Stop and Think

“In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” Matt 15:9

Here continues my fracas with Steve Hays. His comments to which I am responding can be found here

Hays’ framing of the issue is dismissive. He doesn’t really know Orthodox theology, so he has to discuss it on his own terms. Because he doesn’t know it, he can’t perform a genuine internal critique of it. This is because Hays lives in the intellectual ghetto of American Calvinism, which doesn’t read outside its own circles except for polemical purposes and then only by snippets.

The way Hays frames the two methodologies is dismissive because it assumes that the Orthodox don’t read the Bible. As if the reason for the differences between the Orthodox and Protestants was just due to a lack of Bible reading on the part of the Orthodox theologians but this is just false. Orthodox theologians have been composing and writing commentaries on Scripture long before Protestants ever existed (and they continue to do so though most todday aren’t in English because most Orthodox theologians are not nature English speakers). And many of my own views are based on their exegesis. Hays may not agree with the exegesis of say John Chrysostom or Maximus the Confessor, but that is beside the point. The point is that the way that Hays frames the Orthodox position is just false.

Perhaps Hays thinks that I don’t engage in exegesis or don’t think that I can ground my beliefs by exegesis or at least make an attempt to do so. Perhaps he should actually read what I have written on my blog and elsewhere, where do I just that.

In a lot of my own casual writing on the internet I don’t cite chapter and verse. This is because I don’t think that there is any theory neutral exegetical practice to engage in that is commensurable across theological paradigms. To toss passages back and forth is akin to a theist and an atheist tossing brute facts back and forth, where each interprets them according to his own philosophical commitments. What is sufficient to defeat a specific exegesis which is relative to core commitments is an internal critique and not some rival exegesis. Any model can admit any contrary fact, it just depends on how much one wishes to give up or modify the model. Consequently I am not a fan of the “See-Jesus-Run” hermeneutic that Hays seems to adhere to. I don’t think you have to have an explicit reference or a clear and necessary inference in the case of implicit passages. Many of the messianic prophecies for example won’t yield an Orthodox interpretation on the basis of grammatical considerations and logical inferences alone. This is why the singular emphasis on “exegesis” by Hays is wrongheaded. And when Hays uses “exegesis” he has in mind, or at least seems to, a specific tradition of exegesis. But so far, I haven’t seen a good reason from him as to why I am bound by his traditions.

Furthermore, I don’t cite chapter and verse and then attempt an exegesis because I presume that my readers are intelligent enough to carry off a few simple tasks. I think that they can recognize the phrases that I employ from various scriptural passages. And I presume that they can take my systematic approach and see how I would interpret various passages and then trace out an exegetical argument. It seems with Hays that I was presuming far too much in the way of intellectual ability.

The claim that scriptural passages function as facts in a conceptual scheme and are interpreted in light of the over all scheme can be substantiated by considering the exegesis of 2 Pet 2:1. Now on its face, this is a difficult passage for the Reformed. How can it be that Christ redeems apostates if Christ only dies for the elect? Pick up any of the standard Reformed works, such as Owen’s Death of Death, or any Reformed commentator on the subject. I think you will find that their “exegesis” is strained at best. That aside, what usually happens is that while the practice of “exegesis” begins with the assumption that the text should be interpreted primarily on its own merits this gets shoved aside at the end of the process. What we get is an appeal to “what Scripture says in other places.” This is code for “I interpret this according to the rest of my system.” Clearly then, it is the systematic theology functioning as background beliefs that is doing the “exegetical” work, and not primarily any concentration on lexigraphical or syntactical facts. The reason is simple, the lexigraphical facts won’t yield a Calvinistic interpretation and many Reformed commentators, both in the past and contemporary admit this fact. The same can be said for exegetical practices that rely solely on grammatical considerations. Natural languages just don’t work in such a way as to permit grammatical methods to mine the full semantic content of words or sentences. Translation is indeterminate.

The appeal to “what Scripture says in other places” or to “what the rest of Scripture teaches” is fallacious for a number of reasons. First, because if we are to interpret any given passage in light of what Scripture says everywhere else, then we will never know what Scripture says in any one passage for the simple reason that the process could never begin, except by an arbitrary brute text. But there are no such texts in the Bible. Furthermore, such an appeal to “the rest of Scripture” is an admission that the text on its own merits doesn’t yield a Calvinistic interpretation. And, appeals to what we “know” Scripture says in other places is question begging, because if 2 pet 2:1 isn’t compatible with limited atonement, then the other passages of Scripture don’t teach limited atonement either. In any case, this is why in my casual conversations on the internet, I don’t generally write exegetical pieces. What is at issue is not how we interpret this or that passage, but our core theological and philosophical commitments. This is why I focus on key areas of theology like Christology where I know an opponent is committed. By an internal critique I can bring out internal contradictions between his or her Christological commitments and their tradition’s distinctive theological views. I have done this with Calvinists, but also with Catholics, Lutherans and Open Theists. Just google, and you’ll find them.

Therefore, it is not a matter of just looking to what the Bible says. It is a question of interpreting what the Bible means and how our core commitments are justified and how we know they are true. Any twit can go and read the Bible and on the internet they are legion. The Bible is like a mirror, you can’t have an ape looking in and an apostle looking out. So the question is not if Protestants “look out the window” but if they “stop and think” about what they see. Clearly Hays hasn’t started thinking yet, because he can’t engage my position in anything more than a condescending and dismissive manner. It is indicative of people who don’t actually grasp a position that they have to dismiss their opponent on the basis of a “mentality.” Reformed polemicists are notorious for this. People who become Catholic have some supposed deep seated “need” for “certainty.” People who convert to Orthodoxy have some psychological appettite for aesthetically pleasing things found in smells and bells. Even if this were true, it is irrelevant given for the reasons people give for their beliefs. In any case, the ad hominem cuts both ways. Calvinists are psychologically insecure which is why they “need” to believe in a world where everything is predestined. Viola! The Reformed on the whole live in a ghetto where they do not read the best works from other traditions but rather rely on polemical handbooks and their own systematic theologies or treatments of issues. When they do read the works of others, it is usually only after they have read some critique first.

As an anecdotal aside, a number of years ago I was present at a conference for SCCCS on Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. (I wasn’t Orthodox at the time.) Roger Wagner was claiming that Catholic exegetes have never produced an exegesis of Romans 4 and have not addressed Reformed arguments. Then a friend of mine from the audience showed him a text produced five years or so earlier that not only did so, but devoted a number of pages to Wager’s exegesis. Unspurisingly, Wagner never heard of the book or read it, even though it was well known, even in Reformed circles.

Then there was the time Robert Godfrey was giving a lecture for the then CURE Academy in So. California on “Trent and Justification.” I brought up to him a text by Francis de Sales and asked his opinion of it. Not only had he never read this rather famous counter reformation text, but he had never even heard of De Sales.

Or take a fairly recent exchange with Hays. Hays referred me to a book on 2 pet 1:4, a favorite text of mine, alleging that the text didn’t teach that we didn’t actually become what God was, but rather we take on similar moral qualities. (The book in question was James Starr’s Sharers in Divine Nature: 2 Peter 1:4 in Its Hellenistic Context. Well I went and read the book. It seems that Hays either didn’t read the book and hence lied about what he claimed or has poor reading comprehension skills. The author actually sides with me, arguing that the text does not imply that we partake of God’s “ousia”, but his dynamic activities, such as his “glory, power and immortality”, and notice that none of those are created “moral qualities.” This is why I haven’t responded to most of Hays’ past attempts to critique Orthodoxy. Because he is so ignorant of Orthodox theology, he usually makes simple mischaracterizations of it, that anyone having read a book or two from Meyendorff, Lossky or Romanides wouldn’t make. And he shows that he isn’t really interested in being fair or honest. Besides, he has yet to answer me on Conditional Analysis which he choked on months ago.

And it is just false that Protestants just “look out the window” garnering their beliefs by some direct and undistorting access to the semantic content of Scripture. If Hays were right one wonders where they get various teachings from from. A hypostatic generation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. Where is that in the Bible? That God is a simple essence. Where is that in the Bible? The divine persons of the Trinity are relations. Where is that in the Bible? All relations to God are extrinsic relations? Where is that in the Bible? Just “look out the window eh?” Uhm..I don’t think so.

Hays’ typical condescending disposition renders him unable to even grasp, let alone fairly represent my position. Over at Pontifications, ( I never argued based on some pre-biblical conceived notions that Protestants are inconsistent. Rather I argued on the basis of two beliefs Protestants usually have, namely that there are formal theological statements that are unrevisable and that there are no infallible interpretations of Scripture. The former is rooted in an intuition that I think the vast majority of Christians have shared over time, that is, that what is taught by God is not revisable (I also think this is warranted Biblically). Since there are no infallible interpreters of Scripture, ex hypothesi, then there can’t be an equivalence between what is taught by God and formal theological statements produced by Protestant individuals or bodies. The former is unrevisable and more robustly, infallible, and the latter is not nor ever could be. Consequently, Protestants have to give up one of the two beleifs on pain of inconsistency or find a tertium quid.

Hays mischaracterizes my argument. I don’t think Protestantism is wrong simply because it can’t deliver irreformable dogma, but because it is inconsistent with other beliefs that I and I think Protestant largely hold. I am just eliciting the inconsistency in their thinking, forcing them to become more epistemologically self conscious.

Consequently, Hays’ characterization of me as “playing God”, imagining which circumstances are best and then reasoning from there is false. I begin with beliefs, one of which I think is well grounded in the Bible-what God teaches is not revisable by men and the other, a pretty standard belief among Protestants, that no one, either individually or collectively is infallible, save God or those endowed with divine power such as prophets. Perhaps Hays thinks I need a proof text for this but I don’t. Their truth or representative status should be obvious. The fact that Hays can’t see that the first idea is Biblical and the second is representative of Protestantism and that this is one of the core ideas that my argument trades on shows that he isn’t interested in giving me a charitable read or even engaging my argument. It’s flashy rhetoric, at best.

It doesn’t take someone exceedingly intelligent to see that my argument can work just as well in the NT or OT. So bringing up the question, as Hays does, of if and how God guides his people in the OT is irrelevant. God does guide his people. Does he do so in such a way that what he teaches them to believe is revisable by them? Obviously not. And the question that he poses, begs the question, since it supposes that the OT contains formal theological statements. If Hays can find one, I’d like to see it. Furthermore, Hays mistakes my not consulting how God dealt with his people in salvation history in the comments on Pontifications, with my never having done so. It’d be a whole lot easier and he’d get a better idea of my thoughts if he’d ask a question concerning it, rather than presume that I have never done so. Just because I didn’t talk about it there, doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it or it hasn’t informed my thinking. Duh.

Next Hays makes a personal assault. It is just another indication that he doesn’t actually have an argument and isn’t really familiar either with Orthodox theology or the argument concerning Sola Scriptura that I gave at Pontifications. He writes,

“Of course, what’s best is, itself, a value-laden judgment which just so happens to dovetail the very latest in the long line of theological traditions which Perry has adopted only to discard.”

Even if true, how exactly is the number of theological positions that I have accepted and then rejected show that my argument is mistaken? It doesn’t, hence it is irrelevant and an ad hominem. Second, the fact that the value judgments I make “dovetails” into my theological position, just shows that I am being consistent. Perhaps Hays thinks that rational consistency is a vice but I don’t. Third, my changing from one tradition to another is only relevant if I did so on the basis of fallacious reasoning and that same kind of reasoning is present in my comments on Pontifications. But Hays neither knows my own personal theological history nor knows how much time I spent in the respective traditions or for what reasons I changed from one to the other. Fourth, as if one were somehow more virtuous, morally or intellectually, if they were to remain in one tradition or profess one theological view their entire life! Given that I live in the 21st century in the western world I don’t find such a view appealing. If someone living in our time in the western world only holds to one theological perspective or tradition their whole life, they are either stupid or they don’t read much quality material or both. For the record, I was baptized Roman Catholic as an infant, raised in the Episcopal Church, spent a good portion of my teenage years in a Charistmatic/Non-denominational group, spent the end of my teenage years and my twenties in Reformation and Anglican bodies. I have been Orthodox for about six years. If Hays were charitable, he might have thought that I read a lot (50-60 books a year), which is why I have changed my views over time. Ya think?

I don’t invent criteria and not on an ad hoc basis when I wrote,

“They could respond with saying that the bible is normatively given to us, but I don’t see how they could justify that claim from any historical methodology. How exactly would one derive normativity from factual claims?”

I wasn’t inventing a criteria at all. I was applying a well known principle (and problem) in historiography. I don’t see how probabilistic methods of arriving at the conclusion that the Bible was given normatively first amount to anything other than a fact and second are sufficient to ground a kind normativity in question. And second, I don’t see how one could arrive at the idea from history alone that the bible was normatively given. Lessing’s ditch comes to mind.

Second, it was meant to highlight the fact that Protestants would be inconsistent, since the canon isn’t formally speaking, given to us normatively, not with unrevisable normativity in any case. No list of the canon on Protestant principles is normative in the sense I was referring to in context. That is, the canon on Protestant principles is in principle revisable. Protestants have revised the canon in the past and I don’t see any principled reason why they could not choose to do so in the future.

Third, if Jesus, the prophets and the apostles frequently derived normativity from factual claims, then Hays needs to give examples and show that that is what they are doing. Good luck. And Protestants are not Jesus, the prophets and the apostles in any case. Assuming for the sake of argument that they actually did so, it no way follows that Protestants can do so either generally or in this case, which is the point. All the judgments of Protestants are in principle revisable. This highlights the fact that such persons did so, if they did so, this was the product of their being in the special position to do so by either being deity or aided by deity. Do Protestants think that the church is divinely guided so as to produce infallible judgments? I don’t think so. Furthermore, for God there is no fact/value dichotomy, but we are another matter. Lastly, Hays claim in the form of an interrogative is question begging, since what he knows of such persons doing so is derived from texts, the epistemological status and function in his theology is revisable. If the canon is not in principle revisable and Hays can demonstrate that that is in fact what they did, he might have a point. But since the canon as either held by him or any Protestant body is a fallible collection and hence in principle revisable, the point isn’t made.

As to councils, I don’t pull the criteria out of thin air. They are derived from apostolic practice as well as other biblical principles and theological positions that I take to be biblically justified. The fact that Hays can’t see them or doesn’t agree that the latter are biblically justifiable (let alone even ask where I am deriving them from rather than assume I couldn’t get them from any reasonable source) is irrelevant. I am not pulling them out of “thin air.”

Here again we run into the “See-Jesus-Run” hermeneutic. Where does God ever tell us to do it this way? Where does God ever tell us that women can take communion? He doesn’t. There is no explicit command and no implicit text either, at least not that I can recall. Perhaps Steve can point that out to us. This is not to imply that I can’t give Biblical warrant for the principles regarding how councils are to be run. I think I can, but that warrant need not be explicit in any case and Hays is wrong to think so.

Hays claims that I like to “draw all sorts of fine-spun distinctions which he’s in no possible position to know are so. Rarefied distinctions which go way beyond God’s self-revelation.” This is a bald claim with no support. In any case, my notion of God as hyper-ousia I think is biblically grounded. (Ex, 33:23, Jn 1:18, Jn 5:37 1 Tim 6:16, 1 Jn 4:12) In fact, I’d say this is the other way around. Hays thinks of the persons of the Trinity as “relations” and this obviously goes “way beyond God’s self-revelation.” Add to this the belief that God is a “mind” or God’s glory is a mere created effect (one wonders how that is going to fit with Ex. 33 cf. w/John 17:5) or that omnipotence and omniscience are “attributes.” In fact, it’s Hays’ view of God which is based on “fine spun distinctions which” Hays “in no possible position to know are so. Rarefied distinctions which go way beyond God’s self-revelation.”
Physician, heal thyself.

As to the odds I am right? Well that frames the question in a fallacious way. If I had all of the possible positions on a large graph and were rolling some markers, then it would be relevant. But since I at least trying to proceed by using logic as one of my tools, it isn’t a question of “odds” but of the legitimacy of the inferences I draw. In any case, the “odds” line cuts both ways. What are the “odds” Hays is right? Moreover, given the historical novelty of many of Hays’ beliefs, what are the odds Hays is right? Aren’t the odds better than the whole Church, functioning via the episcopate, as it did with Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, & Chalcedon, both East and West condemning Protestant innovations is right and Hays and Protestants are wrong? Hays elicits consideration of odds when he thinks it suits his purposes. Its clearly special pleading and in any case, irrelevant.

As to my argument about the unity of the church, it is based on an identity claim and hence the availability of properties to members of the church to instantiate, both here and in heaven. Hays’ attempts to construct parallel arguments to show the mistake in my thinking. The problem is that the arguments don’t go through for the simple reason that I was talking about properties that humans can instantiate being qua human. The deification of Christ’s humanity is the link that licits the idea that these are properties that can be instantiated in human nature and are not alien to it. Sin doesn’t characterize humans with reference to nature, unless Hays wishes to endorse some version of Manicheanism. His first stab doesn’t work in any case. He wrote,

“If the Church in heaven is without sin and the church on earth can be sinful, then it seems that on your position we have two Churches.”

The parallel should be,

*If the church in heaven is impeccable (unable to sin) and the church on earth can sin, then it seems that on your position we have two churches.

Just being without sin doesn’t capture the state of the blessed in the eschaton. Fixity in virtue or moral impeccability isn’t a property only accessible to those in heaven in any case, which is what Hays is assuming. The process was completed for those in the eschaton and hasn’t been for those here, which is why there is a difference, but it is not a difference in nature, but personal activity. The Church on earth could be morally impeccable because someday it will be morally impeccable, unless one thinks we will be free floating spirits in eternity. Moreover, the personal unity we share with Christ by faith (as distinguished from the initial gift of corporate and natural unity which infants only have through baptism) isn’t severed by lesser sins and the grave sins that do sever us, sever us not from the church in heaven, but from Christ and his body.

Hays’ second and third stabs are more accurate. He writes,

“If the Church in heaven is without sin and the church on earth can be sinful, then it seems that on your position we have two Churches.

If the Church in heaven is immortal and the church on earth can be in mortal, then it seems that on your position we have two Churches.”

Hays then starts to be charitable in his reading of my comments, but then turns away at the last moment from actually thinking through the issues. One of the things critical thinking demands is putting yourself in your opponent’s position and imagining how he would respond, and then constructing objections accordingly. Hays doesn’t give any reason to think that he can do that, at least not here.

“Perry does anticipate this line of objection, and he tries to block it by contriving a makeshift distinction: ‘Death doesn’t individuate those in heaven from those on earth. Nor does sin, which is why Christ’s body is incapable of error.’ Notice that this restriction doesn’t follow from his guiding principle: indeed, it tugs in the opposing position. For if the properties of our Lord’s humanity are communicated to the church, then if Christ is sinless, so is the church; if Christ is immortal, so is the church.”

If he actually knew Orthodox theology, Patristic theology or what I believed (I think at least the first two are co-extensive.) he’d be able to see that this isn’t the problem he thinks it is. He is assuming that I will balk at the conclusion. Hays is arguing via a reductio and the conclusion is absurd. So if the conclusion is absurd, so must the antecedent be. The reasoning is fine except I don’t take the conclusion to be absurd. It is only because Hays is still operating in his own theological grid and unable to actually carry out an internal critique, that he takes the conclusion to be absurd. That is, it is absurd for his theological grid, not mine. Now he can balk at my grid, but the reductio doesn’t go through and is an example of question begging. Because now it is a question of whether we should accept the conclusion or not. In any case, it just shows what I am committed to as an Orthodox Christian and how our two systems are incompatible. So let me show how the conclusion is perfectly acceptable.

The conclusions are,

A. The Church is sinless.
B. The Church is immortal.

“A” is perfectly acceptable. The church qua church is sinless, because Christ is the head of the body. If the body acts as the head directs, then either the body and head are sinful or the body and head are sinless. I prefer to think that the body and the head are sinless and Scripture tells me so to boot. (Heb 9:28, Eph 1:3, 23, 5:27, 2 pet 3:14) Part of the problem here is that Hays is still thinking of the church as an aggregate of like minded individuals so that the church is a group of persons and persons sin, therefore the church sins. But this is a prime example of the fallacy of division and composition. Something true of the whole isn’t necessarily true of its parts and vice versa. The church can be sinless while the parts are sinful. Hays hasn’t showed how it follows that because certain members of the church sins, that the church sins.

Furthermore, if the body doesn’t do what the head directs and does sin, one wonders where Hays’ Calvinism has gone. Aren’t all things which come to pass caused and/or determined by God? Either Christ causes/determines the parts to sin, making Christ the author of sin or the body has libertarian freedom, and poof! no more Calvinism. If Christ doesn’t sin and he directs his church unfailingly, then the church doesn’t sin either.

One down. How about immortality? Is the church immortal? Yes, it is. The problem here is that Hays, like many, is thinking of death as it is after the crucifixion, as a transitional point to the resurrection and in exclusively personal terms. But death of itself is not such a thing. Death in its fullest sense is annihilation, a cessation of existence (Acts 2:27, 13:35, 1 Cor 15:8). And death before the crucifixion is different than after. Before it is a weapon of the devil and after it is owned by Christ, which is why those before Christ feared it. (Heck, even Christ did.) The devil’s aim was not to gain more followers by decieving our first parents but to destroy God’s creation (Jn 10:10, Jn 8:44, Heb 2:14-15) to frustrate God’s will for it (Gen 1:28, Rom 8:21-23) and show his equality with God. (Ezek 28:14-17, Is 14:12-14) And death in terms of hell post Crucifixion is not annihilation but ruination, which is why there is weeping (regret) and gnashing of teeth (anger). Death after the work of Christ has been transformed. All things have been recapitulated in Christ (Eph 1:10-11) even death, so that death is no longer the weapon of the devil. (Rom 6:9, 2 Tim 1:10, Heb 2:14, 1Jn 3:8, Rev 1:18) All men die now because Christ died and so all men will be raised because Christ was raised. (Jn 5:29, Jn 6:39, 1 Cor 15:20-22, Rom 5:18, Heb 9: 27, Rev 20) (If Christ doesn’t die for all, then some men won’t die, which implies that they are unaffected by sin (Pelagianism).) This is why death is now changed and we are free from it (Rom 8:2) so that to be absent from the body is to be present with Christ. All receive eternal existence or a measure of immortality with respect to nature and those of the church receive it abundantly. (John 10:10) (If not, then we need an explanation as to why the wicked exist eternally and why they are raised. God doesn’t need wicked people to be just or exemplify his justice-Origenism) This is why Christ is the savior of all men, but especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4:10) This is why even apostates are said to be redeemed by Christ (2 pet 2:1) and why Christ is said to taste death for every man. (Heb 2:9) All are drawn to Christ and Christ loses nothing. (Jn 6:39, 12:32) And this is why we are baptized into the death of Christ. (Rom 6:3-9) and why death cannot separate us from Christ. (Rom 8:38, 1 Cor 3:22) And this is why we are not to fear death. The seed is immortal, which is why when it is planted through death, it grows into that which is immortal. (1 Pet 1:23, 1 Cor 15:42-44) What is paramount to keep in mind is the distinction between person and nature. All receive eternal life from Christ their Lord with respect to nature, otherwise they would not exist eternally, but not all receive it personally, which is why they do not have it abundantly because they will not to by rejecting God’s purpose for them. (Lk 7:30, Jn 5:50, 10:10)

Hays equivocates when he writes,

“v)When Perry says that ‘For them, the Church just is a merely human organization of like-minded individuals,’ This is a straw man argument. We believe in the church as a divine institution. The question is how that institution is instantiated in time and place. By apostolic succession? No.”

Is the church divinely instituted/established, or is it a divine institution? If it is the latter, how can it be divine, if by Hays’ lights it sins and is fallible? What does its divinity consist in? If the former, then it fits with what I claimed. The question isn’t primarily how it is instituted, but what its divinity consists in.


Hays correctly notes that there are discrepancies between various traditions on the canon and this much is true. But discrepancies don’t of themselves count against there being one correct canon. I think the Orthodox Church is the true Church and hence has the correct canon. Rome thinks the same as do the Protestants. And?

Secondly, looking to the Jews, as Hays’ suggests isn’t going to be the help that he thinks it is. Which Jews and in which period should we look? Whatever Jamniah was, why should we accept the judgment of Jews who rejected Jesus as messiah, rejected the NT and add a curse on Christians to the daily prayers? And before and during the life of Christ, again, which Jews? The Pharisees? Sadducees? Essenes? Zealots? They certainly didn’t all have the same canon. Even the Pharisees didn’t all agree on the canon. Hence the cliché, two Jews, ten opinions. Jewish opinion isn’t sufficient to fix the canon and hence is a red herring. Hays offers us no criteria by which to differentiate Jewish opinions. And I see no reason why Jewish opinion isn’t revisable as well. Moreover, why should we accept Jewish tradition to fix the canon as opposed to Church tradition, especially in light of the fact that the church is the “Israel of God?” (Gal 6:16) This is special pleading. And I never claimed that an appeal to Apostolic Succession of itself would solve it. If true, it will go some way in solving it because it will eliminate the Protestant position from consideration. Other factors can help us to narrow it down afterwards.

At the end, when Hays finally gets around to actually attempting to address my argument he falls into the same position at the end of the day as that of Sproul-Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books in principle open to revision.

Hays begins by claiming that the books of the bible are internally related in various ways. Well, this is question begging since it presumes the truth of the Protestant position and the Protestant canon. Moreover, inter textual relation doesn’t amount to a hedge against possible revision since it isn’t sufficient to show inspiration. The Bible quotes, references, depends on and is continuous with many books, some of which we have, but that in no way implies that these other works are inspired. Therefore it doesn’t imply inspiration and hence unrevisability in the case of the books of the bible either, even assuming that Hays’ claim is true.

Furthermore, Hays makes a mistake that others have made in epistemology. Coherence theorists sometimes have thought that they propose a view different from foundationalism by leveling every belief. What transforms true belief into knowledge is not an appropriate inferential or causal dependence on or relation to antecedent beliefs but rather if the beliefs cohere. This is in fact just another species of foundationalism since they have only made all beliefs foundational. Likewise, Hays’ is attempting to block the claim that the canon is revisable by interlocking all of the books together, so that they all hang together. But if they all hang together, they can all be revised together. Hays is supposing that the entire canon can’t be scraped and that without argument. If the collection is fallible, why can’t the entire canon be revised? Instead of securing the canon against revision, he has only widened the scope of possible revision. If for example we found out that Genesis wasn’t inspired, how on earth will Isaiah or Matthew survive? Making it an all or nothing deal, doesn’t secure against possible revision. Moreover, Hays ignores the fact that Protestants historically have themselves revised the canon in piecemeal fashion. Inter-textual dependence doesn’t imply inspiration and inspiration isn’t necessarily transitive across any inter-textual relations. And Hays is supposing that Protestant thinking will inerrantly track those texts which are inspired. Given given a Calvinistic view of Total Depravity I don’t see a good reason to think that this is so. Even if all of the texts are related in the way that Hays claims, it doesn’t follow that Protestants will always and without fail always recognize them to be so or in the way that Hays thinks that they are. They could make a mistake.

I actually do give reasons for thinking that the consequences generated by Protestant theological method are unacceptable, namely that it is inconsistent with the idea that the teaching of God is revisable. If God teaches it, it ain’t up for grabs. If something taught is up for possible revision, it isn’t taught by God. Moreover, I am glad that Hays implicitly admits that my representation of the consequences of Protestant theological method, that every doctrine is in principle revisable, is accurate. My hat is off to him for admitting the point.
Knowledge and Normativity

Hays alleges that I maintain a double standard. Let’s see. He quotes me as writing,

1.“Protestants will hold that such doctrines are unrevisable because they are true. But can they be wrong about them being true? Sure and so we are right back to my point.”


2. “Just because I could be wrong, doesn’t mean that I *am* wrong. I can be fallible and know. If this weren’t the case we could be said to know very few things if anything at all, which strikes me as obviously false.”

Oh my. What am I to do? Well if Hays would pay attention to my argument he would see that I am in no way being inconsistent. I claim that knowledge is possible for fallible beings, when the conditions on knowledge are in fact met. I don’t have to be infallible to know. That is the point of 2. Since something taught by God, doctrine, isn’t revisable, then if something is revisable it isn’t something taught by God. So, if something I think I know is possibly revisable, then it isn’t doctrine, it isn’t taught by God as God teaches it. If I think I know (2nd order relation here) but could be wrong, this implies that the truth condition on the belief in question might not in fact have been met. Even if it has been, it is still logically possible that it might not have or that I make a mistake concerning it. But this is impossible for something taught by God, namely to be false or possibly be false. Possible revision in epistemology, the possibility of the truth condition not obtaining, implies then that the proposition/statement in question isn’t something taught by God. So I freely admit, Protestants could know something taught by God and put it in formal theological statements. But since it is always possible for the truth condition in fact not to be met, it could in fact count as knowledge, but the resulting formal theological statements could never in principle amount to doctrine, something taught by God, because they are revisable. The skeptical possibility in the case of knowledge implies a metaphysical difference with respect to the kinds of propositions. Another way of making the same point would be to write that the conditions for some proposition to count as knowledge and the conditions for something to be taught by God are different. The former isn’t sufficient for the latter. Protestants at best can promulagte the former but not the latter. Hence, there is no inconsistency in my position and I am not maintaining a double standard. Hays has once again managed to not grasp what my position is.

Historical Messiness

Hays agrees with me that the Bible contains no formal doctrine. But he thinks that because the Bible is something of a smorgasbord of literature, much of it historical in nature, that I don’t “like” it. It isn’t a matter of “like.” Truth be told, I like reading the Bible and do it often. And history is great, I was a history minor as an undergraduate and I enjoy it quite a bit. I am quite at home in making my cases from the matter of revelation, but as I noted above, this will just get us back to our core philosophical commitments because there are no neutral hermeneutical practices. Dealing with the ideas without proof texts, and outlining the arguments for a system and the system itself saves time and I presume my readers are Biblically literature. Hence Hays mistakes my desire to be temporally economical (Col 4:5, Eph 5:16) with a distaste for the mode of revelation. The motivation is practical, not theoretical.

Hays writes,

“The fact that the covenant community, from righteous Abel to John the Baptist, muddled through without bishops and councils and apostolic succession is irrelevant to him. For he doesn’t take his cue from what God has actually done in redemptive history. Mustn’t look out the window! No, we must intuit God’s will for the church.”

Well actually, Adam, along with his sons, were extra-ordinarily commissioned by God. So were Abraham and his descendents, being testified to by miracles and prophecy passing it along via oral tradition. Moses and Aaron too were extra-ordinarily commissioned by God and they in turn commissioned lower priests and levitical servers. The extraordinary divine commission was carried through by ordination, making its recipients ordinarily commissioned by God, such that those who lacked it were not considered priests. (Ezra 2:62, Neh 7:2, 64.) The ordinarily commissioned priestly line formed councils by which to rule and judge (Matt 5:22) and the NT continues this practice. (Luke 10:1, Acts 15) And then we have the prophets who were directly commissioned by God and testified to by miracles and prophecy. So actually there were “bishops”, “councils” and “apostolic succession” in the OT. My view is quite at home in such a context, whereas Hays has to posit a radical dichotomy. What? A Manichea…I mean Baptist, posit a radical dichotomy between the Old and New Covenant?! (The Reformers-neither ordinarily nor extraordinarily commissioned.)

Now Hays finally gets to a crucial point. He writes,

“7.He says that for a Protestant, doctrine is perennially revisable. But this is very misleading. To begin with, there is a sense in which Christianity is new to newer generation. Each generation must rediscover the Christian faith for itself. It does not, however, have to do that from scratch. No need to reinvent the wheel each time. Take the Trinity. The arguments pro and con have already been entered into the public record. Just review what’s already been said.”

Well too bad, he didn’t manage to touch the point in question. The question isn’t whether each generation has to find out about Christianity. That is perfectly compatible with a belief in an infallible church issuing infallible decisions. Something can be infallible and you only find out about it at a certain point. Discovering an infallible books isn’t the same as composing it. The same goes for other kinds of unrevisable propositions such as analytic truths. X could be an analytic proposition and be unrevisable and I only find out about it when I read a philosophy text. The question is, whether it is open to the church to revise its commitments to, say the Trinity. Why that isn’t possible Hays doesn’t tell us.

If there are no infallible interpretations of scripture, every interpretation is fallible and hence open to possible future revision. Are there some beliefs that Protestants hold about which it is impossible that we should ever find out that they were wrong? Are any of their theological beliefs beyond possible revision? If so, which ones and what makes them so? Hays doesn’t address this crucial point.

My view is quite at home with the fact that there are a plurality of claimants on the field. It’s part of being a libertarian about free will. Again, Hays is being dismissive here by supposing that what motivates my view is some psychological need. But my psychology is irrelevant to the point. If anything Hays’ psychology is relevant since he can’t manage in all that writing to actually indicate if he believes if there are any theological beliefs beyond possible revision. Talk about being in denial.


Hays quite rightly notes that I leave divine providence out of the picture. First because divine providence won’t secure against unrevisability. With say a Calvinistic theory of Providence, the canon and lots of beliefs taken by Calvinists to be “essential” or “the gospel” get revised formally even on their theory of providence. God can providentially order and predetermine (these are not the same mind you) people to get things wrong on the Calvinist model, and in fact did so. On such a theory, it is possible that God has predestined Calvinists to get certain things wrong which in turn will be revised in the future. Furthermore, Hays is assuming something that is only justifiably acquired after the question has been addressed. For if the canon is revisable, then one’s theory of providence will most certainly be affected by a possible revision. If the canon is revisable, then so is Hays’ theory of providence.

Epistemic Limitations

Hays thinks that I fall victim to my own problem. Let’s suppose that is true. Then this is an implicit admission that it is a problem for Protestantism as well. And then my argument is a good one, it is just that I was mistaken about its scope of application. I don’t see how widening the scope of a problem by making it defeat every candidate is a solution to the problem. Oh, that is because it isn’t one. Again, Hays has left the problem and my argument untouched and what is worse, admits that I am right.

Just because infallibility isn’t necessary for knowledge doesn’t imply that it can’t be necessary for other things. Even if my claims to know which church is the true church are revisable, it in no way follows from that, that the true church isn’t the true church and isn’t infallible. Hays may reply, well then why can’t we say the same thing about Scripture? I agree, we could, but Scripture wasn’t produced by a fallible source, which is exactly my point. Protestant ecclesiology is insufficient to produce unrevisable theological formulae and judgments, leaving any and all teaching in principle revisable. The texts that are inspired will always be so no matter what people end up believing. I agree, and the same is true for an infallible church, which is why my fallibility is irrelevant for their being such a thing. But by Protestant lights, the church could judge something that is inspired to not be inspired and vice versa and be wrong the entire time. Hays gives us no reason to think why this isn’t possible. My process of knowing doesn’t affect or contribute to the normative status of unrevisable propositions. But since all the Protestant has is the normativity at the level of knowledge, which leaves open the possibility of revision, Hays is left with a revisable faith.

In the end, in all of the writing that Hays has done, he still has not touched the point at issue. Are there unrevisable beliefs in Protestantism? And if so, what are they and what confers this property on them? If there aren’t, how does that cohere with the idea that nothing taught by God is revisable? And if the teaching of Protestant Churches is revisable, how can it ever be considered the teaching of God rather than the teachings of men?


7 Responses to Stop and Think

  1. Nathan says:


    I have become aware of this blog’s existence via Pontificator’s blog, and I have thoroughly enjoyed your most recent post.

    I was just recently commenting to a friend how rare it is for people to read outside of their theological circles. Its a scary business and I am proof that you just might have to leave the “Reformed Ghetto” if you do.

    Many different ecclesiastical forms exist in this “Ghetto,” but I think the Homechurch/Regulative Principle/Calvinistic/Reconstructionist Baptist is probably the worst (this little hint should give away a bit of my background).

    Anyway, having become completely disenchanted with my little sectarian world I have, in the past, sought the remedy in the inclusive Anglican world. This remedy has not sufficed for me and I can’t help but see it as a world of compromise (though it is a vast improvement from the “Ghetto”). I am now convinced that it is time to look for an Apostolic Church.

    I want to explore Orthodoxy and would be most grateful for any book/resource recommendations.

    Peace! and Keep Blogging


    P.S. Sorry, that this little comment has little to do with your well thought out post.

  2. Perry:

    I find the Protestant criticisms of the Church as being sinful because its members are sinful fails the very simple test of the fallacy of composition.

    But that seems a pervasive Protestant paradigm–that the Church is nothing more than all those who’ve been added to it. Therefore, since we are sinful now, the Church on earth must be sinful. Which is why we can always reform it.

    Unfortunately, it is the Protestant ecclesiology that results in two Churchs–a sinful Church on earth and a sinless one in heaven. Then again, since such an ecclesiology starts with neo-Nestorian division it will always only result in further schism.


  3. Clifton,

    I make exactly that argument in my post.

    “Part of the problem here is that Hays is still thinking of the church as an aggregate of like minded individuals so that the church is a group of persons and persons sin, therefore the church sins. But this is a prime example of the fallacy of division and composition. Something true of the whole isn’t necessarily true of its parts and vice versa. The church can be sinless while the parts are sinful. Hays hasn’t showed how it follows that because certain members of the church sins, that the church sins.”

  4. Um, yes, well, um, so you did.

    Well, carry on then.

    (Sheesh! I did read it, really, I did. How embarrassing!)

  5. Clifton,

    It was nearly thirty pages so don’t feel bad.

  6. David Richards says:

    Yes, well, it seems to me that Clifton’s writing style is closer to a rapid fire shotgun, with a series of quick retorts and refutations, whereas Perry’s tends to be a thorough metaphysical analysis about the epistemological nature of his opponents’ implicit presuppositions, and how they leak down into the minute (i.e., seemingly insignificant yet profoundly influential) details of their everyday lives. So even though they say may be saying the exact same thing, they will undoubtedly have different ways of expressing it. Now that makes it all so clear, doesn’t it?

  7. Brad Davis says:

    Brook thought this exchange reminded her of another exchange:

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