumcised, and so was Ishmael—both being given the seal of justification by faith before the exercise of faith. Just like infant baptism.
Then Jamin responds:
Kevin again misses that circumcision is “a seal of the righteousness that comes by faith” – that is, Abraham’s faith and righteousness, not somebody’s else’s!
Again, it's not completely clear if Jamin follows KDY's argument. Assuming that he does, Jamin seems to be trying to argue that all circumcisions were a sign of Abraham's faith (not of each recipient's faith). If so, it is not clear how Jamin derives this from the text. Of course, Abraham's circumcision was a sign of the faith he himself had, but by extension the same is true of each circumcised person - his circumcision signed/sealed his (the individual's) faith.

Jamin quotes KDY thus:
So whether infant baptism makes sense to you or not—and I deeply respect my non-paedo friends in my church and in the broader church—shouldn’t we at least agree that the basic spiritual import of circumcision and baptism is the same and that there is biblical precedence [sic for precedent] for administering a spiritual sign without the immediate presence of the thing signified?
Then Jamin responds:
The answer is no, because the basic spiritual import of circumcision and baptism is not the same, precisely because the covenant’s [sic for covenants] are not the same (Heb 8).
The question then is, "what was the basic spiritual import of circumcision," if it was not faith? Acts 15 confirms for us that the Jews were saved by faith, just like the Gentiles. So, on what point is the basic spiritual import different? We don't get an answer from Jamin.

Jamin continues:
As Wellum has thoroughly argued in Believer’s Baptism a number of years ago, and more recently in Kingdom Through Covenant, circumcision and baptism signify different realities (which is why they are radically different signs!).
They are radically different signs because Christ has come. The bloody has been replaced with the bloodless, because Christ's blood has been shed. But the question is what Jamin thinks the different spiritual realities are.

Jamin then quotes himself as previously stating:
Circumcision marked out a male line of descent from Abraham to David to Christ, served as a physical sign to mark out a nation and to distinguish them as people who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and was part and parcel of Mosaic law.[1] None of this is true for baptism.

But, didn’t circumcision point to new life like baptism does?[2]Yes, but there’s a difference between looking forward to something and looking back to something after Christ has accomplished his work. As Sam Waldron puts it, “Baptism, therefore, professes what circumcision demanded. Circumcision did demand a new heart, indeed, but it did not profess a new heart. Baptism professes a new heart.”
a) So, wait - Jamin does agree that circumcision points to new life like baptism does. So, then why did he answer "no" instead of "yes" to KDY?

b) The attempt to limit circumcision to the Mosaic administration fails as well. Ishmael was circumcised - not just Isaac. Abraham's slaves were circumcised too. While many of the male ancestors of Jesus in the male Abrahamic line to Joseph and Mary were circumcised, we are not told that all were, and the hill of foreskins at the entering in of Canaan suggests that some were not. Indeed, Abraham comes before Moses.

c) More to the point, while circumcision was associated with the Mosaic administration, the "basic spiritual significance" does not lie the nation being marked out - the marked out nation was itself a shadow (and likewise with the promised land etc.).

d) There is a difference between pointing forward and pointing backward, no doubt, but that difference is not one that is at the level of the "basic spiritual significance."

e) Waldron's way of putting it may be catchy, but it is not consistent with Paul's discussion of Abraham's circumcision. Paul claims Abraham already had faith and treats circumcision (in his case) as a profession of the faith that he already had. The same would the case with any proselytes.

f) Moreover, while it is easy to treat circumcision as law and demand (by simply lumping it in with "the law"), circumcision was a profession of the thing demanded. The way of salvation was always by faith, for all people, for all time. It was not uniquely demanded of the Jews in the Old Testament. Even if you will say that the gospel preached to the Jews (in shadow) and was not preached to the nations, surely it was preached to the female Jews. Thus, while circumcision was uniquely received by male Jews, faith was not demanded only of the males.

g) Further to (f), the idea of circumcision "demanding" what baptism professes is a confused idea, if one is trying to apply Paul's teaching that a person who is circumcised is a debtor to the whole law.

h) Also further to (f), leaving aside the Pauline comments mentioned at (g), the idea that circumcision "demanded" anything is not a teaching of Scripture. It seems instead to be an inference from the fact that it was applied to infants who were later to learn about their responsibilities. What is missing, though, is any notion that the circumcision was a demand, rather than a profession.

Jamin concludes:
Thus, in the Old Covenant, you have the command given to God’s people to “circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your heart” (Jer 4:4) to those who already bore the physical sign, hoping that maybe in the future this would happen. But in the New Covenant, the Apostle speaks to God’s covenant people in the aorist, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…you have been buried in baptism” (Col 2).
Jamin seems to treat Jeremiah 4:4 as though it were part of an OT AWANA curriculum. What distinguishes the two cases is that one is addressed to merely outward members of the covenant, and the other is address to members of the covenant both outwardly and inwardly. Abraham's inward circumcision preceded his outward circumcision, just as the Colossian proselytes' outward baptism followed their inward circumcision.

The unbelieving Jews professed faith, but they did not have it:

Isaiah 29:13
Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

So, in fact the Jews professed a faith they did not possess, whereas the Colossians possessed faith. But that's not a difference between baptism and circumcision, but between hypocrites and faithful.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Ratzinger the Scotian Pantheist?

In the comment box of the Greenbaggins blog, John Bugay has provided some material from Ratzinger/Benedict XVI that seems rather pantheistic. Naturally, some of the CtC crowd have taken offense at this, and have responded. While there is something amusing about watching the defense of Ratzinger by those who serve him, the matter is not quite as cut and dried as they may like to believe.

On the one hand, Ratzinger has (on a variety of occasions) identified pantheism as an error. He used the word "pantheism" to do so (an example is present in my comments below). So far so good. But what does he consider to be heretical pantheism? One can engage in the word-concept fallacy on either side of the orthodox-heretical divide.

So, it would be helpful to see whether he has embraced any teachings that have already been condemned as pantheistic. Thankfully, we don't have to a detailed comparison of his teachings to see if they line up with someone like John Scotus,

After all, Ratzinger/Benedict XVI characterized John Scotus thus: "In fact, John Scotus represents a radical Platonism that sometimes seems to approach a pantheistic vision, even though his personal subjective intentions were always orthodox."

He goes on to state: "John Scotus, here too using terminology dear to the Christian tradition of the Greek language, called this experience for which we strive "theosis", or divinization, with such daring affirmations that he might be suspected of heterodox pantheism."

And not only was Scotus (whom Ratzinger defends) suspected of heterodox pantheism, after his death his work was condemned for this heresy by a regional council and Honorius III in 1225 ordered all copies of the offending book (the very one that Ratzinger goes on to quote with approval from) to be burnt. He even described it as “swarming with worms of heretical perversity” (see here).

So, perhaps papal defenders can explain to us why we should accept the teaching of Benedict XVI as orthodox, given that it seems to endorse the teaching of John Scotus, condemned by Honorius III. (The quotations above are from Benedict XVI's general audience June 10, 2009.)

And then, and perhaps this is key, the advocate of the papacy can explain why we are able to judge the orthodoxy of Scotus based on his writings (praised by one pope, condemned by another), but we lack the authority to judge what doctrines the Bible teaches.

- TurretinFan

P.S. If Honorius III can be forgiven for seeing pantheism in Scotus (assuming he was wrong to do so), perhaps Bugay can be forgiven (same assumption) for seeing pantheism in Benedict XVI (since at least he would seem at least to have Honorius III on his side).

UPDATE: Bryan Cross responded to the comment above. His response and my reply are inter-mixed:
The aspects of Scotus which Pope Benedicts commends are not the errors for which his work was later condemned. So in no way does his general audience on Scotus call his [i.e. Pope Benedict's] orthodoxy into question.
a) Yes, they were ("... daring affirmations that he might be suspected of heterodox pantheism ... ").
b) If my above demonstration was insufficient, note that he goes on to state, in so many words: "In fact, the entire theological thought of John Scotus is the most evident demonstration of the attempt to express the expressible of the inexpressible God, based solely upon the mystery of the Word made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth."
c) Praising a work that was condemned by his predecessor would be enough to call his orthodoxy into question, even in the absence of specific praise of his apparently pantheistic teachings and of his "entire theological thought."
I don’t assume that you are able to judge rightly concerning the orthodoxy of Scotus. I don’t assume that apart from the Church I could rightly judge such a thing.
Your church provides contradictory guidance. Honorius III condemns and insults the book, Benedict XVI praises and quotes the book. Which pope will you pick?


Properly Loving One's Neighbor

Douglas Wilson (there, I've now lost half my reading audience) has posted some shots at Horton's piece on "gay marriage." (link to Wilson) Wilson was struck by something Horton said, something that also struck me: "The challenge there is that two Christians who hold the same beliefs about marriage as Christians may appeal to neighbor-love to support or to oppose legalization of same-sex marriage."

There are a number of problems with what Horton says. Here are a few:

1) The second table of the law best describes our duty to love our neighbor. If we disregard the law of God, we are simply having friendship with the world, not Biblical love of neighbor. None of that entails that we cannot be kind, friendly, and loving toward our neighbors who sin. On the contrary, we must be those things. However, we must do so without compromising the second table.

2) The law given to Israel did accord with love of neighbor, and particularly with the second table. In other words, the harsh punishments of that law for the sin of Sodom were not unloving, nor were they in any way a violation of the second table or the duty to love our neighbors as ourselves. Whether or not those precise punishments should be imposed, if those precise punishments were imposed, there would be no injustice.

3) The appropriate neighbor-loving reaction to Sodom's sin (by the civil magistrate) is not affirmation or tolerance of that sin, but judicial correction of that sin. In other words, the general equity of the civil law of Israel applies. That general equity is at least that such sexual behavior deserves punishment by the civil magistrate (whether or not that general equity extends to the degree of punishment or the mode of punishment, we can leave to another discussion).

In short, Horton is wrong if he means that Christians can legitimately appeal to the principle of neighbor love to support or oppose such legislation.

Horton writes: "Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm domestic partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security."

The problem, though, is that Horton is affirming something that he (as civil magistrate) ought to condemn. Legitimate concern for the person's economic security cannot trump the civil magistrate's duty to oppose evil.

One wonders if Horton would say the following:

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm mafia partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm pimping/prostitution partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm contract hit partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.

Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm false witness for hire partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.
I hope the answer would be an emphatic, "well, of course not." Horton wouldn't want the shield of the state to be used to protect organized crime, pimps, hitmen, or sons of Belial in the course of their evil. So, Horton is being inconsistent (the hallmark of E2k) in supporting "domestic partnerships."

I'm glad that Horton ends well (I quote his conclusion below), but I fear that he gets to the right conclusion without a solid framework:
At the end of the day, what tips the scales toward the second view is that I can’t see how neighbor-love can be severed from love of God, which is after all the most basic command of all. Even if they do not acknowledge “nature and nature’s God”—or anything above their own sovereign freedom to choose—reality nevertheless stands unmovable. Like the law of gravity, the law of marriage (of one man and one woman) remains to the end of time—not just for Christians, but for all people everywhere.
That's where the rubber meets the road. If your interpretation of "love of neighbor" leads you to compromise your duty to God, it is not true love of neighbor. Love of God is the first and great commandment, and together with love of neighbor, it is the hermeneutic for understanding the entire Old Testament.