Saturday, 19 April 2014

How We Should Believe in Christ's Descent Into Hell

"And since even in the ancient Christian teachers of the Church, as well as in some among our teachers, dissimilar explanations of the article concerning the descent of Christ to hell are found, we abide in like manner by the simplicity of our Christian faith [comprised in the Creed], to which Dr. Luther in his sermon, which was delivered in the castle at Torgau in the year 1533, concerning the descent of Christ to hell, has pointed us, where we confess: I believe in the Lord Christ, God's Son, our Lord, dead, buried, and descended into hell. For in this [Confession] the burial and descent of Christ to hell are distinguished as different articles; and we simply believe that the entire person, God and man, after the burial descended into hell, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his might. We should not, however, trouble ourselves with high and acute thoughts as to how this occurred; for with our reason and our five senses this article can be comprehended as little as the preceding one, how Christ is placed at the right hand of the almighty power and majesty of God; but we are simply to believe it and adhere to the Word [in such mysteries of faith]. Thus we retain the substance [sound doctrine] and [true] consolation that neither hell nor the devil can take captive or injure us and all who believe in Christ."

Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Art. IX Christ’s Descent To Hell

--+--

"While according to medieval theologians the descent into hell was regarded as an act by which Christ, with His soul only, entered the abode of the dead; and while according to Calvin and the Reformed generally the descent into hell is but a figurative expression for the sufferings of Christ, particularly of His soul, on the cross, Luther, especially in a sermon delivered 1533 at Torgau, taught in accordance with the Scriptures that Christ the God-man,body and soul, descended into hell as Victor over Satan and his host.With special reference to Ps. 16, 10 and Acts 2, 24. 27, Luther explained: After His burial the whole person of Christ, the God-man, descended into hell, conquered the devil, and destroyed the power of hell and Satan. The mode and manner, however, in which this was done can no more be comprehended by human reason than His sitting at the right hand of the Father, and must therefore not be investigated, but believed and accepted in simple faith. It is sufficient if we retain the consolation that neither hell nor devil are any longer able to harm us. Accordingly, Luther did not regard the descent into hell as an act belonging to the state of humiliation, by which He paid the penalty for our sins, but as an act of exaltation, in which Christ, as it were, plucked for us the fruits of His sufferings which were finished when He died upon the cross.
Luther's sermon at Torgau graphically describes the descent as a triumphant march of our victorious Savior into the stronghold of the dismayed infernal hosts. From it we quote the following: "Before Christ arose and ascended into heaven, and while yet Iying in the grave, He also descended into hell in order to deliver also us from it, who were to be held in it as prisoners ... However I shall not discuss this article in a profound and subtle manner, as to how it was done or what it means to 'descend into hell,' but adhere to the simplest meaning conveyed by these words, as we must represent it to children and uneducated people.""Therefore whoever would not go wrong or stumble had best adhere to the words and understand them in a simple way as well as he can. Accordingly, it is customary to represent Christ in paintings on walls, as He descends, appears before hell, clad in a priestly robe and with a banner in His hand, with which He beats the devil and puts him to flight, takes hell by storm, and rescues those that are His. Thus it was also acted the night before Easter as a play for children. And I am well pleased with the fact that it is painted, played, sung and said in this manner for the benefit of simple people.We, too, should let it go at that, and not trouble ourselves with profound and subtle thoughts as to how it may have happened, since it surely did not occur bodily inasmuch as He remained in the grave three days."
Luther continues: "However since we cannot but conceive thoughts and images of what is presented to us in words, and unable to think of or understand anything without such images, it is appropriate and right that we view it literally, just as it is painted, that He descends with the banner, shattering and destroying the gates of hell; and we should put aside thoughts that are too deep and incomprehensible for us." "But we ought ... simply to fix and fasten our hearts and thoughts on the words of the Creed,which says:'I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God,dead,buried, and descended into hell,' that is, in the entire person,God and man, with body and soul, undivided, 'born of the Virgin, suffered died, and buried'; in like manner I must not divide it here either, but believe and say that the same Christ, God and man in one person, descended into hell but did not remain in it; as Ps. 16, 10 says ofHim: 'Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell nor suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.' By the word 'soul,' He, in accordance with the language of the Scripture, does not mean, as we do, a being separated from the body, but the entire man, the Holy One of God, as He here calls Himself. But how it may have occurred that the man lies there in the grave, and yet descends into hell-that, indeed, we shall and must leave unexplained and uncomprehended; for it certainly did not take place in a bodily and tangible manner although we can only paint and conceive it in a coarse and bodily way and speak of it in pictures." "Such, therefore is the plainest manner to speak of this article, that we may adhere to the words and cling to this main point, that for us, through Christ, hell has been torn to pieces and the devil's kingdom and power utterly destroyed, for which purpose He died, was buried, and descended,-so that it should no longer harm or overwhelm us, as He Himself says, Matt. 16, 18 ... "
F. Bente, Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions (CPH, St Louis, 1965)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Church: Neither a Gospel-Free Outrage Machine nor a Gospel-Free Affirmation Machine

In days gone by it used to be said, partly in jest, that Lutherans worshipped like Catholics but preached like Baptists. These days, alas, it's just as likely to be the other way around...(think about it for a while). Be that as it may, an evangelical Baptist who subscribes to the formal and material principles of the Lutheran Reformation - namely that scripture alone is the sole infallible authority in the church and that the justification of the sinner before God is by faith alone and on account of Christ alone - is, unlike a Roman Catholic, at least on the same page as a confessional Lutheran on those basic pillars of the Faith, even if they don't yet understand that Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper are Gospel sacraments and not mere symbolic "ordinances". The Lutheran is compelled to observe that evangelical Baptist persistence in that error is a result of a failure to thoroughly apply those Reformation principles to their theology, which is, to modify Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper's famous phrase, an infelicitous inconsistency.

But, those doctrinal errors notwithstanding, Baptists who have tapped into the mother lode of Lutheranism can exhibit a passion for the Gospel that Lutherans can recognise as authentic and be encouraged by. Take a recent address by Southern Baptist preacher and theologian, Russell Moore, delivered at The King's College, an upmarket evangelical Christian college (i.e. university in British and Commonwealth terms) in New York City, upon the occasion of the installation of a friend and colleague of his as president there, an excerpt of which follows. Acutely sensitive to the dangers posed to a college in such a setting of elitism and the twin follies of cultural warfare and/or cultural accommodation, Moore said this to them, including the sage counsel that while the church - an by extension its schools - doesn't exist to fight culture wars, neither does it exist to bless pagan culture (hence the post title):

"Evangelicalism always faces the temptation to listen to the call of that old zombie Harry Emerson Fosdick, who never stays long in his crypt and often walks forward with Mr. Rockefeller’s money brimming from his pockets. Fosdick’s temple stands across the city from where we are tonight, a monument to what some would tell us that we need. The temptation is to barter away what the world around us finds embarrassing about the faith we have received. In a previous era, that was the miraculous—virgin births and empty tombs. In our era, it is usually a Christian sexual ethic. This never works, which is why, despite Mr. Jefferson’s predictions of the future, the Unitarians have not inherited the earth.

But, more importantly, this impulse is an act of violence. It leaves people in sin and death. If there is no Judgment Seat, or if Jesus and his apostles are inaccurate in what we will give an account for there, then why concern ourselves with Christianity at all, much less Christian higher education? But if there is a Judgment Seat, a Lake of Fire, a New Jerusalem, then those that would mute the hard truths of the call to repentance are worse than merely unfaithful. They are the spiritual equivalent of human traffickers, promising guilty souls safe passage over the River Jordan, but leaving them to die in the desert.

…Our response to the challenges around us should not be a dour, curmudgeonly evangelicalism. The gloominess and fretfulness so many evidence is more than defeatism, it is a sign of wavering belief in the promises of Jesus himself. Carl Henry reminded Greg Thornbury and me of that truth. We were lamenting the current state of evangelicalism, two young doctoral students to the greatest evangelical theologian of the twentieth century. We lamented the pragmatism, the hucksterism, the liberalizing tendencies, and we asked, “Does evangelical Christianity have a future at all.” Dr. Henry looked at us as though we were crazy.  “Of course gospel Christianity has a future,” Dr. Henry said. “But the gospel Christians who will lead it may well still be pagans right now.”

Dr. Henry told us that we were acting as though Christian leadership were a genetic dynasty, complete with ruling families. And yet, he told us, God never built his church that way. Saul of Tarsus was a murderer. Augustine of Hippo was a player. C.S. Lewis was an atheist. Chuck Colson was a hatchet man. The gospel not only saved these leaders, but God put them in the leadership of his church. They seemed to come out of nowhere, with shady pasts and uncertain futures. And none of us would be here, apart from their labors. We had forgotten what Jesus told the chief priests. “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” And why? It is because in the preaching of John, ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” The difference is the gospel as the power of God unto salvation. This is the burden of The King’s College, in a world of uneasy consciences. This college must exist to preserve and to engage a gospel for the sake of those who are not yet aware of it, or not yet interested in it, or perhaps even as of yet openly hostile to it.

The answer is not what some would prescribe, the sort of selective universalism that refuses to call to repentance in those areas of sin deemed untouchable by the ambient culture. The answer is not the angry warrior spirit that seeks to humiliate our opponents. The church of Christ Jesus cannot be a gospel-free outrage machine. And the church of Christ Jesus cannot be a gospel-free affirmation machine.

That’s why The King’s College should never be merely a finishing school for the evangelical elite. Every classroom and every lecture should serve as a reminder that the next Augustine might be wasting away on heroin right now on the streets of Manhattan. The next Corrie Ten Boom might be a sex-worker in a darkened alley right now. The gospel can change, not just for their sake but also for ours. The King’s College must exist for them. That’s why The King’s College must fight for doctrinal orthodoxy. An almost gospel won’t do. And that’s why The King’s College must ever struggle to retain intellectual rigor. This academic prowess is an act of love, equipping these brilliant students to push back the arguments behind which guilt consciences hide, in order that they may hear the voice that calls “Adam, where are you?”

Yes, we face difficult times, every generation of the church does. But we also face unprecedented opportunities. People walking past on the streets outside us, many of them will be burned over by the unkept promises of the utopianism of the Sexual Revolution and of Faustian libertarianism. You must study, you must labor, to preserve something old, something ever new, not just for us, and not just for our children, but for our future brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom may hate us right now. But many of them may one day lead us, by the power of the Spirit that calls to life that which was dead.”

This is the majority of the text (slightly re-formatted for ease of reading); if you want to read the entire thing go to Dr Moore's blog.

Well said, Dr Moore. You give Lutherans much to think about in regard to the purpose of the church and of a Christian education, which is an area that, at least in Australia, we need to re-think. One can only hope and pray that similar things might be heard at the commencement services of Lutheran schools and colleges.

Now, Russell, about baptism...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Journal of Lutheran Mission

I'm always on the lookout for free resources that poor Lutheran pastors (and all the poor people of God!) can make use of (see free resources links to the right), so I'm happy to recommend the new Journal of Lutheran Mission. Tolle lege - take up and read! And don't forget for bookmark the site for future issues of what promises to be a very stimulating journal applying Lutheran confessional theology to the much discussed but misunderstood topic of "mission".

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Slaughter of Innocents

"It is what doesn’t shock us that is now so shocking. Not all that long ago, news that aborted babies were being burned in furnaces to heat hospitals would have caused a major national storm. But in our callous, distracted and unimaginative society, it passed by like a momentary gust of cold wind on a warm day, faintly disturbing but swiftly forgotten...We’re told it’s been stopped. But the supply of human fuel has not halted.
What has happened to us that we no longer really care, either about the massacre of the innocents that goes on day and night in our midst, or about the disposal of human remains as if they were rubbish? Lots of people must have known, and found it convenient. But in this matter we are really a bit like the respectable inhabitants of Hitler’s Germany, who vaguely noticed that people were loaded on to eastbound trains and didn’t come back, were concerned for a moment and then returned to their normal lives."  Read it all here at Peter Hitchens's blog.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Difficulty of Evangelism for Calvinists

For Reformed Calvinists their doctrine of election is a thing of objective beauty derived by logical deduction from the principle of God's sovereignty over all creation. But for non-Calvinists it is more like a dark, labyrinthine maze which leads to a God who, despite sending His Son to ostensibly save the world (John 3:16), actually intends only to save some, having already decided before the Fall into sin to condemn a goodly portion of humankind to eternal damnation for the sake of His own glory. Technically, this view is called Supralapsarianism, and a presentation of it can be found in John Calvin:
"For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or to death"
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III 21:5.
Some Reformed theologians softened the starkness of Calvin's doctrine by positing that God's elective decree to save some and pass by others logically took place after the Fall, a view known as Infralapsarianism. This was regarded as more adequately preserving the goodness and justice of God, since he was only passing by guilty sinners who deserved eternal death anyway. But the distinction is academic, since both schools of Reformed thought deny the Biblical doctrine of universal grace, that is, that God loves all people and desires their salvation (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:3-4; note that universal grace does not equate to universal salvation). Thus the Lutheran Francis Pieper could write:    
"The Calvinistic Reformed bodies not only deny, but, in part, bitterly attack the gratia universalis (universal grace - Acro.) and teach the particularism of saving grace in its strictest form: God does not love all men, Christ did not redeem all men, the Holy Ghost does not desire to convert all men. The division into supralapsarians and infralapsarians does not touch the question of universal grace. Both groups deny it. The supralapsarians teach that God has decreed to create a part of mankind unto damnation. The infralapsarians teach that God has decreed to leave a part of mankind in the damnation incurred by all men through the Fall, or to pass them by with His grace."
Francis Pieper, in Christian Dogmatics (Eng. trans. St Louis, 1951) volume II, 'The Saving Grace of God', pp. 24-25.
Lutherans have, more or less since the definitive divergence of views on the sacramental union in the Lord's supper at the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, regarded Reformed theology as harbouring a strong element of rationalism which seeks to fill, through human reason, what they perceive as lacunae in Holy Scripture, a tendency which actually leads to the denial of clear teaching passages (sedes doctrinae) of Holy Writ. Lutherans point to several misconceived Reformed doctrines as a result of this tendency, classic cases being the already mentioned doctrine of the sacramental union in the Lord's supper and the question "cur alii praes aliis?", why are some saved but not others? With an eye on the development of the Reformed doctrine of election and in order to stave off any controversy within German Lutheranism, the Lutheran doctrine of election was set forth definitively in the Formula of Concord (1579):
 "The eternal election or ordination of God to eternal life Is not to be considered in God's secret, inscrutable counsel in such a bare manner as though it comprised nothing further, or as though nothing more belonged to it, and nothing more were to be considered in it, than that God foresaw who and how many were to be saved, who and how many were to be damned, or that He only held a [sort of military] muster, thus: "This one shall be saved, that one shall be damned; this one shall remain steadfast [in faith to the end], that one shall not remain steadfast."
For from this notion many derive and conceive strange, dangerous, and pernicious thoughts, which occasion and strengthen either security and impenitence or despondency and despair, so that they fall into troublesome thoughts and [for thus some think, with peril to themselves, nay, even sometimes] say: Since, before the foundation of the world was laid, Eph. 1:4, God has foreknown [predestinated] His elect to salvation, and God's foreknowledge [election] cannot fail nor be hindered or changed by any one, Is. 14:27; Rom. 9:19, therefore, if I am foreknown [elected] to salvation, nothing can injure me with respect to it, even though I practise all sorts of sin and shame without repentance, have no regard for the Word and Sacraments, concern myself neither with repentance, faith, prayer, nor godliness; but I shall and must be saved nevertheless, because God's foreknowledge [election] must come to pass. If, however, I am not foreknown [predestinated], it helps me nothing anyway, even though I would occupy myself with the Word, repent, believe, etc.; for I cannot hinder or change God's foreknowledge [predestination].
And indeed also to godly hearts, even when, by God's grace they have repentance, faith, and a good purpose [of living in a godly manner], such thoughts occur as these: If you are not foreknown [predestinated or elected] from eternity to salvation, everything [your every effort and entire labor] is of no avail. This occurs especially when they view their weakness and the examples of those who have not persevered [in faith to the end], but have fallen away again [from true godliness to ungodliness, and have become apostates].
To this false delusion and [dangerous] thought we should oppose the following clear argument, which is sure and cannot fail, namely: Since all Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is to serve, not for [cherishing] security and impenitence, but for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 2 Tim. 3:16; also, since everything in God's Word has been prescribed to us, not that we should thereby be driven to despair, but that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope, Rom. 15:4, therefore it is without any doubt in no way the sound sense or right use of the doctrine concerning the eternal foreknowledge of God that either impenitence or despair should be occasioned or strengthened thereby. Accordingly, the Scriptures teach this doctrine in no other way than to direct us thereby to the [revealed] Word, Eph. 1:13; 1 Cor. 1:7; exhort to repentance, 2 Tim. 3:16; urge to godliness, Eph. 1:14; John 15:3; strengthen faith and assure us of our salvation, Eph. 1:13; John 10:27f ; 2 Thess. 2:13f.
Therefore, if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably concerning eternal election, or the predestination and ordination of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the bare, secret, concealed, inscrutable foreknowledge of God, but how the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true Book of Life, is revealed to us through the Word, 14] namely, that the entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together; as Paul treats and has explained this article Rom. 8:29f ; Eph. 1:4f , as also Christ in the parable, Matt. 22:1ff , namely, that God in His purpose and counsel ordained [decreed]:
1. That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless [innocency] obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.
2. That such merit and benefits of Christ shall be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.
3. That by His Holy Ghost, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He will be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith.
4. That He will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life.
5. That He will also sanctify in love those who are thus justified, as St. Paul says, Eph. 1:4.
6. That He also will protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, and rule and lead them in His ways, raise them again [place His hand beneath them], when they stumble, comfort them under the cross and in temptation, and preserve them [for life eternal].
7. That He will also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work which He has begun in them, if they adhere to God's Word, pray diligently, abide in God's goodness [grace], and faithfully use the gifts received.
8. That finally He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified."
The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Art. XI Election, paras 9-22. Available in full here
 Now that's good news!


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

C. S. Lewis on Liturgy


The reputation of C. S. Lewis as a lay theologian waxes and wanes. Certainly one wouldn't...couldn't endorse all of his opinions, which can sometimes be very idiosyncratic (after all, he wasn't trained as theologian). He is at his most valuable, I have found, as a purveyor of common sense reflection on church life from the perspective of the educated lay person, and that is a type of rare voice that clergy need to heed. Professional clergy can easily become cocooned, as it were, in their own rarefied world. Lewis's greatest value to clergy is that he can jolt one out of that world, as he does in these quotes on liturgy (personally I'm very close to Lewis here, so maybe I'm an atypical clergyman):     

"Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don't go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best -- if you like, it "works" best -- when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping."
Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer


"I would ask the clergy to believe that we, laymen, are more interested in orthodoxy and less interested in liturgiology as such than they can easily imagine...  What we laymen fear is that the deepest doctrinal issues should he tacitly and implicitly settled by what seem to he, merely changes in liturgy.  A man who is wondering whether the fare set before him is food or poison is not reassured by being told that the course is now restored to its traditional place in the menu or that the tureen is of the Sarum [i.e. old Salisbury] pattern.  We laymen are ignorant and timid.  Our lives are ever in our hands, the avenger of blood is on our heels and of each of us his soul may this night he required.  Can you blame us if the reduction of grave doctrinal issues to merely liturgical issues fills us with something like terror? 
...I submit that the relation [between doctrine and liturgy-Acro.] is healthy when liturgy expresses the belief of the Church, morbid when liturgy creates in the people by suggestion beliefs which the Church has not publicly professed, taught and believed."
God in the Dock

“Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” 
Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer


Monday, 24 February 2014

Beware of the Compassionate

From Crisis magazine: “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness.  And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.”  — Flannery O’Connor
Beware of the compassionate. Catholic author Flannery O’Connor wrote shocking stories. Each tale climaxed at “a moment of grace” when the main character, jolted by the sudden realization of their false “compassionate,” self-serving life, was forced to choose—or reject—truth.  Modern Western cultures have had a jolt. On February 13, the Belgian parliament voted 86 to 44 in favor of a bill that permits euthanasia for very young children.  We can no longer pin a wig over the bald truth of the culture of death... Among few others, Flemish Christian Democratic senator, Els Van Hoof fought the bill.  “They [children] can’t drink before they’re 16. They can’t smoke before they’re 16. They can’t vote before they’re 18. They can’t marry before they’re 18. They can’t be punished because they don’t have the competence. But when they talk about life and death, they can decide? It’s not coherent.”" Read more here.
Pic: Holbein, The Dance of Death

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Good Theology Makes You Sing

"For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand." So wrote C. S. Lewis (where, anyone?).
Lewis's experience is also mine (without the pipe!). I rarely open a devotional book, unless I know they are devotions laden with good doctrine, like Starck's Prayer Book (currently on sale at CPH; you'll be eternally grateful for spending the US$7.99 on this priceless devotional treasure). My most profound devotional reading experiences have come from reading good doctrinal theology, the sort most people seem to find dry and lifeless, but which I have found have the capacity to both enlighten the mind and set the heart singing...on the inside at least! 

Actually, the link between theology and song is well established in historic Lutheranism, but the tradition is becoming harder to maintain in practice at the parochial level these days. Be that as it may, for Lutherans, doctrine is life and sound theology leads to doxology. Never let a Pietist tell you any different! 

So, dear reader, if you find your run of the mill devotional books are becoming less appetising and you want to engage your mind as well as your heart in devotional reading, do not be afraid to venture into good theology. Ask your pastor for recommendations and guidance. 




Saturday, 15 February 2014

Reappraising The Beatles...and Youthful Enthusiasms

This month sees the 50th anniversary of the appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, an event which can be seen as a marker of a major cultural shift which, without too much hyperbole, can be labelled a cultural revolution. While I was a generation younger than The Beatles, I grew up an enthusiastic listener to their music, my first exposure being around the age of ten when, holidaying at my grandparents' house, I found an old 45rpm single of 'Rock and Roll Music' backed by 'Honey Don't' (my aunts were still teenagers) which sounded much more exciting than the overwrought Engelbert Humperdinck ballads my Nan usually played on the big His Master's Voice stereogram in the lounge room while she did the housework. I was hooked - I played it over and over again, the sound through the bass heavy speakers was both raucous and hypnotic. Later I built up a collection of such vinyl "45s", buying them on my way home from school with my pocket money from a local second hand shop that retrieved them, unwanted by the 1970s, from jukeboxes. To this day, Strawberry Fields Forever doesn't sound quite right to me without the cracks and hisses of my particular Parlophone 45rpm single. 

But the passing of time gives one the perspective to be able to reappraise youthful enthusiasms. Firstly, as the following piece suggests, The Beatles were not the musical geniuses we thought them to be. They were not that original, blithely copying the styles and even the chord progressions of various notables who had preceded them in popular music (for e.g. compare their 1968 hit Lady Madonna with the 1956 English trad jazz piece Bad Penny Blues. Indeed, in his post-Beatles career, George Harrison was sued for plagiarising the melody and chord progression of his 1970 hit My Sweet Lord from a 1963 girl group hit, although I still like to think it was an inadvertent, subconscious transgression). It's just that their fans were too young and unsophisticated to remember the originals:

"The occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show has inspired some obligatory guffawing at those old squares who greeted the band with derision. One put down that fairly stands out for its utter revulsion was from none other than William F. Buckley, who wrote in the Boston Globe in September 1964: "The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.” Without appearing willfully contrarian, I get where these critics were coming from, if only in a roundabout sort of way...there is not a chord or trope or motif of theirs that Cole Porter and George Gershwin would not have recognized." More here.

And, while they are often compared favorably by social conservatives with the truly awful and vulgar Rolling Stones, The Beatles were, in their own way, just as subversive of traditional authorities and virtues, even while they performed dressed in suits: 

"...The 1964 Beatles may not have been overtly anti-authority, but covertly, they certainly were. They were even, in their way, political. Their platform? Joy, excitement, pleasure. Within their aura, the future — that distant and sober thing for which the young people of 1964 were supposed to plan, so they could inherit the responsibility of upholding the greatest way of life the world had ever seen — evanesced. That fact alone made many in the establishment nervous, and rightly so." More here
Not that the Establishment of the day was not in need of challenging in areas, mind you (e.g. race relations), but the influence The Beatles acquired in the youth culture of the day as role models in everything from dress to drug taking to an interest in eastern mysticism could fairly be termed idolatrous and it has been decadent in its impact on Western culture. 

Of course, they did write some memorable tunes (my favourite is still the sublime Here Comes the Sun, in which George Harrison surpassed the song writing skills of Lennon and McCartney), but these days I find myself more sympathetic to the Anglo-Indian man in the street I grew up on, the father of one of my friends, who must have then been in his 40s and was certainly the most cultured person I had met at that time (he preferred Scotch whisky to Australian beer, read Kipling and smoked imported English cigarettes), who, when he became aware of my enthusiasm for The Beatles, loaned me an album, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays The Beatles, which he assured me was much better than the originals. I didn't get the orchestral settings at the time (the RPO didn't know how to be raucous, bless them, and the lack of a backbeat meant there was no subconsciously felt hypnotic effect) but I appreciate them more now (and they prompt me to reflect on how much the classically trained producer George Martin must have had to do with the musical sophistication of The Beatles' recordings comparative to their contemporaries).

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Post-Modern Pope

Apparently, Pope Francis recently said this: "We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes...Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute."

At a first, superficial glance this attitude to dialogue with an unbelieving world may seem commendably humble and open, but it is actually incredibly wrong-headed and it leads Christians down an intellectual and spiritual cul-de-sac

Firstly, for the Christian "one's own ideas" are not one's own, but are derived from Divine revelation and expressed in commonly held creeds and confessions (there are, of course, real doctrinal differences between the churches, but that fact should not lead us to overlook the amount of common ground in Christian doctrine). 

As for "traditions" (to be distinguished from customs) I always understood that for Roman Catholics the repository of Tradition was also a part of the Divine revelation (?). 

And by the way, what have "ideas" to do with the Christian Faith anyway? Christianity is not a religion of "ideas", it is a religion of facts. Heaven help the preacher who ascends to the pulpit to proclaim "ideas"! Hungry, desperate souls want facts and life! 

Secondly, if our "ideas" are not valid then they are invalid; if they are not absolute then they are relative. Do Jesuits (the Pope is a member of this RC religious order, which was the spearhead of the Counter-Reformation), who once prided themselves on their rigorous philosophical training, no longer believe in the law of non-contradiction? (I have often been told by traditional Roman Catholics that the Jesuits are not what they used to be - the rot set in during the cultural revolution of the 1960s; now it seems the rot has risen to the very top of the RC church in the form of the Pope's woolly thinking.) What Christian worth his salt would suggest that the Christian doctrines of the Trinity, Christology, original sin, redemption and sanctification - the doctrines every neophyte must be taught - are not valid or absolute?  Christianity is a doctrinal religion; without doctrine it is mere sentiment which does not deserve the respect or interest of the doubting yet hopeful "men and women of today".   

To be sure, fruitful dialogue does involve seeing the other's point of view, not to cede it validity when it differs from "one's own" considered beliefs however, but to discern where the other has gone wrong that we may know how to correct him. That is true humility and openness which lets God be God and seeks the ultimate good of the other - that he too may be renewed in his mind and put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:23). Relativism is not the path to the spiritual renewal of the West. 

Is this yet another case of the Pope speaking without first thinking through the implications of his thoughts? 

Or is he really the post-modern Pope? 

I can understand why traditional Roman Catholics are very disappointed with this Pope. 
Why, even as a confessional Lutheran I'm disappointed in him!


Monday, 20 January 2014

Why Preachers Should Read Luther

Why should preachers, particularly lectionary preachers, read Luther? Of course there are many reasons, one of them being to study and learn from the freshness of his insights as he preaches the same texts year after year:

"Luther's sermons followed the course prescribed by the Christian year and the lessons assigned by long usage to each Sunday. In this area he did not innovate. Because he commonly spoke at the nine o'clock service, his sermons are mostly on the Gospels rather than upon his favorite Pauline epistles...Year after year Luther preached on the same passages and on the same great events: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost. If one now reads through his sermons of thirty years on a single theme, one is amazed at the freshness with which each year he illumined some new aspect. When one has the feeling that there is nothing startling this time, then comes a flash. He is narrating the betrayal of Jesus. Judas returns the thirty pieces of silver with the words, "I have betrayed innocent blood," and the priest answers, "What is that to us?" Luther comments that there is no loneliness like the loneliness of a traitor since even his confederates give him no sympathy. The sermons cover every theme from the sublimity of God to the greed of a sow."

From Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon, 1955), still one of the best popular biographies of Luther, available on-line here. English translations of some of Luther's sermons can be found here. There are also sermons available to the English reader in the American Edition of Luther's Works, which edition is presently being expanded by Concordia Publishing House with the inclusion of three further volumes of sermons. 

Luther preached an estimated 7000 sermons in 36 years of preaching (!), of which about 2300 survive in written form. He followed the traditional one year lectionary, whereas most preachers today have the luxury of a three year lectionary. One must remember too that most of Luther's sermons were delivered to the same town congregation, whereas preachers these days expect several calls in their time of ministry. Nevertheless, most contemporary preachers will have struggled with the need to maintain freshness (which is different from novelty!). In that endeavour Luther can be a valuable teacher. 

The pic is of the pulpit in the town church in Wittenberg; it's a pity the drab, ill-conceived parament detracts from an otherwise impressive scene. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Augustine and other Fathers on Matthew 16:13ff: "Upon This Rock"

"Remember, in this man Peter, the rock. He's the one, you see, who on being questioned by the Lord about who the disciples said he was, replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On hearing this, Jesus said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you...‘You are Peter (rocky), and on this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of the underworld will not conquer her. To you shall I give the keys of the kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall also be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:15-19). In Peter (rocky), we see our attention drawn to the rock. Now the apostle Paul says about the former people, ‘They drank from the spiritual rock that was following them; but the rock was Christ’ (1 Cor 10:4). So this disciple is called rocky from the rock, like Christian from Christ...Why have I wanted to make this little introduction? In order to suggest to you that in Peter the Church is to be recognized. Christ, you see, built his Church not on a man but on Peter’s confession. What is Peter’s confession? ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ There’s the rock for you, there’s the foundation, there’s where the Church has been built, which the gates of the underworld cannot conquer."
 Works of St Augustine, Sermons, Vol. 6, Sermon 229P.1, p. 327. (John Rotelle, ed., New Rochelle: New City Press, 1993).

--+--

For Augustine, the rock upon which Christ founded the church is not the man Peter but his confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God, which is representative of the faith of the church as a whole in Christ. This is in accord with the Lutheran confessions, which state, in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope:

"In all these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of apostles [and does not speak for himself alone, but for all the apostles], as appears from the text itself. For Christ asks not Peter alone, but says: Whom do ye say that I am? And what is here said [to Peter alone] in the singular number: I will give unto thee the keys; and whatsoever thou shalt bind, etc., is elsewhere expressed [to their entire number], in the plural Matt. 18:18: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc. And in John 20:23: Whosesoever sins ye remit, etc. These words testify that the keys are given alike to all the apostles and that all the apostles are alike sent forth [to preach].
 In addition to this, it is necessary to acknowledge that the keys belong not to the person of one particular man, but to the Church, as many most clear and firm arguments testify. For Christ, speaking concerning the keys adds, Matt. 18:19: If two or three of you shall agree on earth, etc. Therefore he grants the keys principally and immediately to the Church, just as also for this reason the Church has principally the right of calling. [For just as the promise of the Gospel belongs certainly and immediately to the entire Church, so the keys belong immediately to the entire Church, because the keys are nothing else than the office whereby this promise is communicated to every one who desires it, just as it is actually manifest that the Church has the power to ordain ministers of the Church. And Christ speaks in these words: Whatsoever ye shall bind, etc., and indicates to whom He has given the keys, namely, to the Church: Where two or three are gathered together in My name. Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: Tell it unto the Church.]

 Therefore it is necessary that in these passages Peter is the representative of the entire assembly of the apostles, and for this reason they do not accord to Peter any prerogative or superiority, or lordship [which he had, or was to have had, in preference to the other apostles].
 However, as to the declaration: Upon this rock I will build My Church, certainly the Church has not been built upon the authority of man, but upon the ministry of the confession which Peter made, in which he proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He accordingly addresses him as a minister: Upon this rock, i.e., upon this ministry. [Therefore he addresses him as a minister of this office in which this confession and doctrine is to be in operation and says: Upon this rock, i.e., this preaching and ministry.]

Furthermore, the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons as the Levitical ministry, but it is dispersed throughout the whole world, and is there where God gives His gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers; neither does this ministry avail on account of the authority of any person, but on account of the Word given by Christ. [Nor does the person of a teacher add anything to this word and office; it matters not who is preaching and teaching it; if there are hearts who receive and cling to it, to them it is done as they hear and believe.] And in this way, not as referring to the person of Peter, most of the holy Fathers, as Origen, Cyprian, Augustine, Hilary, and Bede, interpret this passage: Upon this rock. Chrysostom says thus: "Upon this rock," not upon Peter. For He built His Church not upon man, but upon the faith of Peter. But what was his faith? "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Hilary says: To Peter the Father revealed that he should say, "Thou art the Son of the living God." Therefore the building of the Church is upon this rock of confession; this faith is the foundation of the Church."
          Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 22-29.


The influential 20th C. Roman Catholic theologian Yves Congar likewise acknowledged the lack of support among the church fathers for the later Roman Catholic interpretation of this passage, upon which is based the doctrine of papal primacy, writing, 'It does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16–19. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out an exegesis , more anthropological and spiritual than juridical.' (Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions, New York, Macmillan, 1966, p. 398).

"at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than juridical"...one can only propose that the absence of the artificial need to make a juridical case for Roman ("Petrine") primacy protected the Fathers from even considering such a tendentious exegesis.    

The lack of historical continuity for this and other doctrines peculiar to Roman Catholicism - papal infallibility and the Marian dogmas - seems to me to be very problematic as far as the truth claims of Roman Catholicism go. Without scriptural warrant and without subsequent early historical evidence for these beliefs, all one really has as a basis is the ecclesiastical positivism of papal definition or some sort of theory of doctrinal development, both of which solutions only multiply the problems. 

For more quotes and occasional commentary on the church fathers, see Lutheran Catholicity.

Update: Intra-Roman squabbles over the keys

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Truth of the Christmas Story: Neo-Orthodoxy Trickles Down to the Masses

OK...enough cricket inspired frivolity; let's look at Christmas though the contemporary theological lens:

"One of the puzzles of a newly released survey about Christmas in the United States was the striking finding that Americans' belief in the historical accuracy of the Christmas story -- the virgin birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the star of Bethlehem, and the wise men from the East -- has fallen by nearly 20 percentage points during the last decade. In a PSRA/Newsweek poll in December 2004, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans affirmed their belief that the Christmas story is historically accurate, compared to 24 percent who said they believed it is a theological story written to affirm faith in Jesus Christ."  Read more here.

The first thing to say that if those are the figures for the US, you can be fairly sure they are higher elsewhere in the English-speaking world, where orthodox Christian belief tends to be under greater challenge.

Now, for the uninitiated, "neo-orthodoxy" is not a new and better version of Eastern Orthodoxy. It's a broad movement of mainly European Reformed and Lutheran theology (although not without influence on Roman Catholic theologians either) which came into being in the aftermath of World War One when some theologians realised that the Liberal theology they had been taught as students was not up to the task of serving the proclamation of the Gospel to a broken and despairing world: to preach the old Liberalism of the pre-war 19th C. was like offering the hungry stones instead of bread. At the same time, though, these men could not affirm the old orthodoxy with its belief in the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, so they developed a via media (middle way) which sought to affirm the theological content of the old dogmas while also denying that the Bible was inspired and inerrant. They also taught that at least some of its narratives were "non-historical". Names like the German-Swiss Barth and Brunner, the Germans Bultmann and Bonhoeffer, the German-American Niebuhr brothers, et. al. could, for all their differences, be helpfully categorised together for our purposes here as neo-orthodox theologians.

By repudiating plenary inspiration and inerrancy and the historicity of the Biblical narrative the neo-orthodox voluntarily separated themselves from the mainstream of Christian theological reflection on scripture which can be traced back though 17th century Protestant orthodoxy (the original orthodoxy which the "neo" in neo-orthodoxy modified), the medieval scholastics like Aquinas and Bonaventure, the Fathers and finally to our Lord (I'm presently in the research stage of writing a paper on the history if inerrancy which I may post here in installments in the future). Neo-orthodoxy reached its zenith in influence in the 1940s & 1950s but by the next decade it was somewhat passé as even more eccentric theologies (e.g. Paul Tillich's philosophical theology, whose ideas were popularised in the British Commonwealth by Bp Robinson's 1963 book "Honest to God" and Thomas Altizer's "Death of God" theology which took inspiration from Nietzchean atheism) appeared on the scene to feed the fascination of sophisticates in Western societies who were fast becoming disconnected from the traditional forms of Christianity which had hitherto breathed life into their souls and who were now looking for reasons not to believe the Bible.

What is puzzling about neo-orthodoxy's rejection of the plenary inspiration and inerrancy of scripture and therefore its historical skepticism as to the Bible is its basis: that basis was not primarily on evidentiary grounds but philosophical ones. That is to say that, contrary to the impression often given by tendentious popularisers down to this day, there was actually very little in the way of new discoveries in 19th C & 20th C. archaeology or classical philology or related historical disciplines that seriously challenged the "old" view of the Bible so as to make it redundant. Rather, these discoveries tended to illuminate and support the Biblical text and narrative. But the theologians of neo-orthodoxy were apparently blinded to the significance of these positive developments, having imbibed certain philosophical assumptions as young students, chief among which was the commitment to a dualism between Geschichte and Historie which made them fearful of the consequences of grounding the Christian Faith too solidly in the blood and dust of actual history.

Historie is the everyday arena of events open to historical investigation and validation, whereas Geschichte is a sort of meta-history (the world of "myth", "saga" or "legend") to which the stories of the Bible are assigned. Their "truth" value is there preserved because Geschichte is supposedly not subject to empirical but only theological investigation and exploration. By way of illustration: the events of World War One, the assassination Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip that began it, its various battles and the political conferences that ended it, are Historie. The events recorded in Genesis 1-8 are Geschichte; we can find religious truths in them but such truths are finally independent of the question of whether these events actually happened as the Biblical authors seemed to believe, for no-one really doubts that they thought they were writing history - not academic history as we know it, to be sure, but true* narratives nonetheless (of course, a true narrative can contain symbolism and other tropes, but these are not evidence that the whole narrative itself is symbolic). It is interesting, though, that in his discussion of Christmas in "Church Dogmatics" I/2 Barth appears to affirm the dogma of the virginal conception and birth - tellingly, though, this was not on the basis of the scripture but because it is theologically necessary to buttress the teaching of divine monergism in salvation. Ironically, Roman Catholicism likewise proclaims its distinctive Marian dogmas without reference to scripture, but for the opposite purpose of upholding its teaching on divine-human synergy in salvation! Thus Barth and the Pope both share the traits of what Lutherans term "Enthusiasm" - basing religious doctrine and practice on revelation other than that found in Holy Scripture.

Some would aver that this dualistic way of thinking goes back through through the philosophical school of German Idealism to certain trends in late medieval thought which in turn derived from newly rediscovered Greek patterns of thought which later found a niche in classical Reformed theology, where the guiding principle was summed up in the slogan finitum non capax infiniti - that which is finite cannot contain that which is infinite. In its initial Reformed expression this then represents an incipient rationalism that later dovetailed neatly with liberal skepticism. Once this philosophical principle is accepted any reported manifestation of the supernatural in the natural world can be interpreted as merely symbolic of higher, religious truths: the narrative of the fall into sin does not depict an actual event but is a symbolic story teaching us about the fall of everyman into sin as he tumbles out of the cocoon of innocence that is childhood and into the moral responsibilities of adulthood. Likewise, the angel Gabriel didn't really announce the conception of Jesus to Mary - that is just a symbolic way of telling the reader that Mary's piety brought her so close to God that the child in her womb became the Messiah. Or, Christ didn't really institute His Supper as the means by which His body and blood are available to His disciples ("in, with and under" the earthly forms of bread and wine as Lutherans say) as the synoptic Gospels and Paul record - rather, in the Supper the meal setting and its elements are merely symbolic helps as we lift our hearts to heaven so to speak (sursum corda) and commune with Christ by meditating on the spiritual benefits of His life and death. As you can see, there's no end to the way Biblical narratives can be creatively re-interpreted as timeless religious "truths" for those who otherwise stumble on the hard rock of the underlying history and the "earthiness" of revelation.  

Be that as it may, the original motivation for introducing the Geschichte-Historie distinction into theology, a move which seems to be first attributed to Martin Kahler, who was particularly concerned with liberal challenges to the life of Jesus as understood from the Gospels, was to safeguard the Biblical salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) from the acids of critical historical inquiry which had been developing incrementally since the Enlightenment. As noted above, that was a purely defensive move which subsequent developments have proven to be highly questionable. There is, it can be admitted, an element of truth in the distinction, in that certainly protological Biblical events like Creation and the Fall or the Biblical miracles are not subject to historical investigation or scientific explanation, although in the case of creation and the fall evidence from observation of the created world and human nature for them is clear enough. In regard to Creation the most science can do is propose a hypothetical mechanism to explain the material advent of the universe, such  as "the Big Bang" (a theory which is presently under challenge, as it should be). But science cannot get beyond that theoretical point and answer the fundamental religious questions of  "Who created?" and "Why?". Indeed, even the question of "How?" is still a religious question, since Holy Writ tells us God created through His Word. But from Genesis chapter 11 onwards it is clear to any intelligent and unbiased reader of the Bible that we are dealing with a world and a history which is - obvious cultural differences aside - continuous with our own, even though it is one in which angels converse with poor shepherds!

The price that neo-orthodoxy was willing to pay to protect the Biblical narrative from historical criticism was too high and in any case unnecessary. By effecting a split between a fallible Biblical narrative and a world of "timeless" dogmatic truths they fatally severed the Christian Faith from its historical roots and turned it into a Christian version of German Idealism, a dead end if ever there was one and one from which various theologians - Pannenberg for example - have been trying to back academic theology out of ever since with varying degrees of success. Alas, ideas, especially bad ones it seems, have consequences and they attract followers. Neo-orthodoxy trickled down through university and seminary courses and corrupted the theology of a generation or two of preachers and teachers. From thence it has seeped down to the popular level, so that, as the article notes, 40% of Americans, most of whom have probably never heard of Barth or Bultmann, believe the Christmas story is not history but "theology written to affirm faith". Theology that is disconnected from the historical narrative of the inspired and inerrant Bible, the only infallible source of knowledge of God and the way of salvation, is not Christian in any orthodox sense and is well on its way to becoming neo-Gnostic. That's another "neo-ism" we might post on in the future.

In the meantime, a blessed Christmas to all who visit the virtual old manse.

--+--

For a modern (1950, so written at the zenith of neo-orthodoxy) statement on scripture and inspiration that upholds orthodoxy against both liberalism and neo-orthodoxy go to  http://www.lca.org.au/doctrinal-statements--theological-opinions-2.html  and click on 'Scripture and Inspiration' under the heading A. Theses of Agreement.

* Note regarding the truthfulness of the Bible: my view of truth is common sense realism, known more formally as the correspondence theory of truth. In short, what is true corresponds to the actual state of affairs in the world because it is congruent with facts discerned either by observation or, for the Christian, revelation. The correspondence theory of truth was the basic epistemological tenet not only of the Greek philosophers but also of the Biblical authors. It has therefore been foundational to Western culture and society at least until the irrationalism of the 20th century erupted.  I'm not sure to what extent any of the theologians I've categorised as neo-orthodox would accept this position - I suspect none. They were all quite skeptical of the extent to which truth could be set forth in grammatical propositions, which seems like a self-defeating position for theologians who wrote so much! Some, like Barth, seem to work more with a coherence theory of truth, i.e., a statement is true if it coheres with other statements in the system (cf. his views mentioned above on the virginal conception and birth). While I grant that intra-systemic statements can be logically consistent with the first principles of that system without reference to other, external criteria, the ultimate criterion for the truth of the system itself remains the congruence of those principles with what is known about reality either by observation or revelation.    

Update 23.12.2013 from the UK: Bible knowledge gets worse.


Update 26.12.2013 from the US: