Andrew Johnson is a President who history has decided was a complete failure. A new book by Howard Means, The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days that Changed the Nation, examines the first part of Johnson’s presidency. A book about Reconstruction and Johnson is long over due. If anyone knows of a good one, let me know. I will tell you now this one is not that book.
I think it suffers most from the subtitle. No where in this book is any sort of day numbering system. What 45 days the subtitle refers to is beyond me. The book bounces from the night Lincoln was murdered to Johnson’s boyhood, to his Reconstruction policy, to his impeachment, all of which takes much longer than 45 days. It also never proves any sort of case that Johnson changed the nation. His reconstruction policy failed, and was outright rejected by Congress, he did not bring about black sufferage, he did not heal the wounds of a war that still divides America to this day, he did not convict Jefferson Davis of treason, he did not even capture John Wilkes Booth alive. Beyond that he tried 8 people for the murder of Lincoln in a military tribunal and hung them all, many of which were probably innocent.
That is not to say the book is all bad. I did learn some things about Andrew Johnson. I do think Mr. Means correctly shows why Andrew Johnson was so insistent on killing the traitors prior to becoming President and so lenient after becoming President. He does a good job to show the difference between Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan and Lincoln’s. He exposes the myth of Abraham Lincoln by quoting Radical Republican leaders who were happy Johnson was now President and Lincoln out of the way. He does not try to hide Johnson’s faults such as his blatant racism, but does try to show his qualities as well.
In the end this book is un-inspiringly written, but well researched. If you buy the book do not think you are going to get anything promised in the sub-title. That may really help your attitude as you read the book.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Andrew Johnson is a President who history has decided was a complete failure. A new book by Howard Means, The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days that Changed the Nation, examines the first part of Johnson’s presidency. A book about Reconstruction and Johnson is long over due. If anyone knows of a good one, let me know. I will tell you now this one is not that book.
"You've got two guys who are big-time scorers and are used to scoring a lot of points. Both have got to make some sacrifices." - David Thomson, Former Nuggets Superstar
For those of you who still think that the trade for Allen Iverson was a good idea, note the Nuggets record. They are one game below .500. That is pretty impressive considering they have only three wins and six losses with both Carmelo and Allen in the game. While they still look like they will make the playoffs, they are a lot closer to missing them than moving up any spots. The sixth seed is the Houston Rockets, who have played the majority of the season without their star center. The Nuggets play the Rockets tomorrow, the 28th, and need a win desperately.
The two have figured out how to play together and have made sacrifices. Sadly, it is the rest of the team they have decided to sacrifice. The people who are suffering most from this trade, besides the fans, are players like J.R. Smith and Nene. These two guys are the ones who need to score for the Nuggets to advance in the playoffs, but both have little to no role in the new offense that sees Carmelo score 30, Iverson 25, new comer Steve Blake get more shots than he deserves, and the team loses. If this team makes the playoffs, do not fall prey to the hype. They are not better than their record. They may even be worse.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Peter Leithart has posted a lot of things about the Federal Vision, including recently many attempts to discover the root of the disagreement. Some of his opinions about the reason for the controversy have merit, but his latest attempt is just wrong, in my opinion. It also appears to be another cast the debate on grounds that have nothing to do with theology. Leithart thinks that anti-FV crowd is the institution, and the FV crowd is the underdog, but also with connotations of the disciples(FV) vs. the Pharisees(anti-FV). A popular role to be in for sure.
The problem is that I do not see the anti-FV guys as the establishment or occupying establishment positions. Leithart may have a point that many of those against the Federal Vision have been moderators. And no FV guy has been the moderator. Fine, I give him that one, but it is hardly proof. Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hardly counts as the ‘establishment’. It is a relatively new seminary with less than 100 students. Even fewer than that going full time. It is not the official seminary of any church, and I do not think even of any presbyteries. Westminster West has a much better claim on being the establishment, but again, it is an independent seminary. No establishment credentials there either. Westminster East has the best establishment credentials claim, but it is barely noticeable in this debate. They have not taken a lead in anti-FV propaganda at all. In fact, as Rev. Leithart points out, D.G. Hart wrote a sympathetic book about John Nevin! Nevin’s views permeate the FV. I did not positively react to Hart’s whitewash of Nevin, and I am not sure who did. I will concede that if someone thinks Nevin’s views good and still thinks the FV bad, then perhaps they fall into Leithart’s criticism that the problem is not what is being said, but who is saying it. But, I do not see many PCA endorsements of Nevin.
Now if we really want to talk about establishment, one has to look at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. That is the official PCA seminary. Again, not much is heard coming out of Covenant Seminary except an exchange from Bryan Chapel, president of Covenant, that was not even characterized as anti-FV by FV men like Rich Lusk. You will also find Covenant Seminary professors’ signatures littered in the Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together document, which also contains the majority of FV men. While the document itself is not FV, the signers, promoters, and defenders are. You won’t find a lot of anti-FV signatures on it.
While Leithart also points to the lack of formal education of Doug Wilson as another proof, he fails to mention that other Federal Vision men include James Jordan with a doctorate degree, Norman Shepherd (who at least shares a lot of beliefs with the FV) a former teacher at Westminster East, and the Credenda/Agenda itself, which has a wide readership in the PCA. It should be noted that the anti-FV men do not have any such organ that compares to the C/A magazine.
So despite the protests that "The debate is not just about what's being said. It's also about who's saying it." It really is about what is being said. And remember anytime that someone tries to distract you from what is being said to some other issue, it means you really ought to pay attention to what is being said.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Now that we have seen the Federal Vision with its new understanding of Baptism, let us continue to trace the discussion by continuing on to what logically comes next: faith and apostasy. To show the growing difference between the Three Forms and the Federal Vision, we shall continue to posit quotes from both exposing the difference.
Summary of previous subjects: The Federal Vision advocates Baptism engrafts one into Christ, really and truly, while the Three Forms speaks only of being engrafted into the Church.
Auburn Ave. Presbyterian Church:
5. Those who have been solemnly admitted to the Church by baptism (WCF 28.1) are bound to receive and rest upon Christ by faith, repenting of their sins, yielding obedience to his commands, making diligent use of the outward means of grace, and thereby persevering by faith to the end of their days. This perseverance is itself a gift of God and not a result of the “willing” or the “running” of the people of God.
7. . . . What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and later rejected (Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who “believe for a while” enjoy blessings and privileges of the covenant only for a time and only in part, since their temporary faith is not true to Christ, as evidenced by its eventual failure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6). By their unbelief they “trample underfoot the Son of God, count the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29) and thus bring greater condemnation upon themselves.
8. God has decreed from the foundation of the world all that comes to pass, including who would be saved and lost for all eternity. Included in His decree, however, is that some persons, not destined for final salvation, will be drawn to Christ and His people only for a time. These, for a season, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by the Holy Spirit in his common operations through Word and Sacrament (Hebrews 6:4-6; Matthew 25:14ff; etc.).
9. Salvation depends upon being united to Christ. Clearly, those who are eternally saved are those who continue to abide in Him by the grace of God. There are those, however, who are joined to Him as branches in the vine, but who because of unbelief are barren and fruitless and consequently are cut off from the vine and from salvation. Jesus says these “believe for a while” but do not bear fruit unto salvation. Why God would do this is a mystery, but the teaching of Scripture is clear: some whom He adopts into covenant relation, He later hardens (Rom. 9:4, 18, 11:1ff). In such instances God has not changed His decree regarding such people; to the contrary, He carries out His sovereign purposes in and through their unbelief and rebellion. Those elect unto eternal salvation are always distinguished by their perseverance in faith and obedience by the grace of God.
Notice then some points here in these statements. The apostate has faith, but it is faith that does not stay true to Christ. It is true faith, just faith that does not continue long enough. The apostate also is truly engrafted into Christ, truly participates in the blessings of that union, and has the blessings of Christ’s cross applied to him, but those things end when he fails to produce fruit.
In shorthand, he [the apostate] falls away from Christ; he falls from grace (Reformed is Not Enough pg. 132).
Now let us see what the Three Forms of Unity have to say about the subject of apostasy and faith.
18. A. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is freely given unto us for complete redemption and righteousness.
20. Q. Are all men, then, saved by Christ as they have perished in Adam? A. No, only those who by true faith are ingrafted into Him and receive all His benefits.
Here we see the catechism speak of Christ as our complete redeemer. For those engrafted into Him, he has given them complete redemption and righteousness. Only those who have a true faith are engrafted into him and receive all His benefits. This is contradictory to the above claims of Wilkins and Wilson who say those who have faith that fades away were engrafted into Him and received all His benefits. In case any doubt the meaning of the catechism Ursinus after discussing temporary faith states, "Justifying faith, again, differs from all other kinds of faith, in this, that it is by it alone that we obtain righteousness, and a title to the inheritance of the saints. . . Neither is it temporary faith; for Christ rejects this" (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus, pg. 111).
One also could point to the Canons of Dort Fifth Head of Doctrine Rejection of Error #7, which says Justifying faith and temporary faith are different in more ways than just duration. Wilkins and the Auburn Ave. church make room for this in a foot note of their statement, but seem to use a lot of language that implies the difference is ‘believing for a while.’ Since Rev. Wilkins claims temporary faith does unite one to Christ, it seems as if he needs to do more to explain the difference.
Thus, the differing view of baptism has led to a differing view of union with Christ, and outright disagreement on whether or not one can fall out of Christ and of grace. Next we will see the different opinions on the Lord’s Supper and the church.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I just finished a great book on politics and governmental philosophies. It is called 8 Ways to Run the Country. I saw it mentioned in World magazine, but it is even better than I had hoped. It is insightful, well written, well documented, and best of all fair to all points of view. Only the barest hints of bias exist outside of the foreword and his conclusion. Even then he does not take sides only warns and gives his view of the future. The book was written prior to the electoral results of 2006, but his analysis of the political landscape were proven right. Shockingly enough he claims the majority of America fall under the Republican tent, and they only lose elections when they get out of control with hubris. A pretty fair assessment of what happened in ‘06.
The premise of the book is that the traditional method of examining the country as left vs. right is insufficient and oversimplified. He demonstrates that left and right can mean either socially or governmentally and being left on one does not mean you have to be left on the other. He speaks of them as ranking/social order (archy) and force (kratos). Thus he creates a grid with the Y-axis being force and X-axis being social order. He then further divides it making a virtual compass, with north being the complete rejection of governmental force, and due east being the acceptance of social rank and order. From due north going clockwise we have Paleolibertarian, Paleoconservative, Theoconservative (east), Neoconservative, Communitarian (south), Progressive, Radical (west), and Individualist. I will endeavor to give a brief overview of each one to whet your appetite for this book.
PaleoLibertarian – This group believes the government exists only to enforce contract laws, protect private property, and defend the nation (only in a defensive manner). It respects other institutions such as church, corporations, family, and the like. Thus, it does not strive to upend those institutions, but embraces them and their morality. Believers in the free market and most of all decentralization of government. Trade is the only foreign policy. Examples: H.L. Mencken and Lew Rockwell. He did not use Tucker Carlson, but I think he fits here.
PaleoConservative – This group has a high regard for Christianity and Western culture in general. It is historical in its thinking. It favors small government, but has a larger role than the PaleoLib in that the PaleoConservative is more willing to protect traditional morality by laws, and it is not a pure capitalist group. They can favor tariffs, trust busting, and other governmental activities. Against open borders and globialization. Examples: Pat Buchanan and late Senator Howard Taft of Ohio.
TheoConservatives – The main concern of this group is social issues such as abortion, marriage, ‘under God’ in the Pledge, and so on. They reject feminism, legalized pornography, and other attacks on moral absolutes. This group is willing to use governmental power. They are not against public education, and would actually like to use government education to have prayers and even moral training. Government funding faith based social programs is a TheoConservative idea. Markets, taxes, governmental size and the like are background issues for this group. Examples: Jerry Fawell, Pat Robertson, Marvin Olasky, and Ralph Reed.
NeoConservatives: This group is pro-business, nationalistic, and very pro-military. It is accepting of the New Deal as a way of life, and is building from there. Thus, expansion of Medicare is acceptable as long as business can benefit. The government is not a problem, but a good tool to use. Nationalism means more than self-defense but an active imperialism. Examples: President Bush (Sr., and Jr.), Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News, National Review, and the majority of Republicans today.
Communitarian: This group is the most pragmatic, and it is centrist. They want to govern by consensus. It wants to do what is best for the community as a whole. Government is the best way to achieve those goals. Any social program is a good idea until it can be proven not to work, and then only after more money was thrown its way. Nationalizing things such as healthcare are big issues for a communitarian. It also favors anti-discrimination policies and equal outcome policies for the less fortunate. Examples: Former Senator Moynihan.
Progressives: This group favors progress, which makes it quite naturally ahistorical. It advocates not only anti-discrimination and equal outcomes, but complete social upheaval of traditional systems. Thus marriage must be redefined, abortion must be on-demand, and religion must be removed from the public square. They use the government heavily to accomplish their goals. Examples: Hillary Clinton, John Dewey, John Stuart Mill.
Radicals: This group opposes all sorts of social rank and authority. It is anti-corporation, anti-free market, anti-religion, and even slightly anti-government in that it feels big business and money corrupt governments. It longs for a day before business raped the land and when people lived in harmony with nature. It can be communistic and even anarchist the further out one goes. Often this group favors pure democracy, and wants it to reach everyone. Examples: Ralph Nader, Green Party.
Individualists: This group is libertarian in its approach to government, but does not share the PaleoLib’s respect for church, family, or even business. They see a slightly bigger role for government in that anti-discrimination laws are usually supported so that every individual has the same opportunity. Moral relativism is what rules the day in this camp. Examples: Ayn Rand, David Boaz (executive VP of the Cato Institute).
I found this book extraordinarily enlightening. I should point out that the book says the bottom three groups (Progressive, Communitarian, and NeoConservative) are pragmatic while the other five are idealistic. Thus, the bottom three usually wins all the elections, control the parties, and set the direction of the country. If you are interested in politics or political theory at all, go out and get this book. I read it in two days.
If it matters, I think I feel into the PaleoConservative category.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
If you are not aware of the significance of today, then allow me to enlighten you. Today Baseball begins. Yes, pitchers and catchers have reported for Spring Training. The only sport that really matters has returned from the cold winter slumber. With it comes the hope of a beautiful spring, a hot summer, and a championship fall. Life is good.
If you are not paying attention to the Pittsburgh Pirates then you should. This is their year to make a playoff run. Now I am not enough of an optimist to think that they will win it all, but I think they have a shot at the NL Central and at least the Wild Card. Yes, the World Series Champion Cardinals are in the central, but they did have a horrible regular season last year. Steroid testing is tougher, so Pujols stats will go down, and pitching hero Jeff Suppan went to play for the Brewers.
But more important than what happened to the other teams in the central is what happened to the Pirates. Last year, for the first time really, the Pirates made good trades for the future. The Pirates now feature NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez and All-Star Jason Bay. This duo will see the addition of Xavier Nady, who came at the end of last year in a trade, and Adam LaRoche, who was acquired in a trade with the Braves in the off-season. . This fills two big holes in right field and first base. It should also add power to the Pirates line-up that sorely needed some last year. Of course do not forget that Ronny Paulino hit over .300 last year in his rookie season for the Pirates. I expect and even better year for Mr. Paulino. Former All-star Jack Wilson rounds out what should be a potent offense and good infield. Ian Snell showed last year he was a top talent, and with Zack Duke the young Pirate pitching staff has a load of options to fill out the rest of the starting rotation. Malhom, Van Benschoten, Burnett, and new additions Tony Armas Jr., and Shawn Chacon might add something as well. The lone sore spot is the bench. The Pirates had one of the worst benches in the majors last year, and I see very little hope to fix it. Ryan Doumit, a young backup catcher, did show some promise, but one bat is not enough. The only ray of hope is the possibility that 29 year old Jody Gerut will be healthy. However, how good he will be even if he is, is still up for some debate.
For the Pirates to win the Central they will need a decent year out of Chris Duffy. Duffy is projected to be the starting center field, an area where the Pirates have struggled for some time. Duffy will need to at least be consistent, and manager Jim Tracy will need to let him use his amazing speed by letting him steal bases. Duffy’s back up, Nate McLouth is also fast, but is not as promising. McLouth was one of those ineffective bench players last year that needs to step his performance in pinch hitting situations.
All in all, keep your eye on the exciting young Pirates. The beginning of a dynasty is here. Let the season begin!
I probably should have posted this first, but better late than never. One of the reasons I want to examine the Federal Vision vs. the Three Forms of Unity is because too many people seemed perplexed as to why there is actually a debate going on. Some think it is an identity crisis rather than a controversy. Others claim it is a good old boy power play. While still others think it is a non-issue.
There have been plenty of examples of poor practices on the part of those against the Federal Vision (perhaps even by me). They are too often referred to as stupid or theologically inept, they do seem to get a raw deal by people raving against them in public, but refusing to follow through with those actions in church courts. However, FV men are often guilty of the same by trying to make this debate into something that it is not, like a power play by power hungry ministers. The FV men too often make it look like no pastor could have any motivation other than a selfish one in opposing the Federal Vision. There are legitimate concerns that their teaching violates both Scripture and the Confessions. So I want to try and walk through this debate with side by side comparison quotes, and hopefully some good interactions in the comments section.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Many have recently wondered why the Federal Vision is such a big controversy in Reformed circles. I admit that the (sometimes) obscure discussions could cause the casual reader to wonder whether or not this debate concerns the essentials of the Christian faith. I believe it does, and this post is my attempt to show where some Federal Vision teaching basically and fundamentally contradicts the Reformed Confessions.
I realize that the ultimate source of truth is not the Confessions, but the Word of God. However, since all sides claim to be faithful to the Confessions, this is a reasonable place to start. Then if anyone would like to argue that the Confessions should be changed, we can get into that discussion. I also will be comparing various Federal Vision positions to the Three Forms of Unity since they are the Confessions with which I am most familiar. I do freely recognize that the majority of the people I will be quoting hold to the Westminster rather than the Three Forms. If anyone wants to argue that there are significant differences between those Reformed Confessions, that might be fun, too. But for the purpose of this post, I will be using the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dordt.
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches:
Q65. The Holy Ghost works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Holy Gospel and confirms it by the use of the Holy Sacraments. (emphasis mine)
Q.74. Yes, for since they [infants] belong to the covenant and people of God, and through the blood of the Christ both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are promised to them no less than to their parents, they are also by Baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be ingrafted into the Christian Church, and distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, in place of which in the New Testament Baptism is appointed.
The Belgic Confession reads:
Article 34, " . . . He, having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, has instituted the sacrament of baptism instead thereof; by which we are received into the Church of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions . . . and serves as a testimony to us that He will forever be our gracious God and Father."
Federal Vision teaches:
Auburn Ave. Presbyterian Church (minister Steve Wilkins) states:
4. . . . When someone is united to the Church by baptism, he is incorporated into Christ and into His body; he becomes bone of Christ’s bone and flesh of His flesh (Eph. 5:30). He becomes a member of "the house, family, and kingdom of God" (WCF 25.2). Until and unless that person breaks covenant, he is to be reckoned among God’s elect and regenerate saints.
7. By baptism, one enters into covenantal union with Christ and is offered all his benefits (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:1ff; 2 Cor. 1:20). As Westminster Shorter Catechism #94 states, baptism signifies and seals "our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace." Baptism in itself does not, however, guarantee final salvation. What is offered in baptism may not be received because of unbelief. Or, it may only be embraced for a season and later rejected (Matt. 13:20-22; Luke 8:13-14). Those who "believe for a while" enjoy blessings and privileges of the covenant only for a time and only in part, since their temporary faith is not true to Christ, as evidenced by its eventual failure and lack of fruit (1 Cor. 10:1ff; Hebrews 6:4-6).
Steve Wilkins said in an interview:
It's like a wedding. There is a transformation that takes place because of the ritual. A single man becomes a married man. He is transformed into a new man, with new blessings and privileges and responsibilities he didn't have before. A similar thing happens at baptism. The one who is baptized is transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, from Adam into Christ, and given new privileges, blessings, and responsibilities he didn't have before
Doug Wilson says “By means of baptism, baptism with water, grace and salvation are conferred on the elect” (pg. 107 Reformed is Not Enough).
Peter Leithart states, “[Baptism] is not a picture of a man being joined in covenant to Christ it is a man being joined in covenant to Christ” (pg. 85-86 Against Christianity).
Notice the difference. The Three Forms teach confirmation of faith, not the creation of faith, in the act of baptism. Thus baptism it is not the forgiveness of sins, but a confirmation of our forgiven status. The Auburn Avenue Church states baptism engrafts one into Christ and offers all the benefits of Christ, which would include forgiveness. Wilson says it "confers" grace and salvation. The Three Forms declares that one is in covenant, and thus deserves baptism as a sign of that reality, while the Federal Vision men say the person comes into covenant with God at his baptism. In other words, baptism communicates that reality rather than testifies to it. Notice also that the Belgic and Heidelberg state baptism joins one to the Church, while the Federal Vision men says it joins one to Christ and all his benefits.
One must conclude that the definition of baptism according to the Federal Vision greatly departs from that of the Three Forms with regard to Baptism. I think we should stop here for now. We can examine more differences later.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I just finished reading Thomas Cahill’s Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe. While this is an engaging title, it leaves much to be desired at the end. The author writes well enough. It is written for a popular audience, and he can even be quite witty. Not only that, but his wit often includes some insight worth pondering. For example,
For Romans, liturgy was not a mystical end in intself. What the Greeks called Sacred Liturgy, the Romans called missa (or mass) after the deacon’s last words, “Ite, missa est” (Go, you are dismissed). If that sounds to you as if their main interest was in getting out of church as soon as possible, you wouldn’t be so very far from the truth. Public Prayer is not an end in itself, only part of the Christian life . . .
That passage gives sample of his wit, and how he tries to interweave it with his beliefs about the differences between the ‘Can do’ Romans and the ‘Mystical’ Eastern Orthodox. So I have no real complaints about his writing style, but simply his ability to prove what he desires. He also includes many side bar comments that are both funny and interesting.
He attempts to show the rise of feminism, art, and science from the church by giving us biographical chapters on important individuals. And while he was moderately successful in showing how Abelard and Aquinas brought about a renewed interest in Aristotle, which led to questions about what is reality, which led to alchemy, which was the beginning of science, he fails in his other objects. He does show, through the life of Francis of Assisi, Dante, and Giotto a change in art, it was hardly a rock solid case. And worse was his attempt to show the rise of feminism. He merely gave accounts of two women, Hildegard (a mystic nun) and Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen of France and later England). While I admit their biographies were interesting, and they may have gone beyond the accomplishments of many women in the field of theology and politics, I failed to see the connection to the Cult of the Virgin Mary he wished the reader to discover. Sadly, that was the beginning of the book as well, so it starts out very disappointing.
Cahill has an entire series on the growth of the modern world from the ancient one. This was the fifth book in the series, but despite more interesting titles like How the Irish Saved Civilzation, I do not think I will be reading the rest of his works. The book is good as long as you do not want him to prove his case laid forth in the sub-title.
I should also note that Cahill takes an evolutionary view of religions, the Bible, and would be in fundamental disagreement with many Christians about the source of their religion. He seems to think that anti-catholicism has distorted our understanding of history, but he would not make a good catholic considering his views on the pope and who wrote the Bible. Do not look for Cahill to be making orthodox arguments about religion in this book.
Monday, February 05, 2007
It is often claimed the Mary was heralded by the Patristics as a woman full of grace, perhaps sinless, and deserving our veneration above other departed saints as the Mother of the Church. This is not the case. While I do freely admit that the word Patristic can be used to cover a variety of ages, I prefer to use it to the pre-nicaean leaders of the church. Let us start with them, and we can move on from there.
In the Apostolic Fathers, as the first century leaders are often called, one sees little to no mention of Mary at all. Clement of Rome leaves her out of his epistle completely. This is a glaring omission for ‘Mary full of grace’ since Clement’s entire letter is about submission, faith, and peace. Clement uses as examples of Christian living Paul, Peter, Moses, Abraham, David, and several martyrs in addition to Jesus Christ. Beyond that he even uses a few women as examples. Rahab gets the most ink as a wonderful example of faith, two women killed by Nero are mentioned, Esther get a paragraph, as does Judith from the Apocrypha. But no Mary. First century writers seem to view Mary as a good believer, but nothing more, much like Protestants today.
Second century writers turn up the first exaltation references to Mary, but even these are over stated. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all try to draw Mary as the anti-type of Eve as Jesus was of Adam. This leads to some grandiose statements about Mary, but the ancient mind often thought more typologically and allegorically then we do today. These men did not have any allusions about Mary being above sin (original or actual). In fact Irenaeus condemns Mary as a sinner for her role in the Wedding of Cana arguing that Jesus rebukes her for her presumptuous pride. Tertullian along with other second century leaders like Origen and later writers like Basil the Great and Chrysostom (4th century) all ascribe to Mary the sins of maternal vanity, anxiety, and doubt and state that the ‘sword’ that pierces Mary’s soul in Luke 2:35 are these sins. Hardly a high view of Mary despite their typological attempts.
The rise of Mary really follows the rise of Monasticism and the encroachment of Neo-platonism into Christianity. The third and fourth centuries see apocryphal texts like the Gospel of the birth of Mary, which were all condemned by the church as a whole, but eventually the teachings of these books would be folded into the Mariology of the Roman church. The asceticism of the monastic orders arising from their neo-platonic view of the flesh exalted Mary as the ultimate example and claimed for her perpetual virginity. This helped give their life-style a bigger backing as well as giving them a patron saint.
The controversies of the 5th century about Christ led to Mary being the Mother of God as a test of orthodoxy. Mother of God was not meant to convey anything at all about Mary, but rather something about the natures of Jesus. However, it would come to be twisted to elevate Mary into something higher than merely human. The first person to actually advocate Mary did not have any actual or original sin was Pelegius, the free-will opponent of Augustine. During this time also one must remember that Rome was destroyed by the uneducated and pagan barbarians. As the centers of learning were destroyed the educated clergy could no longer restrain phrases like ‘Mother of God’ and Mariology became Marialotry took on a life of its own as the masses carried Mary to extremes she was never meant to reach. By the time of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, Mary was installed in her current position for the Roman church. Gregory freely instructed his missionaries to the barbarians not to destroy pagan temples, but rename them and the statues in them. Many pagan temples were to women, and Mary worship was well on its way.
Thus, I do not think Protestantism needs a Mariology at all. Mary is a wonderful example of saintly piety and faith as are many people in the Bible. She should not be avoided for she is the mother of our Lord. But we must remember, as I believe the Reformed tradition does, she is simply one of his disciples no better than any other believer in Christ. This is, after all, exactly what our Lord teaches in Matthew 12:47-50.
‘Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’
Thursday, February 01, 2007
In a perfect storm of events, books, and blogs, I have been recently thinking on the subject of Mary and her place in the Reformed Church. Mr. Bonomo of Reformed Catholicism has posted his thoughts on Mary. His post is provocatively entitled, ‘The Protestant Degradation of Mary.’ The question obviously becomes do Protestants degrade Mary or do Romanists elevate her to a status she does not deserve?
Mr. Bonomo admits up front in his post that the Scholastics went too far. He rejects Mary’s Immaculate Conception and any idea of Mary as co-meidator (which I believe includes prayers to her). In this we agree. So far Rome has gone too far. What then does he reject in Protestantism? He asserts that the Reformed church does not go far enough in her praise perhaps by even refusing to call her blessed. But do Protestants and Reformed Protestants actually refuse to call her blessed? The Scripture itself calls her blessed, and what person would actually think that Mary was not blessed when God chose her to birth the savior? Mr. Bonomo admits that her blessedness derives itself from the savior in her womb, what Protestant church disagrees with that? The Reformed Churches and confessions all accept the third and fourth ecumenical councils that describe Mary as the Theotokos (God-bearer), so where has she been degraded?
The only real difference then between Protestants or at least Reformed Protestants and Mr. Bonomo’s position is the latter’s choice to remain silent or accept the supposed Patristic evidence for a Perpetual Virginity of Mary and the question of actual sin in Mary. Mr. Bonomo would rather not impute sin to her because it is not expressly stated in the Bible she sinned. Mary’s own words proclaim God as her ‘savior’ (Luke 1:47) expressing a sinful state that would need salvation, and that would seem to be enough for me to impute sin to her. The argument is made in the comment section that such a salvation could be for original sin rather than actual sin. But, then who is tainted with original sin, but does not ever actually sin? Would that not create quite a slippery slope theologically? Plus, the bible has no problem imputing sin to all mankind in such statements as ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). I think these Scriptural statements enough for me to rest assured she sinned as the rest of us do.
The Perpetual Virginity is a more troubling idea. The Bible does clearly state Jesus to have brothers and sisters. Matthew 13:55 names his brothers, and Matthew 2:46-50 makes clear it is his mother and his brothers. I see no compelling reason to think that ‘Mary the mother of James and Joses’ in Matthew 27:55 is anything than another name for the blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus as well as James and Joses. This along with the idea that it would have been sinful for Mary to withhold herself from Joseph for their entire marriage is enough to put to rest her perpetual virginity. The troubling aspect of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is why it was so important to Medieval Theologians. It was important because virginity was important. That sexual love was somehow wrong, sinful, or at least a lesser way. Mary was the embodiment of holiness; thus, she must have never partaken of such a sinful thing as sexual love with her husband. This theology is embedded in Romanism still today. Vows of celibacy are still required showing that somehow virginity is a higher holier road. The Roman Church needs the Perpetual Virginity of Mary because if she had relations with Joseph then she is no longer ‘Mary full of grace’, but rather ‘Mary just like the rest of us’.
Kevin Johnson of Reformed Catholicism makes the accusation that lip service may be paid to Mary, but devotion to her does not show up in Reformed churches. Again, I argue that Mary shows up enough. Nothing is denied her that Scriptures give her. I preached from the Magnificat this year, and I heard a Reformed sermon on the radio about Mary this Christmas. Are we really being called to task because not all Reformed Churches think Mother’s Day sermons are appropriate? If we are all agreed that icons of her are forbidden, prayers to her are forbidden, the extra-biblical miracles about her are wrong, then where is the disagreement? What activities exactly are the Reformed Churches not doing for Mary that need to be done? We know for a fact that Enoch was a prophet, a righteous man, did not die and was taken to heaven, but no one ever raises the charge that churches are not devoted enough to him and his life. So what is the difference?
It is my belief that Protestant churches get a bad wrap about Mary. She is given every laud given to her in Holy Writ. Most Reformed churches preach unashamedly through Luke, Matthew and John, all of which necessitate sermons on Mary. The Biblical evidence has to viewed as against her sinlessness and perpetual virginity, plus both are necessary props for the modern Roman dogmas, which these gentlemen appear to reject. The Marioloty of Rome is an actual threat to the gospel by making her a co-redeemer and mediator, but it is the Reformed who seemed to get lectured about Mary more often than not. I believe it is the Protestants who defend Mary, and the Romanist who degrade her by making her into something she is not, one who does not bare the savior, but is a savior.