Personal

Piety

Theology

Edifying Words on Gender and on Civility

Edifying words from theologian Alastair Roberts:

Much of the discourse on gender issues in all quarters has pitted men and women against each other, treating men and women chiefly as competitors or opponents, rather than as loving collaborators. Our differences, I am convinced, should not be seen primarily as differences from each other, but as differences for each other. Both men and women need the space and means to thrive—something that requires recognizing our differing strengths and giving us both the space to play to them—and both sexes can benefit from the thriving and strengthening of the other sex.

I really like that. My wife did, too.

Shifting gears… I liked this from Alastair, too, and I kind of needed it today. He was talking about how people treat Jordan Peterson (and I have seen it), but I’m trying to apply it to how I treat my own enemies. They’re out there.

Strawmanning and carelessly rejecting the work of someone who has made a profound difference in many people’s lives, while it may play well with your own party, is only going to lead to knee-jerk reactions against you by those who aren’t. It is easy to play the partisanship game, but if we are truly to make our society a better place, we need to start trying to win people, not merely win ideological battles against grossly caricatured opponents.

Peterson’s advice to set our own house in order first before we try to change the world is valuable and it applies to all of us in this area. We all need to learn how to think and engage calmly and non-reactively. We all need to seek out sane and reasonable people who disagree with us and to forge charitable, generous, receptive, and attentive conversations with them. If you don’t believe that such people exist, you aren’t looking very hard: there are plenty of them out there. We need to stop playing zero sum games. We all need to learn how to care much more about our neighbours who disagree with us and to consider how we could pursue a good that we could hold in common with them. While we may not care for certain of their viewpoints, it is imperative that we care for them.

This is so hard to do, especially given that some enemies really are malicious—listen to the way David talks about them in his prayer in Psalm 17:

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

They close their hearts to pity;
with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
They have now surrounded our steps;
they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. (Psalm 17:8–11 ESV)

And then there’s what Paul says, in several places, about his theological enemies. Here’s just one, where he warns Timothy against “certain persons” who desire

to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. (1 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I’ve met these people online. I’m not going to succeed at being civil by pretending that such people don’t exist. But I’m not going to succeed by placing everyone in the “wicked-arrogant-violent” category either. By God’s grace I wish to listen well enough (Prov 18:13) to discern who belongs in which category—and whether I myself ever stumble into arrogance. I think, too, that if love “believes all things” as Paul says (1 Cor 13), I’m going to err on the side of assuming good will in people.

God help us all in this social media world.

Culture

Liberalism is Unstable

Liberalism is architecturally unstable. It is a massive edifice that has been slowly, intentionally, and, by design, built without concern for its foundation. It has been built on the assumption that a stable, prosperous, and free society can allow “incentives to do the work of morals”—and that assumption is wrong.

Brian Dijkema on economist Samuel Bowles (and also channeling Michael Sandel)

Serious people are saying this, not just Christian zealots.

Patrick Deneen appears to be saying it, in a book I need to read. And his title, at least, says that liberalism has already failed, not that it is unstable.

My favorite essay on the theme of the emptiness and foundationlessness of liberalism, my favorite essay of any kind and for all time, is Stanley Fish’s “Why We Can’t All Just Get Along” (First Things, Feb. 1996).

Books

KJV

KJV

Eleven Places Where the 1611 KJV Has Textual Critical Notes

A friend of mine sent me these eleven places where the 1611 KJV has textual critical notes, places where the translators or editors felt it important to tell readers when the Greek New Testament manuscripts to which they had access included variant readings. Such notes are not a new invention.

(NT examples HT: Andy Efting)

As best I can tell, having checked David Norton’s New Cambridge Paragraph Bible, there are four places in the Old Testament (1 Chron 1:6, 7; Ezra 2:33; 10:40) and two in the Apocrypha (1 Esdras 5:25; 8:2) where the KJV translators did the same thing.

ChurchLife

Theology

A Great Pro-Protestant Argument against Sacred Tradition from Ross Douthat

Matthew Lee Anderson and Derek Rishmawy just spoke on their Mere Fidelity podcast to my favorite New York Times columnist, the conservative Catholic Ross Douthat, about his new book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, a work critiquing the current pope for his push toward liberalizing the body he leads.

Rishmawy went rather around the block and back again to say it, but I felt he made an excellent point (my transcript, which I spent my whole commute on the bus getting down for you as accurately as I could, removes some verbal clutter):

One thing that struck me is it’s—you’re kind of on the two horns of the ressourcement [the return to the sources that conservatives see in Vatican II] and the aggiornamento [the “getting-with-the-times” updating that liberals like to see in Vatican II]…. The papacy itself is what keeps the thing problematic, because…on a Protestant logic…you can go back to the original sources, whether it’s the text or the fathers and say, “Well, actually, we misread them, or we’re reinterpreting… [We’ve had a] fresh encounter of the Spirit, better Greek exegesis… We actually are reading the texts in a better way, and so we’re more conforming to the Word of God and Sola Scriptura, and [its] final authority—without completely chucking tradition, but just setting it in a secondary role and we can have some sort of reform according to the Word of God based on the sources, that goes in a more updating way.”

Now the liberal mainline usually went way beyond that and actually tried to reform the text itself. And it’s not even clean Protestantism. But…you have that impulse to reform, that impulse to update. But [given] the theology of the papacy, the theology of [the] magisterial authority of the church and what it’s already said—…if the liberals in the communion win…using the power of the papacy, they have to concede the Protestant point, that the previous papacy can get things wrong… It can be reformed according to some revelation—the Word of God or some sense of the Spirit. Or [if] they lose, the papacy continues unchanging, [and] all of its statements are in an unbroken line of continuity with only internal development that only looks like it’s been changing…. It seems like the Reformation-era issues are still in play.

In other words, the liberals in the Catholic Church have a dilemma: if the pope gets to contradict Catholic tradition in the arena of sexual ethics (etc.), then they have to admit that popes can be wrong. Later in the interview Douthat says basically the same thing: Catholic liberals don’t appear to recognize that if the pope radically changes the tradition, he undercuts his own authority, because (and this is Mark Ward, not Ross Douthat:) popes create tradition and tradition creates popes. The two are part of an indissoluble system.

But Douthat’s immediate answer to Rishmawy was this:

One thing that’s interesting to me about watching this play out is that ten or fifteen years ago, if you talked to a slightly smug conservative Catholic… they might say to you something like, “Look, the great weakness of Protestants in resisting the spirit of the age is that you don’t have a papacy and the authority of tradition, you just have the Bible itself. And the Bible in the hands of modern interpreters is going to lead to modern interpretations unless you have some sort of institutional guarantor of continuity with the past. And so, you foolish Protestants, you need a pope. You need the magisterium. Otherwise, your more liberal brethren are just going to run with their liberal interpretations and no one’s going to be able to stop them.” That’s what the smug Catholic would’ve said.

But you could make now…a counterargument, which is that in effect the idea that the church has, going back to John Henry Newman but arguably the figures before that, this idea of development of doctrine, this idea that the interpreters of doctrine—the pope, ecumenical councils, the church, and so on—that there can be what look like changes of various kinds but are in fact the full truths of the Church being understood in an unfolding way. That idea can become a kind of intellectual license for creative reinterpretation, in a way that Protestants with their sola scriptura sense don’t feel license to do.

When Douthat appeals to tradition and the Bible, he says he now has liberal Catholics telling him, “Don’t be such a Protestant—don’t be a fundamentalist.”

Which just goes to show ya. Everybody’s a fundamentalist. Everybody has an intellectual baseline, a bedrock of axioms lying directly on top of the hot magma of their loves. If you love the zeitgeist, your thinking will fall in line. If you love the Lord, you’ll listen to his words. Building institutions to promote and defend the truth is important and good. But it will never fully work. Those institutions themselves are shot through with the effects of the fall, with people who love idols.

Sometimes I have wished for a pope. A buddy pope who tells my theological opponents, “U R WRONG!” with cool-looking encyclicals on parchment. A tough pope who keeps me in line, too, when I need it. A biblical pope who is just enforcing Christ’s words. And as Douthat points out in the interview, Catholic tradition has long held a line on divorce that (many? most?) Protestants have let go. But if Catholic tradition isn’t sufficient to keep Catholics from entertaining the idea that maybe men can marry men, then what is it good for? What good is it to have a pope? Sola scriptura has, perhaps, given us mainline Protestantism (I’d rather say people have twisted it into mainline views). But surely Catholic tradition has given us liberal Catholicism—and a bunch of other accretions. I’ll stick with my sola scriptura, norma normans non normata, ad fontes, ressourcesment. Christ will build his church. I don’t need a mediator or a magisterium besides those prescribed in Scripture.