Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hinlicky on Luther's Concept of Bondage and Freedom.

More on the Hinlicky book.

I've now move into his discussion of law/gospel and then onto bondage and freedom.  Law/gospel discussion did not please me.  It was very confused and did not discuss things within what I would consider to be the correct matrix of "two kinds of righteousness"(btw, this is probably Robert Kolb and Charles Arand's greatest contribution to Luther scholarship- namely we must use "two kinds of righteousness" as a basis for understanding law/gospel.  A lot of problem and confusion in 19th and 20th century Lutheran thought could have been fixed if we had done this.  But I digress).  Nevertheless, I will discuss that aspect of Hinlicky's work later.  Right now I want to focus on the question of bondage and freedom.

In particular, Hinlicky focuses on an objection to Luther's concept of bondage and freedom brought up by Harry McSoreley (interestingly enough Jim Nestingen's doktor-vater).  As a Roman Catholic, McSoreley isn't keen on Luther's understanding.  His first objection is that it takes away the freedom of faith.  This isn't really much of a problem for Lutherans.  It only works if you assume that freedom of choice regarding faith is important.  I remember having a discussion in my justification class at Marquette with Fr. David Coffey where he challenged me about this and I said I didn't believe in free will and didn't care about its importance to faith, and he had nothing for me.  So, this objection only works if you think faith has to be free.

The second criticism is a little bit more interesting and takes us in the direction of Zwingli implicit criticism of Luther over this issue.  As we probably all recall, Luther rejects the idea of freedom in relationship to God, but then allows it regarding things in creation.  After all Luther notes, God says "have dominion on the earth."  So, in earthly things we are free.  McSoreley objects: If God is all determining, then how can there be freedom in even earthly things?  Zwingli objected to and in fact took things a step farther.  He claimed in his short work "On Divine Providence" that more or less, we're all God's robots and that God makes us do evil when we do evil.  That doesn't make God evil, because just as a woodcutter can cut down whatever trees he wants to in the forest, so God can do with his own creation whatever he wants.

I think Hinlicky helpfully notes that Luther's position isn't as radical as its often made out to be.  First, I think its worth noting (Hinlicky doesn't mention this), but Erasmus' position wasn't really very mainstream in the Middle Ages.  Erasmus as we shall recall was a Humanist and wasn't really all that familiar with the Scholastic debates he was trying to enter into (this is one of the reasons why it was such a silly move on his part to challenge Luther in this way and think he could bet someone who had working through these debates for 20 years).  As Hinlicky notes, Luther's position isn't really all that different from that of Augustine and Aquinas.  What all of them agree on is this, namely, that although God is the causal agent of every cause, he is not the maker of every decision.  Creatures have freedom when looked at from the perspective of other creatures, and are ruled by God's determination when looked at from the perspective of their relationship to God.  

Nevertheless, I don't think Hinlicky answers McSoreley's charge in a proper way- rather he sort of lets it hang and seems to imply it is a paradox that can't be resolved.  I will agree part of the way.  I think this is true in regards to the question of evil.  If God is the determiner of our wills and he made our wills good in the beginning, how is it that our wills could turn evil?  It really doesn't make any sense.  I think in this regard we can take a page from Karl Barth.  Barth points out in CD 3.4, that if we could rationalize evil, it really wouldn't be evil.  In other words, an evil that made sense would be part of the structure of God's good creation and logically wouldn't be evil.  For evil to really be evil it can't make any sense- it must be an intruder on God's good and rational order.  Luther I think would agree with this and he is very insistent that although within his position it does not make sense how God is not responsible for evil, we must nevertheless accept this fact since the Bible tells us that God is not the cause of evil.

That being said, based on Luther's own text I think we can do a little bit better.  First of all, I think we need to take into account the rationale behind Luther's understanding of bondage and freedom.  For Luther, the creature cannot have any freedom in relation to God because God is the creator of its will.  In other words, when the creature interacts with God, he or she brings nothing to bear God did not make and therefore is the casual agent behind.  This does not make human being into robots because human beings do what they want to do because of who they are.  Luther's point is that God makes them who they are though and therefore our willing is always contingent.  In light of this, what Erasmus was saying was that human beings could will in a non-contingent way, particularly in relation to God.  Nevertheless, if God is the creator, then that logically can't really be the case.  Augustine and Aquinas would completely agree.  

Nevertheless, let us now look at things from the perspective of other creatures- i.e. "that which is below us."  What sort of casual effect do they have on us?  Well, as much as we allow them to- i.e. they are not the creators of our wills and therefore they do not determine the content of our wills!  In other words, the point Luther I believe is making when he distinguishes "that which is above us" and "that which is below us" is the distinction between the casual effect of a creator vs. creatures.  Luther's point isn't that our wills aren't some how non-contingent even in "that which is below us."  Rather, the point is is that since God is the creator of our will, when our will capability is evaluated in relation to him, then he will always be the determiner of it insofar as he is the creator of it.  Creatures are not the creators of our will and therefore are not the determiners of our will.  Hence we have freedom in relationship to them.

This goes well with how I interpret Luther's concept of the faculty psychology.  In Luther's faculty psychology, the will and the affections are superior to the intellect.  In this he follow Augustine and Ockham against Aquinas.  What is the significance of this?  Well, the point is that we really can't determine how we feel about other people or whether we trust them.  This is also true of God as well (Melanchthon makes this point in a lesser-to-greater argument in Loci Communes 1521), and so the will is bound.  When we reason though, we have freedom because the essence of reason is the evaluation of various goods and choosing the one is the most good.  So, Luther tell us (following Ockham) our reason is good for sphere of creation where freedom is operative and not for the realm of God where our affections (trust, love, etc.) are operative.  Now, in the realm of creation, does this mean that we can will in a non-contingent way?  No, because we are driven by our reason to will in such a manner as to accord with what our intellect evaluates as good.  The point is though that again, the question of causal agency exerted by other creatures over against our creaturely intellect's evaluation of those goods.  Since we have "dominion on the earth" creaturely agents do not stand in a relationship with us as to have the creative power to determine our intellect's evaluation of what is the good that we are to pursue. 

(BTW, we can see why Aquinas, though he believes in predestination as much as Augustine and Luther, posits freedom regarding things above us.  If our intellect is the prime faculty, then God is a good that can be rationally evaluated and chosen like any other good.  Aquinas would hold to the primacy of God's grace, because God's grace is determinative of how much knowledge of the good we have and therefore how capable of willing the good we are.  In the end though, this turns sin into ignorance (similar to Plato!).  Augustine specifically politicizes against this concept in City of God book 7). 

Therefore, from this perspective, McSoreley's anthropological argument can be met.  When Luther allows a realm of freedom, he still doesn't mean freedom in the sense of willing that is totally non-contingent.  Creatures are creatures and therefore they simply aren't capable of non-contingent willing.  Rather, he is talking about a relationship of our will's casual relationship to other creatures- i.e. other creatures do not determine my intellect's capacity to evaluate them as a good or an evil.

Lastly, I want to address the providential question.  If God is all determining of the history of the world, asking McSoreley, how is it the case that there is a realm of freedom?  This partially misses Luther's point which is about willing and not about outcomes.  Actually Luther bring this up against Erasmus.  The will's intention is different than outcomes.  So, what Luther is talking about is the human's will ability to choose and evaluate what things in creation are good and therefore worthy of being chosen.  This does not mean that it will succeed in its intention towards a given object!  Just because Pharaoh decided to go after the Israelites when they went to the Red Sea, did not mean that he would be successful getting them back.  Rather, because God foreknows everything Luther states, he is able to determine its outcome as he sees fit.  In fact, because he is God he must.  Even if he just let world history drift and take whatever course it wanted to, this would be a form of determination, since he made all the creaturely agents and decided to allow it to drift.  Hence, God either allows plans to succeed or not.  This doesn't do away with freedom of willing at all, since the question of free will and determination of the outcomes of our plans are entirely different questions.  Put succinctly, free choice does not mean free self-determination or determination of future events.  That is God's business. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jesus' Davidic Descent.

From the book, the section on the kingly office of Christ:

The fact that Jesus is a descendent of David and therefore the true inheritor of the promise of the Davidic covenant is clear from the genealogies provided for us by Matthew and Luke.  The question of whether Jesus was a descendent of David is in fact not a trivial one, but rather concerns God's faithfulness to his promises.  If the Messiah was not David's son, then we cannot understand him to have been the faithful God whom we encounter in the revelation of the gospel.  Therefore, this question cannot be papered over with the typical Liberal Protestant shrug and predictable appeal to the Kantian fact/value split.    

Due to the nearly paranoid skepticism displayed by many of the practitioners of the historical-critical method, the genealogies of the New Testament have been under fire since the time of the Enlightenment.  Nevertheless, contrary to popular scholarly belief the Gospel genealogies contain much to recommend them historically, even if they were not guaranteed to us before hand by their inclusion in the inerrant Word of God. 

The first aspect that recommends them historically is the probability that Jesus would be a Davidic descendent.  David after all, had many descendents, not least as a result of his own and his Son’s prodigious harems.  For this reason, a rather large number of people in ancient Israel could very credibly claim descend from him.  That this knowledge of this descent would also be accessible is equally plausible. It has also been noted by many, that Second Temple Jews maintained their own genealogical records in both oral (mostly peasants) or in written forms (elites).[1]  Josephus also reports that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A. D., that the Jews maintained a large deposit of public genealogical records.[2]  If the Synoptic Gospels were written prior to 70 (as the ending of Acts suggests and, as well as the lack of references to the destruction of the Temple[3]) then it is not unreasonable to think that the Evangelists might have had access to these records. 

We may also go further.  As Gerd Theissen has rightly noted, Jesus’ family were extremely prominent in the early Church and therefore can be considered the source of the New Testament's source of the assertion that Jesus was of Davidic descent.[4]  Paul calls Jesus the “son of David” (Rom 1:3) and he clearly knew Jesus relatives as both Galatians and Acts demonstrates.[5]  If that is the case, then Jesus’ family must have claimed descent from David.  Going beyond Theissen, we might suggest that if Jesus' relatives did claim descent from David, they must have maintained some sort of genealogical records and these records could very well have been disseminated them within the early Church.  Such dissemination would have been a useful tool against those who contested Jesus' claims to be the true Davidic Messiah.

Historical skeptics must also recognize, urges Theissen, that it is highly unlikely that Davidic descent would be something that Jesus' family or the early Church would generate after the fact.[6]  There were a variety of messianic expectation in first century Judaism and not all of them made it necessary for the Messiah to be of Davidic descent.[7]  Conversely, there were major disadvantages to claiming descent from David insofar as it might make one the object of intrigue by Roman officials fearful of messianic upstarts.  As an example of this, Eusebius shares with us that Jesus’ nephews (apparently still leaders in the early Church at the end of the first century) were harassed by Domitian when he discovered that they held their uncle to be the true Davidic king and the ruler of the universe.[8]  For this reason, Pannenberg is incorrect to assert that Jesus could never have conceived of himself as the Davidic king.[9]  The historical evidence presented to us in the New Testament clearly shows his family (and therefore he) were quite self-conscious of being the heirs of the Davidic monarchy.[10]

An issue that is perhaps more troubling in approaching the question of Jesus' descent is that in significant respects Matthew and Luke's genealogies do not give the appearance of agreeing with one another.  This problem is by no means insoluble and has been addressed in a number of ways.  The beginning of a solution might come by recognizing (as was observed in chapter two) that Matthew’s genealogy has obvious and rather wide gaps in it.  The intention of these gaps (as we suggested) was to highlight Jesus' role as bringer of the universal Sabbath and Jubilee by dividing Jesus' genealogy into forty-two generations (Mt. 1:17).  Nevertheless, in observing this, we must note that although Matthew's theological goal was somewhat symbolic, it was not fictive.  Hence, appealing to Matthew's theological goal in structuring his genealogy in a particular way does not absolve us of the problem that to the extent he intends to literally list Jesus' ancestors he stands in an apparent conflict with Luke.

As a result of recognizing this problem, a number of solutions have been offered.  Probably the most common solution is that each represents a separate parent of Jesus’ genealogy.[11]  Perhaps Matthew gives us the descent from Joseph and Luke from Mary.  This division is suggested by the fact that the two Evangelists focus on the aforementioned parent in their recounting of the infancy narrative.  All things considered, this probably the best solution to the problem. 

There are nonetheless a number of objections against this view as well.  The first and most common is that both genealogies appear to trace Jesus' descent through Joseph.  On the surface, neither deal with the descent of Mary.  This may be solved by the fact that, as J. Stafford Wright has noted, in ancient Judaism childless or sonless marriages often times resulted in legal transference of sonship.[12]  There are also a number of examples of this occurring in the Old Testament (1 Ch 2:34, Ezr 2:61).[13]  Hence, it could be plausibly suggested that Mary's family might very well have lacked sons and that Joseph was named her father's legal heir.  A lack of sons in a family is a common enough phenomenon in any culture and historical period that this is by no means a stretch. 

Some might also object that this solution suggests that both parents were descendents of David.  At first glance might be considered unlikely.  Nevertheless it in fact actually fits well with historical data that we possess concerning Second Temple Judaism in particular and ancient Mediterranean culture in general.  Historical research has shown that most Jewish marriages tended to be among close relatives during the Second Temple period.[14]  Scholars have also noted that much of the pseudepigraphal literature of this period (notably the book of Jubilees) strongly encourages marriage with close kin.[15]  The presence of this cultural practice in this literature suggests that endogamy was considered to be the ideal.[16]  If Mary and Joseph were therefore anything like their contemporaries, it is highly likely that they were closely related and therefore both descendents of David.[17] 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Paul Hinlicky's Interpretation of Luther on Christology and Atonement

I'm about 100 pages in and it's actually turning out relatively well.

1. The Christology section is very good and captures Luther's understanding of the communication of attributes well. He repeats the line about how Luther got his Cyrillian Christology through the "medieval theology manuals" that we might recall from David Yeago. Again, this can't be the case, since Lombard (whom I think he's referring to here) has a Leonine Christology and no one who has read Book 3 of the Sentences would ever get the impression that the Damascene taught a different Christology than Leo and Augustine. Nominalism is the more likely source. But this is a common mistake and one I myself have been guilty of (particularly in my M.A. thesis!).

2. The discussion of atonement was OK. Couple of interesting points. For one thing, he seems to make what are to me some fairly obvious observations about different figures, but then treatment as if they're a great breakthrough. For example, he states that Anselm didn't teach that Jesus' death was punishment for sin, but rather surplus merit covering sin. Yeah, I mean, isn't that obvious? I mean, the whole argument is about superegation and possibility of a human being becoming capable of it in order to overcome sin- basically Anselm's argument is that its impossible without the hypostatic union. Is this news?

He then correctly observes that Luther really, truly does believe that Christ's death was substitutionary and that you can't get around that like Forde, Aulen and von Hofmann tried to do. Fantastic! He also says (and I also agree with this thoroughly) that all three aspect of atonement must be integrated (defeat of the Devil, substitution, revelation/moral influence).

The problem comes when he goes to his daughter's thesis (apparently taken from one of her seminary papers- he quotes multiple term papers from his daughter- who BTW, is married to someone who I was friends with in seminary), that for Luther Christ's atoning work is only punishment. The distinction between "active" and "passive" righteousness is Melanchthonian in origin and represents a problematic attempt to combine Luther and Anslem.

With this I must respectfully disagree!

First, it wasn't Melanchthon who came up with the distinction between "active" and "passive" righteousness, but Flacius. Now, the occasion for this was the controversy with Osiander which as I noted a few months ago wasn't really about whether sanctification was different than justification, but about the communication of attributes. Osiander taught that you could divide Christ's work between his substitutionary death (human nature) and his righteousness before God (his divine nature). Flacius' point (and later Chemnitz's) was that you couldn't do that. Since Christ is one person, his infinite and almighty divine person works redemption through his human nature. Christ's almighty righteousness is our righteousness because it is God's righteousness active through his human obedience. His death can overcome the infinite divine judgment against sin, because it is the death of the infinite God.

This follows Luther's reasoning exactly as we find it in the Galatians commentary. Luther says explicitly about Christ's righteousness for us that he is "the only sin, and the only righteousness." In other words, "active" and "passive" righteousness are not a perversion of Luther's position, but rather a correct explanation of it.

Of course, Hinlicky may ask "how do you know that Luther is talking about Christ's theandric obedience as his righteousness?" My answer would be that there are many references in Luther's work regarding the redemptive value of Christ's obedience in his temporal existence. I would also note that because of his understanding of the hypostatic union, he would necessarily insist that the acts of obedience by the human nature were those of the divine person active through it.

In the end, the alternative explanation would be that Luther would agree with Osiander- namely, only the divine nature is our righteousness. This would not agree with Luther's understanding of justification of the communication of attributes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Luther Class So Far.

I'm teaching a Luther class for a continuing education program. Seems like a good group and it went well this time. I don't think they got my explanation of how Occamism works or Aquinas' doctrine grace and free will. I tried to make it as simple as possible, but pretty much blew that one.

I can also detect that they're a little disappointed in Luther. I think they expected a person who was more modern, who saved Christianity from the dark, dark, Middle Ages, with reason and enlightenment. Luther did reform the Church, but I think that they have a false view of how and also of what the Middle Ages were like.

The Middle Ages was overly rational. Neither was it backward technologically. So, Luther and the Reformation didn't save Christianity from irrationalism. That's Liberal Protestant claptrap.

Luther saved Christianity from the medieval doctrine of penance, grace, and merit. He didn't intend or want the modern world. The modern world is anti-apocalyptic. It wants human reason and progress the keep the world as it is, under human control. Luther was an apocalypticist who wanted to be God's instrument in the rupture of the ages- the preacher of the righteousness of God against sin, death, and the devil. His message was of God's grace and love that isn't under our control.

This I think they find highly disappointing. It doesn't fit into their worldview. All it just sounds to them like a bunch of intolerance.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Did Anyone Read the Kenosis Article?

I have an article about kenosis and what I consider to be a properly Lutheran interpretation of the doctrine in this month's issue of LOGIA.  Did any of you read it?  If so, what are your reactions?  I'd be very interested to know.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paul Hinlicky's Luther Book: A First Impression.

I just got Paul Hinlicky's book on Luther. As some of you know, I had a somewhat harsh debate with Paul two summers ago based on a critique of his view of the relationship of Scripture and tradition that wrote up and was posted on the LOGIA website. I don't really think that there's any bitter feelings about it on my part. I personally don't know what he thinks, and I'm not willing to speculate-8th commandment and all that.

One of the things taht Hinlicky does in his writings is make all sorts of what I consider to be unusual judgments about historical theology. This is one of the things I critiqued about his essay on Scripture and tradition. I'm thinking that the Luther book isn't going to be very different.

I haven't read it yet, but I've thumbed through it. A couple of things to note:

First, there some interesting statements about the book on the cover. One is by Michael Root, who as we know recently decided to stop trying to pretend Luther was a Thomist and simply come out the closet as a Thomist himself (in his statement about his conversion, he finally admitted that Luther wasn't a Thomist- so good for him!). It more or less says that Hinlicky makes a couple of interesting arguments and that its an intellectually challenging book. Second remark comes from Robert Kolb (great scholar BTW!), who says that its good that Hinlicky says in typical postmodern fashion he has given us "his Luther" and that he certainly fulfills his goal of creating a critical dogmatics on the basis of "his Luther." This doesn't strike me as a ringing endorsement, but perhaps I needed to read the whole review.

A few other brief observations. First, the blurb on the cover states that Hinlicky doesn't think that Luther's theology can be accepted by us today, but it can point us in the right direction of doing theology in "post-Christendom." Being someone who would accept Luther's theology in the present (perhaps not the stuff about witchcraft, and calculating the end of the world, but that's less theology and more primitive science), I find this remark a little bit odd. Though again, I am after all a "Fundamentalist" as he was fond of pointing out and am therefore hopeless stuck in my delusions about the Enlightenment not really having a knock-out argument against classical theism and supernaturalism. Alas.

But what about "post-Christendom?" I guess my attitude towards "post-Christendom" is "who cares?" I think that if I grew up in the midwest in the 50s and 60s and saw the cultural influence of Christianity decline before my eyes, it might be more of a going concern for me. But as someone who not only grew up on the west coast, but as the son of a WELS pastor, being in the catacombs seems normal to me. Hinlicky though, is obsessed with the idea that Christian truth claims need to be plausible to people in "postmodernity" and "post-Christendom." Of course as Gerhard Forde would note, this all assume freedom and not bondage. People don't believe in Jesus because he convinces them with a good argument, but because the Holy Spirit convicts them through the proclamation of the Word. This means that theology in "post-Christendom" should presumably be no different than in Christendom. Of course this is part of what our debate over at LOGIA was about. In any case, Hinlicky's approach has been the approach of Liberalism since Schleiermacher wrote his boring book to Christianity's "cultured despisers." And well, that really turned things around, right?

A couple of observations about stuff in the book itself. He seems to spend a lot of time attacking Burnell Eckhardt's book about Luther and Anslem (which I enjoyed and is very good BTW). I assume he thinks that substitutionary atonement isn't in Luther or something. This is fairly typical. Somehow even more conservative theologians in the ELCA just seem to think that everyone will call them troglodytes if they just accept the fairly simple fact that both Luther and the NT clearly teach substitution. End of story. I also find it a bit odd that he cites his daughter's seminary papers as a source for Luther's atonement theology, but then leaves out a whole lot of other standard sources on the subject that I used in my dissertation. Also, I noticed he's going to try to argue that Barth's reversal of law-gospel, to gospel first, then law is authentically Lutheran. I will be interested to see how that goes for him. He clearly stated in the last book that he detests Melanchthon's ordo salutis of law first, then gospel (how an alternative would work, he was unclear- i.e., why would you believe in forgiveness if you weren't guilty of anything!).

As I get through the book, I'll give you updates.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is Luther's Christology Occamistic?

I'm in the midst of reading Luther as Nominalist, by Graham White.  A somewhat interesting book (a little dull at times).  White concludes that basically the previous generation of Luther scholarship has been wrong, and that the Christology of the Occamists was very similar to Luther's.  If this is true, then I need to revise my Masters thesis!  

White convincingly shows that both the Occamists and Luther emphasized the unity of the person of Christ over the duality.  I had always read that the Occamists had encouraged a extreme Leonine Christology, but White says that's a total misreading and gives plausible reasons why Biel, d'Ailly, and Occam have been misread on this point.

Though for the time being I am suspending judgment until I get more information, I think this might be the best explanation.  I was recently reading a piece by David Yeago where he argued a continuity between the Greek Patristic theology and Luther, which to me was fairly obvious.  I wrote my MA thesis about it and I suggested that the basis of this is indirect influence of the Patristic quotations in The Sentences- particularly from John of Damascus.  Yeago argues this way as well.  Luther (as Yeago correctly observes) very likely never read any of the Greek Patristic authors directly.  He simply didn't have access to them.  

As an aside, it's hard for us sometimes to recognize how little information people in the 16th century had access to.  When Luther read Eusebius for the first time he said "uh, where's the Pope?"  He comments in On the Council and the Church (1539), that he didn't realize it at the time, but when he debated Zwingli, Zwingli sort sounded like Nestorius.  In other words, he wasn't familiar with Nestorius until later life and therefore didn't actually connect Zwingli's heresy with him.

Anyways, having now read Lombard, I find Yeago's suggestion not particularly plausible.  For one thing, tons of people prior to Luther in the Middle Ages read Lombard (it was the standard textbook!) and they never came up with anything other than Leonine Christology.  Secondly, the quotations from the Damascene are sparse and mainly used to give information about technical Christological terminology.  In other words, if one only knew John from Lombard's citations of him, then one would never get the impression that he emphasized the unity of Christ in his theology like Cyril and Maximus the Confessor.

Hence, the Occamist connection would probably make the most sense if White has correctly read their position.  Again, a lot of people claim the opposite about them and therefore I would need to test his thesis.  Nevertheless, I find his interpretation of the passages which he has presented to be fairly plausible and am open to this suggestion.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Calvin is Wrong About the Words of Institution.

I recently got an e-mail from a LCMS pastor who had received an essay from one of his parishioner supposedly disproving the Lutheran view of the Lord's Supper. This parishioner had previously been Presbyterian and apparently for some strange reason held on to Calvin's view of the Lord's Supper. Why one would go over the Lutheranism if one held this view is pretty much beyond me, but that's another story.

In any case, chief among this essay's arguments was that no one actually takes the words of institution literally. Calvin makes this argument in the third book of the Institutes, so it's sort of an old argument.

Here's how the argument goes: "Is" for the Catholics means "is transubstantiated." "Is" for the Lutheran means "this is my body and blood along with the bread and wine." Neither therefore gives a literal description of what Jesus is holding in his hand. Because neither confession holds a "literal" view of the words of institution, each confession's argument that "Jesus meant what he said" isn't valid. Hence, the Reformed view is just another non-literal reading of the words of institution and when you combine it was the Christological argument it makes the most sense.

This argument is important to respond to. First, on one level, one could say that the words of institution are in a sense figurative according to Luther's reading. In his debates with Zwingli (see AE 37 in particular), Luther states that Jesus' words express a synedoche, wherein a whole is represented by its parts. The classic example of this is "all hands on deck." In other words, all sailors are represented by their "hands" coming to the deck of the ship. This reading of the words of institution is well justified by Paul's statements in 1 Cor. that the "bread we eat is the communion of the body of Christ, etc." In other words, both substances are there and consequently the words of institution express the presence of Jesus through the elements of bread and wine in the form of the synedoche perfectly.

On another level though, there is nothing "figurative" about the words of institution and the Reformed fundamentally misunderstand how speech acts work on multiple levels.

For the Reformed, the assumption is that words somehow just signify things. So you point at a table and say "table" because the noise "table" is a symbol for the object. Certain speech-acts do function this way. Nevertheless, they also function in one might say, an "effective" manner. So, for example, when I say "I pronounce you man and wife" the words aren't really signifying a reality, they're giving a reality of "marriage."

The words of institution function the same way- and not just in a human way, but by divine power. Luther says that there is a distinction between "call-words" (first class that I spoke of) and "do-words" (the second class). So, when the Reformed hear the words of institution, they mistakenly think that they call "call words." Hence the critique "well, but isn't it also bread and wine also, not just body and blood?" This suggests that they take the words to be an ontological description of the elements. They are that of course, but they're more than that! They are a promise of receiving the body and blood through the reception of the elements. The function of the words is to promise of the body and blood of Christ to faith. Hence to say that they are non-literal is non-sense, because they give what is literally promised.

Faith receives God's literal promises. I think that this is the reason why Luther was adamant about the sacrament. His understanding of faith that he reach during the indulgence controversy was that faith was the means by which God's promises in Christ were to be tapped into. Faith gains what it gains by believing what is promised, no matter how fantastic. So too, the sacrament must be taken to be what it is because it is a word received by faith. It isn't a proposition to be figured out, but a promise received.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Erlangen on the Law: What Went Wrong.

I finished the Lowell Green book on Erlangen, and I think that after I'm done with my book on Christology I'm going to start researching an article on the issue of what went wrong regarding the doctrine of the law in Erlangen school.

The typical LCMS narrative regarding this issue is that the Erlangen people were antinomian in some sense, and then they influenced the Seminex folks- then there you have it, 1974 and all that! Among the Evangelical Catholics in the ELCA (notably David Yeago) there's also a version of this floating around- see his essay in the Jenson Feschrift Time, Trinity, Church.

But I think the Erlangen people are a little more complex than that. That doesn't mean I don't think something went horribly wrong, I just actually don't think that it was technically antinomianism per se. If anything the Erlangen people verge on legalism in certain regards.
Here's preliminary theory. Granted I need to read some more, but this is a working hypothesis.

It goes like this: Basically because of 19th century Pietism and Liberalism of the Schleiermacherian variety, theology whether liberal or conservative in that period tended to focus on religious consciousness. This of course carried over into 20th century as well, and is more or less still present with us in a more muted form.

Because the center of theological discourse was in religious consciousness for Erlangen (mainly because the influence of Pietism and Schleiermacher), in their revival of certain orthodox Lutheran themes, their interpretation of them was somewhat colored by this concept of religious consciousness. Consequently, the law and the gospel are thought of as the experience of being condemned and the experience of being forgiven.

Now here's where it where it gets odd. As a Lutheran, one assumes the goal of the gospel is to overcome and do away with the problem of the law. That's ok because it just has to do with one's relationship to God and his salvation, not with every day life or anything like that. You still need to work to be a good citizen and a good parent and whatever.

If one attempts to translate this into the language of religious consciousness, one has a problem. Because the law is the experience of feeling condemned and the gospel is the experience of feeling redeemed, then it means that the gospel's goal is entirely to do away with the law. In other words, gospel experiences do away with law experiences. One, after all, cannot have contradictory religious experiences at the same time. So, when the gospel feeling of being redeemed comes, then the law goes away or only occasionally reappears.

One might think that this would then become antinomianism. That's not quite the case. Since the law is an experience, rather than a concrete, cognitively understandable command, then it means that law (that is, sense of actual, literal commandments-rather than an experience) given and obeyed after the "law experience" has gone away, really isn't law anymore.

Hence, in von Hofmann you have the idea of a "gospel ethic" where the Holy Spirit speaks within you and you spontaneously obey its voice. In Elert "gospel imperatives" (surely a contradiction in terms for classical Lutheran theology!). In Althaus, the distinction between "law" and "command"-i.e. mean law vs. nice, fun, happy law.
Hence, I do not think that the Erlangen people were antinomian per se. They just made some very, very deep mistakes about how one describes law and gospel. Ultimately, this is all due to theology of religious consciousness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Scaer's Catechesis Theory makes Griesbach Work.

I can't say that I've ever really found the two-source theory of the Gospel particularly attractive.  After I read N. T. Wright and Kenneth Bailey in mid-college, I thought that it was pretty much unnecessary that the Gospels have any sort of literary relationship with one another.  Rather, what I thought seemed more plausible is that they were based on a common oral tradition that had been kept perfectly.  Bailey shows that writing in near-eastern societies is pretty much unnecessary as a means of preservation, because oral records can be kept perfectly merely from memory.  Because communities are so closely interwoven, people in villages where this sort of oral tradition predominates check each other's memories to such an extent that Bailey tested whether certain traditions were still around in an Egyptian village after the 80 years and discovered that they were the same word-for-word.  So then who needs Q?

Of course the alternative has always been Griesbach, with the theory that Mark wrote, then Matthew expanded on Mark, and Luke on Matthew.  It's cleaner, but it always rubbed me wrong.  I actually don't know why.  There were also alternative version which accepted not Markan, but Matthean priority and thought of Mark as being a shorter version of Matthew.  This never made any sense to me, not because I thought that Mark was less complex (which it isn't!) and therefore had to "evolve" into Matthew, but because if you're going to write a Gospel and make your unique contribution, why give less information rather than more?

Scaer with his catechesis theory has really changed my mind on this in a big way.  So, his argument as I read it, seems to be a kind of variation on Griesbach, that accepts Matthean priority.  Arthur Just from what I've read by him seems to buy into this as well.  

So, Matthew was the first Gospel and it was probably written some time in the 40s to serve as a Jewish Christian catechism.  It possesses five great discourses and therefore exemplifies a new Torah or instruction.  The named "Matthew" is even very close the word for "catechumen," which explains to me why he is called Levi elsewhere- i.e. he never was named Matthew, he just wishes to be understood as the ideal catechumen of Jesus, like John wants to be understood as the ideal witness.  Anyways, Luke read both Matthew and Mark (probably in the later 50s or early 60s) and constructed his Gospel as a Gentile-version of Matthew's Jewish catechism.  

Now, Scaer's a little bit more vague about Mark.  But he likes the idea of mystagogue and its presence in the very early Church.  This would make sense because mystagogue grows out of the Jewish rabbinical practice (present in the ministry of  Jesus) of distinguishing an inner circle of those initiated and are therefore allowed to know certain teachings, and those who are not.  

In the early Church, the unbaptized were not allowed know a lot of things.  One thing they weren't allowed to hear were the words of institution.  They were sent away after the sermon and only the baptized could hear them.  This explains why the Didache has no words of institution when discussing the Eucharist.  Mark, as you might recalled, has a shorter version of them- so perhaps he thought that hearing part of them was alright, but not the whole thing.  

Hence, we can infer that Mark intended to a Gospel for those not initiated into the mystagogue through baptism.  He knew Matthew, which was for those who had been baptized and therefore wrote a catechism for those who had not been baptized.  Luke then wrote for Gentiles who had been baptized and initiated into the Church's mystagogue.  This makes sense that he writes to Theophilus ("one who loves God"- I take this to mean just any Catechumen), who has already been instructed (as the prologue says- probably by reading Mark who Luke utilizes) and now is moving onto more advanced teaching.

This would explain the order, the cultural form and the literary relationships between the Gospels.  A version of Griesbach makes remarkable sense, if you assume that the Gospel writers were attempting to fill a literary need for catechesis among particular populations in the early Church.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Mystery of Divine Love

I was looking at Nygren's Agape and Eros again the other day and it occurred to me that for all its flaw it got something right, namely that divine love is a great mystery. It is a mystery because it is not motivated by the object as in eros or in what Nygren refers to as the "caritas synthesis" of Augustine. For Catholic thought, as for Platonism before it, God loves things because they are desirable. He first loves himself because he is supremely desirable and then he loves other things insofar as they are like him. By contrast, for the God of the Bible, the object of love is utterly undesirable, and yet he loves it. This is mysterious. Why love a thing which has nothing inherently attractive to it?

Also, I think this shows that the Plato's eros and the caritas synthesis are more or less rationalizations of God. They are in effect attempts at rationalizing the mystery of why God loves. As we know from Luther, law and reason always go together. Law then becomes the means whereby the divine mystery of love is made explainable- i.e., we earned it! But that's not how God works. His love and promise in the gospel are every an incomprehensible mystery, which he gives freely for no apparent reason.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Publications to Watch For.

If you enjoy reading this blog, you might be interested in reading some actual publications that I've written that are coming out over the next few months:

1. Magdeburg Press commissioned me to write the introduction to the Clavis Scripturae, which should be coming out by the winter.  I've read Flacius' work now and it's great guide to reading the Bible, so I would definitely buy a copy to enhance your personal Bible study.

2. An article that I wrote on the subject of kenosis will be coming out in LOGIA this month.  I published portions of it on this blog as some of you might remember back in February.

3. Winter 2011 CTQ will feature an article I wrote on the subject of Gerhard Forde's concept of the law and my critique of it.  I get a lot of e-mails about my take on Forde, so here's a chance to at least see a significant portion of my critique.

"The Social Network" and Self-Justification.

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I went to see "The Social Network." It was written by Aaron Sorkin, who was the writer of "The West Wing" which I liked, and directed by David Fincher, who did "Fight Club" which is another one of my favorite movies.

Anyways, the movie (if you haven't heard) is about the creation of Facebook, which so many people are obsessed with (for some reason- I have an account and don't really know what I'm supposed to do with it!).

The interesting thing was how Sorkin construed the basic motivation of Mark Zuckerberg (the founder) in coming up with Facebook. The movie starts with him wanting to get into the "finals clubs" at Harvard and not really having a path. The idea of Facebook is to be able to have a social network that is both exclusive and democratic. It's democratic insofar as anyone can join-exclusive in that your own individual social network is made up of people who your "Friends."

Now, the thing is, although Zuckerberg became the youngest billionaire in the world by making Facebook, he didn't do it for the money. His family was already wealthy enough. Also, his rivals didn't go after him for the money. Again, they already had a ton of money. They were wealthy kids who went to Harvard. The issue is recognition. The social network is about mutual recognition of worth as a "friend"- the action of the plot is drive by the war of the characters for mutual recognition. This is why it is such a clever plot.

This is interesting in that is mirrors what Hegel says about the engine of history. According to Hegel, history is driven by the dialectic of opposing groups demanding mutual recognition. It's no accident either that Hegel considered himself to be philosophical outworking of Luther's theology. Now this is certainly false to a large extent. But to this extent it is true. The human creature under sin is at war with the rest of creation and with God to recognize his or her claim to be in the right and recognized. Eberhard Juengel makes the observation that this takes on even the most trivial forms, as for instance when we mentally justify our right to take a particular seat on a bus or subway.

I think this largely explains the importance of social networks for our culture. The exclusivity of the social network allows a technologically new form of self-justification through mutual recognition. Whereas my own self-justification personally takes on different forms (hence, I generally find Facebook a bore), for most people I suspect that this is the reason why it is so addicting. It's a chance at perpetual self-justification online at the click of button.