Monday, February 11, 2013

Some Observations about Paul Rydecki's Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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