Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Kloha Isn't the Problem: Inspiration, Inerrancy, Preservation, and other stuff.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion in the interweb about an unpublished paper written by Jeffrey Kloha. The paper is about the release of NA28 and how it relates to the current popular understanding of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Some have worried that this paper will result in a battle for the Bible similar to what the LCMS experienced in the 1970's. I believe what happened in the 1970's was really the result of what happened in the 1880's and that the major doctrinal shift was never really addressed.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, Lutheran and Calvinist theologians claimed that God preserved His Word in the church and that the text they had in their hands was the same take given to the Apostles. Rome was arguing that the Greek and Hebrew texts were corrupt and that the Vulgate preserved the authentic text. The Reformers were well aware of textual variants but still held to the belief that God's providential care preserved the Greek and Hebrew texts. The autographs served as a sort of touchstone for the authority of the extant manuscripts. Click here for further information regarding the historic Protestant position.

Within the wider body of Protestantism, the shift away from this position began in the 1880's. In the 1880's, Westcott and Hort published their Greek New Testament based on theories that continue to this day. There have been further developments since that time but the idea that the church was the corrupter rather than the preserver of the text remains a foundational principle. A reading which differs from the reading adopted and transmitted by the church is considered to be more likely to represent the original text. This is really an Anabaptist understanding of church history being applied to the Scriptures.

B.B. Warfield was educated in the methodology of Westcott and Hort and found himself in a battle with liberalism. When liberals began to point out "contradictions" in the Biblical text, Warfield would claim that these "contradictions" did not exist in the original autographs. Since nobody had the original autographs it was impossible to prove him wrong. Warfield also popularized the use of the term "inerrancy" which was originally an astronomical term used to refer to fixed stars. On the surface, Warfield seems to have done an excellent job in defending Protestant orthodoxy against liberal criticism. However, this radical move by Warfield resulted in a the placement of authority in something nobody has. Within Presbyterianism, Warfield shifted authority away from infallible apographa (texts we actually have) to inerrant autographa (texts that nobody has). Belief in God's providential care of the text was replaced with faith in the academy to reconstruct the autographs.

William Arndt popularized Warfield's position among Lutherans in the 1920's. It doesn't take too much imagination to see how placing all authority in a text that nobody has could ultimately lead to something like the Jesus Seminar where people vote on what Jesus said. The readings in Nestle-Aland are sometimes decided by a three to two vote. If the church is not the preserver but the corruptor of the text, how do we know that they didn't significantly corrupt the text prior to the earliest manuscripts that we have in our possession?
Westcott and Hort were very optimistic in being able to reconstruct the original autographs but modern textual criticism does not share that optimism. The editors behind NA28 are openly stating that they are not trying to reconstruct what the Apostles wrote but rather the source text that explains the many variant readings. Anyone who has kept up on this field of study knows that this has been going on for quite some time but NA28 is the first time this has been openly stated. NA27 adopted at least one reading (Acts 16:12) that was a textual emendation with no manuscript support. At what point will all the conjectures stop? Why should they ever stop if the church is the corrupter of the text?

If the assumptions that stand behind Nestle Aland text are applied to the Old Testament, I don't see how anyone can have any confidence in the Old Testament text at all. It's true that we have record of a very controlled method of copying the text but this process was not in place until a very long time after the texts were originally written. We also have evidence of a variety of different textual traditions that pop up in the New Testament. Most of the time, Jesus and the Apostles don't quote from the textual tradition behind the Hebrew Masoretic text but the tradition stands behind the LXX. Sometimes they do quote from the tradition that stands behind the MT and sometimes they quote from an unknown textual tradition. Jesus and the Apostles seem completely unconcerned with trying to reconstruct the original autographs. Instead, they quote the commonly used text in their day as God's inspired Word. When Paul said that all Scripture is God-breathed he wasn't referring to the original autographs. When Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the Torah will pass away, he wasn't referring to the original autographs. He was referring to a Torah people really have.

I'm not arguing for a return to the Textus Receptus or even the use of every reading that has the fancy M next to it in Nestle-Aland. Instead, it seems that the church should take its task of preserving the text seriously and use those readings that have lived and breathed in the church, especially the lectionary readings in the Eastern Church. The 1904 Antoniades edition of the Greek New Testament is a good starting point although it has its own peculiar flaws. The Church should honor father and mother and make use of those readings that were preserved for us by the saints who have gone before us rather than acting like disobedient children who think we know more than our parents. Why should we presume to think that we know better about how to choose the correct reading than those who made the textual decisions in the first place? We can find localized examples of intentional corruptions of the text but the vast majority of the time people simply copied what was put in front of them or read to them making small, unintentional mistakes along the way. The idea of a massive, geographically widespread corruption of the text by the church smells like something you might see on the History Channel. Right now, we're waiting every few years to see what text the academy will give us and waiting in anticipation to see what readings our favorite commentator will adopt. The academy and the commentators are giving up hope. It's time to return to a belief that God preserved His Word and knows what He's doing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Theology is For Constipation: Antinomian Homesick Blues

In both Calvinist and Lutheran circles, as the church goes through its liturgical menstrual cycle, various charges of antinomianism flow forth. In some circles this flow continues for 12  years. I would like to suggest some ways that we can better communicate with one another and stop the hemorrhaging. I'm going to limit my comments to confessionally Lutheran and Calvinist groups. I'm not going to deal with liberals or any of the various Baptist groups. All advice is unsolicited. I am not a pastor and hold no authority over anyone reading this.

Lutheranism experienced two major antinomian controversies in the 16th Century. Do you recall the most famous antinomian of all? Johannes Agricola (I prefer to call him Farmer John) taught that the Law should be used in the courts but has no place in the church and that repentance only comes about through the hearing of the Gospel. Luther and Melanchthon attacked. Farmer John recanted. Farmer John then sued Luther but ran away before trial. After Luther's death, Melanchthon and the Philippists began to teach their own brand of antinomianism. They taught that the Gospel alone works repentance, said that the Gospel itself is a moral law, denied the third use of the law as a guide for the life of the Christian, and turned Jesus into a new Moses.

Antinomianism is bad but it's hard to pull off. Typically, whenever our sinful human nature makes up its own religion it's legalism about 99% of the time. You can turn on your local Christian radio station and I can almost guarantee you that you will find plenty of legalism but antinomianism is nowhere to be found. However, the devil is always convincing us that the big problem is antinomianism. The Apostle Paul was accused of antinomianism. If nobody ever accuses you of being an antinomian you're probably a legalist. Keep in mind that legalism does not hold to a higher view of the Law but a lower view of the Law. The Pharisees were legalists. They devised various ways to make the Law doable and kept people from feeling the full force of the Law. The Law always kills. The Legalist wants to distract you from the fact that you are not keeping the Law and give you 7 easy steps that you can follow to keep the Law.

In confessional Calvinist circles anyone who holds to something that remotely resembles the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel gets accused of being an antinomian by those who don't. Part of the problem in confessional Calvinist circles is that we are dealing with consensus documents that were written to embrace a whole host of views on different topics but usually get interpreted more narrowly by different people within Calvinism. The Lutheran Law/Gospel position is one of many possible positions within confessional Calvinism. John Frame is opposed to the Lutheran Law/Gospel distinction. He doesn't say that in and of itself it is antinomian but worries that those who hold to it aren't sensitive enough to the dangers of antinomianism. Strangely enough though, John Frame will tell you that the Law is the Gospel and that the Gospel is Law which is one of the characteristics of Melanchthon's antinomianism. Among some of the R2K folks (if you don't know what this means you don't need to worry abou it) I have noticed a certain antinomianism when it comes to civil law but it would seem better to reacquaint such people with historic two kingdoms theology rather than just throw out the overused and abused title of antinomian. Words lose their meaning if we just throw them around especially when the word gets thrown around in reference to characteristics that aren't actually antinomian.

The situation is even stranger in Lutheran circles. I find pastors both accusing and being accused that I have a great deal of respect for. In Lutheran circles the attacks seem less direct. People generally are not called out by name. I think those making the accusations may be hoping to teach without making an example of someone but instead it just leads to confusion. Some people think they are being attacked when they might not be. Some seem to look with suspicion at anyone who reads Forde or Capon. And I think often the charge of "antinomianism" is mislabeled. If an error is mislabeled it's easy for people to dismiss it even if there could be some legitimate issues that need to be worked out. It doesn't really do much good to just keep telling someone who holds to Keynesian economics that he is a communist. I love Gottesdienst and I think they have a good point that should be made but I think it's mislabeled. I love Jordan Cooper's blog and I think he identifies some real issues but you can't just throw everything under the title of "antinomianism."

Words mean things and if you are accusing people of something you need to call a thing what it is. To call it "soft antinomianism" or to say that it shows "antinomian tendencies" gives you the ability to throw almost anything under the title of "antinomianism." When I was a Calvinist I found it irritating to see the various lists that would circulate around the internet that would tell you what it means to be a "hyper-Calvinist." Many of the things that would get listed were positions that the Calvinist confessions allowed for.

There's quite a bit of debate in Lutheran circles about whether or not you should include exhortations to good works after you've given people the Gospel. One party says you should, the other party says that you shouldn't burden someone with the Law after giving them the Gospel and since the person has already been told that they have broken God's Law earlier they don't need to be told not to do it again. But the strange thing is that if you listen to the sermons of both parties they are often very similar. You can find a number of very favorable sermon reviews that Todd Wilken has done of Will Weedon sermons and then you can Google and find a number of places where they are arguing about this topic on the internet. I think the pro-exhortation after Gospel people have the Pauline letters on their side but I don't hear them practicing it very often. It would seem much better to me for them to simply write sermons that have this exhortation at the end and then present them to the anti-exhortation folks for review and then have some conversation about the way they structured the sermon. When people hear anyone arguing for a "Law-Gospel-Law" structure, hundreds of bad sermons instantly pop into their heads. I've heard some really bad sermons where the pastor basically said, "You broke God's Law and you are worthy of God's punishment. The Good News is that Jesus paid for your sin." Then the pastor proceeded to gum everyone to death by trying to preach the third use of the law because that's what he really wanted to do all along.

So, first of all, call the thing what it is. Secondly, lead by example. Thirdly, never, never, never describe the problem as a lack of balance. The problem is not a lack of balance. You cannot preach the Law or the Gospel in a way that is too radical. Neither needs to be toned down. I recently listened to a Reformed Forum podcast interview with Dr. Mark Jones who wrote a book called Antinomianism. Both in the interview and from what I've read in the book, Jones says the problem is balance. Strangely enough, his solution seems to be the mixture of Law and Gospel found among the Philippists that was itself a form of antinomianism. Glawspel is not the answer. Dr. Jones views Luther as inconsistent and says he made some statements that were to extreme. However, if you read the writings of the Apostle Paul, Paul made extreme statements and said some very paradoxical things. The problem is that people have found ways to resolve the paradoxes and squeeze Paul into their theologies. Paul says that Jesus became sin for us. Theologians find ways to interpret Paul so that he didn't really mean that but Luther milks it for all it's worth. Pastors should preach as Paul did. The Law should be preached as if there is no Gospel and the Gospel should be preached as if there is no Law. And Luther even had exhortations at the end of many of his sermons. I think Luther and the Epistles of Paul provide excellent examples of what preaching should be like. If there is an absence of an exhortation the problem is the absence of the exhortation not some lack of moderation.

I have spent most of the time in this post complaining about the accusers and gave links to specific examples of the accusers but you can read the responses of those who believe they are being accused on those blog posts. There are egos on both sides. There are insecurities involved. I hate to see some of the pastors that I have the most respect for eating one another and acting childish. I really each side can learn from the other but unless people change the way they communicate it's not going to happen.