Steve Haze: The Black Knight of Calvinism


I generally like Monty Python. And of course I dig the Holy Grail. It’s a hoot. The Black Knight is especially funny. Ever major wound is “Tis but a scratch!” No arms? I’ll kick you to death! No legs? No problemo. “Ill bite your bloody knee caps off!” The man doesn’t known when to quit.

So it seems with Steve Hays and Gene Bridges over at Triablogue. I jumped into a fracas that Gene was in here. And Steve made some comments here. My response to Steve is below. (Gene, sorry, you’ll have to wait.)

Grammatical Historical Irrelevance. Steve’s comments even if correct still give us no example of where the Bible uses the method. Second, I am not assuming that we must be able to exegete the resurrection from the passage in isolation, but that we must do so primarily on the basis of the grammar of the text. Pull in the grammar of any other text if you like. The literal meaning of the text is primary, is it not? Yet Jesus doesn’t interpret the passage based on those considerations.

To appeal to the idea that the function of a citation is to act as a trigger for associations is just to capitulate that something else other than syntactical/semantical considerations are sufficient to give the literal sense of the passage. Besides, I didn’t argue that we had to interpret the passage in isolation (straw man) but on the basis of grammar. Moreover, even if this idea were to be let through as supporting the grammatical-historical method it bumps up against the text itself since plenty of people had those background associations and yet couldn’t seem to derive the interpretation that Jesus gives, which explains well why they were “astonished.” What’s there to be “astonished” about if they all pretty much had the same background data and the literal sense already? The point is that the background data wasn’t sufficient to get you to the true meaning, which isn’t the literal meaning. If you do think that Jesus’ interpretation is the plain and literal meaning of Exodus it’d be nice for you to show me that it is so. The people were astonished because it wasn’t the literal meaning of the text. They didn’t understand the true meaning because natural men do not understand godly things. So while it is true that knowledge of the patriarchs is a necessary condition for understanding the passage as Jesus does, it isn’t a sufficient condition, which implies that the grammatical-historical method is inadequate. So in no way does any of this show how you could get that meaning from those words in that context by linguistic analysis alone. The Spirit blows where He Will.  The France citation simply begs the question for he wishes to claim it is by some implication that Jesus shows that the relationship between God and the patriarchs still holds good. But what implication would that be? By what rule of reasoning does one get from, God had this relation to, God still has this relation? France doesn’t say and so gives us a non-answer as to how Jesus interpretation is derived from the text. France simply mistakes the conclusion for the premises and inferences which aren’t anywhere to be found in the surface grammar.
The citation from Carson is likewise irrelevant for the quesiton is not how NT writers are alert to OT context, but how one could arrive at Jesus’ interpretation using your proposed hermenutical methodology. The same could be asked concerning Paul’s use of “seed” in Gal 3:16 or Gal 4:21ff with respect to the two women. To note that the way that the NT writers use OT material forces us to think “afresh” is just to note that the meaning is spiritually discerned and not accessible by the grammar of the text. The Jews were competent users of the grammar as well as being well aware of the historical facts and yet they got the interpretation wrong. This is why they are quite “astonished” at Jesus’ teaching.
No, I do not agree that the NT writers misinterpreted the OT. And no I do not agree with liberal scholars. It would be nice if Hays could use his imagination and anticipate how I might answer these questions rather than pretending that he actually has an argument here by merely asking a question.  I think that the OT Scriptures testify to Christ (Jn 5:39) and so it is only by seeing the scripture theandrically or Christologically, as the Apostles were trained to do by Christ that they understood the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27) This practice was continued in the early church and continues today in Orthodoxy. Of course it by and large takes a back seat in Protestantism since they don’t permit the patristic rule of faith to guide their exegesis. In any case, notice how Hays moves from a question about my possibly answering in line with liberalism to an actual assertion on my part. 

“What is Perry’s alternative? Does he agree with the liberals that NT writers misinterpreted OT passages? Does he agree with the liberals that NT writers ripped OT verses out of context and foisted fanciful interpretations onto the text?” 

And then he writes, 

“Does he then salvage his liberal admission by running it through an Orthodox blackbox, so that, somehow, the output is true even though the input is false? Does Orthodox tradition legitimate an otherwise illegitimate interpretation? Does Orthodox tradition validate an otherwise invalid inference?”

I never gave any such “liberal admission” and I am clearly denying the former and so makes the second set of questions rather silly. Steve’s attempt to tar me with liberalism doesn’t stick. It must be that chrismation oil making me all slippery. And it’d be rather strange for me to leave ECUSA just so I could be a liberal in Orthodoxy. 


Admitting that certainty isn’t necessary for knowledge doesn’t amount to a major concession. It only clarifies the issues involved. The issue isn’t concerning epistemology per se, but metaethics, speifically that of Normativity. Simply noting that the question is concerning normativity and not certainty doesn’t concede the Protestant position, it only highlights its inadequacy. If Scripture is the rule and everyone’s application of the rule possesses the same degree of normativity, then it seems that no one is obligated to adhere to any other interpretation than their own in the absence of reasons they judge to be sufficient to alter their judgment. Yet this seems counter to the NT witness for example in Matt 18:17. The judgment of the church seems to carry a sufficiently higher degree of normativity than any individual. Much the same could be said for Paul’s actions in 1 Cor 5:5 and 1 Tim 1:20. We would need something with a greater degree of normativity than knowledge to match the kind of normativity that the NT ascribes to the church’s ministerial judgments. That kind of normativity is sufficient to bind not only the conscience of another person, but their body and soul with respect to eternal destiny apart from their assent and that level of normativity seems greater than that found at the level of knowledge. Secondly, on epistemological grounds, given fallibilism, for any knowledge claim of contingent agents there will always be a sufficient amount of epistemic distance between thinking that we fulfills the conditions on knowledge and actually doing so (See Greco, Putting Skeptics in Their Place). So knowledge claims won’t be sufficient to ground the kind of normativity necessary to map the biblical view on the ministerial authority of the Church. Likewise it will be inadequate to justify an absolute commitment just as any individual claim to knowing that one is elect is undermined by the possibility of thinking one is elect and being determined to think so and yet not in fact be so. One sees something like this in the realm of quackadoxy among contemporary Montanists (Pentacostals and Charismatics). The claim that the Spirit told them that God wanted them to bring their dead parrot to Benny Hinn to get resurrected (yes, this is a real case, I was there passing out literature against Hinn and saw it myself) is undermined by the possibility that someone can think that they were told by the Spirit and yet not in fact be so. Likewise, mere knowledge claims, attended by even the most sophisticated explication of the conditions on knowledge, of which there is hardly a consensus among epistemologists, will always leave open the possibility that they merely appear to be correct or be fulfilled and in fact won’t be. 

Moreover, the Protestant position on the canon necessarily and functionally relegates divine revelation to the realm of a pragmatic or provisionally adhered to body of documents so that what counts for divine revelation becomes a function of provisional judgment. The faith and divine revelation then are no different in kind from any other humanly constructed hypothesis. It is no wonder then that Protestants have sought to employ hermeneutical practices that they take to be sufficient to access the semantic content of non-inspired documents to the Scriptures thinking that they will do the same work there. (And of course why Protestantism gave rise to Liberal biblical scholarship and Christologies “from below.”) As James White never tires of harping, “Words have meaning.” Of course White doesn’t show any proficiency in being able to say exactly what meaning is or how he found that out. I suppose some conceptual apple of Newton’s just fell out of the sky giving him a full blown theory of meaning which he is yet to grace us with. I suppose, he’d have to be a philosopher for that to happen. But I digress. In any case, Scripture indicates that the true meaning of Scripture is had by reading the bible Christologically, as I noted above, which is why the canon is a function of Christology and not the other way around. Of course this is so for Protestants as well, they are just not epistemically fully self conscious to wax Van Tillian. This is why they usually get a historical hard-on for the Nestorian and Adoptionistic hermeneutical practices of some heterodox Antiochians and others like Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret and Nestorius, even though such practices have been condemned by councils that Protestants have historically claimed to adhere to. (5th Ecumenical Council.) 

The concession that Orthodoxy doesn’t confer an epistemic advantage wouldn’t be major a major concession, since all I have done is analyze and put the argument on its proper footing, normativity. Secondly, at best it would only imply that Orthodox apologists (and who are they exactly?) need to revise their argument. And it would leave untouched the question of whether Orthodoxy and Protestantism were on the same footing with respect to normativity. Such a concession is therefore harmless to the Orthodox position.  Hays states that the Protestant position isn’t claiming to be superior. Well that is certainly news to me since Protestant apologists like Hays never seem tired of claiming so. In fact, the Protestant position is proffered as superior which is then employed as a reason for preferring it to its competitors. If Hays wishes to concede that it isn’t in fact a better position, and its consequent that it lacks warrant on that point to justify someone believing it over its competitors, I am all too happy to concede that point.

And Hays makes the claim too strong. He writes, “The Protestant position would only need to be problem-proof if we made that a criterion for the true rule of faith.” If a position has conceptual problems that it cannot address, that seems to be grounds for rejecting it or at least not adhering to it in the first place. If those problems undermine its justification for consistently adhering to its rule of faith in the way that it claims to do so, then the problems again undermine the Protestant position. Next Hays glosses superiority far too widely for superiority comes in lots in flavors, not the least of which is logical consistency. My arguments aimed at showing that Protestantism is inconsistent with some of its own core presuppositions so that either those presuppositions need to go or Protestantism needs to go.   

But Hays may be right that the argument never took the form of arguing that Orthodoxy can’t be superior to Protestantism because Protestantism is superior to it in relation to an epistemologically privileged position. Of course my argument was that the attempts to deflate the Orthodox position at best rested on a tu quo que fallacy. 
And I would think that Protestantism would not only be concerned with the correct rule of faith but also a normative application of it. If it isn’t one wonders why there are Protestant Confessions and Catechisms.

As to why we should assume that the normative application of the rule is a problem the answers are easy. First, we shouldn’t assume that it is a problem. Second, it does prima facia certainly seem to be a problem, given that comparably intelligent users of the rule should converge on their interpretations, but for 500 years the major Protestant traditions have been producing more divergence than convergence with no end in sight. Such facts raise questions in other disciplines such as normative ethics between Utilitarians and Kantians for example and one wonders why Protestants just schlep off the increasing divergence. Another reason would be that the Bible at least seems to speak of the church have a measure of normativity that exceeds that of the individual as I noted above. And this is true in both testaments. That all by itself seems to be sufficient to raise concerns that Protestantism can meet the demands of the Biblical description of the degree of normativity attributed to the ministerial authorities. If Hays were correct, Acts 15 should have been re-written along far more eclectic and individualistic lines. I suppose the Holy Spirit didn’t have a good enough argument yet. I for one would think that we should be concerned that our formal theological systems do in fact map on to the Bible’s teaching and that if they don’t then that is a problem that we need to solve and so it is a problem that Protestants need to solve. 

As for Hays’ basic principle that something is a problem for us if it’s a problem for God and since God doesn’t consider the situation a problem then presumably we shouldn’t either, here is what I have to write.  This is simply question begging. Second, there are obvious cases where something isn’t a problem for God but a problem for humans, namely when our ideas don’t match God’s in the appropriate way. God never seems to have a problem with that and yet we do.  

Hays is mistaken that the “high church” objections to the “no-church” position are a species objection to theism of the problem of evil.  Some of the objections turn on the assumption about theoretical, explanatory and justificatory convergence. If the theory were correct it should lead to greater agreement and not less. And the “high-church” objection isn’t based on an assurance that this doesn’t reflect God’s plan but in fact rests on a constellation of arguments. It would be helpful if Hays showed sufficient proficiency in the historical literature beyond the superficial and popular level here. Anglo-Catholic divines historically just didn’t argue like that.  And if anything, the line of reasoning that Hays outlines seems to be exactly the Protestant line of reasoning, namely that the pre-Reformation history of the church showed that the way things went wasn’t in fact part of God’s plan for the church. So much for trust in providence. I suppose all that abosolute predestinarinism doesn’t extend to bodies so Hays must have a ‘heathen” attitude when it comes to providence.

And so the “high-church” objection isn’t a questioning of divine providence. It could only be that if Protestantism was the only Christian community left on the planet or nearly so, but it certainly isn’t. It does question the legitimacy of the “no-church” position on numerous grounds-contrary to the biblical witness, seems implausible that there was a vast and quiet apostasy, there should be various forms of convergence, etc. 

And even if the “high-church” argument were a species of the problem of evil, the Protestant should be able to answer it directly rather than trying to tar it with ad hominem and poisoning the well. Certainly Hays doesn’t think that all Christian traditions handle that problem equally well and so I see no reason why, even if true (it is not) it can’t function as an objection to the “no-church” position. Does Hays think that we can legitimately schlep off atheistic deployments of the problem of evil? I don’t think he does. If not, who cares who it is that gives the objection? (Can we say genetic fallacy?) 

As for textual corruption and other kinds of error that could become enshrined in Protestantism, dismissing them doesn’t do any argumentative work. Hays poses the possibility of tradition being corrupted as if the Orthodox have neither thought of this nor have a mechanism for identifying it and rooting it out (just like with textual corruption-we’ve done that too btw-your welcome). That by itself is rather strange as Hays should know better knowing the history of the church. What he needs to do is not pose questions but arguments as to why those mechanisms have in fact failed or are likely to do so. Moreover, the possibility that error can be just as easily enshrined in texts and Protestant Confessions, which Hays thinks, as a Baptist, is in fact the case, would function as just as much a defeater for sola scriptura as it would for thinking that scripture is part of the tradition of the church. Not to mention the fact that providence has allowed textual corruption to occur and that on no small scale as well as corruption of the canon for long periods of time. 

And so people like me don’t create problems and then blame Protestant positions for not solving the problem. What I do is perform internal critiques. If these are Protestant presuppositions then such and so either should not be the case or the position is inconsistent or it cannot justify certain position it professes allegiance to. 

Moreover, the problems I “dream up” aren’t just arbitrary problems. They are significant objections with historical legs. Acting as if they have no traction and that Hays can simply ignore them isn’t an argument. Of course Hays may be implicitly admitting that he doesn’t have an answer-I don’t know. In any case my position wasn’t that if Hays doesn’t have an answer that his position is wrong. (This argument cuts both ways with his criticisms of Orthodoxy.) But something that might more closely follow would be that perhaps Hays might want to find one and that it would be good in terms of justification if he did so.  And that a persistent lack of plausible answers on seemingly serious objections lowers the likelihood that his position has one on offer out there somewhere.  As for the “perfectionism” of the high church position and problems as a defeater for it this is rather laughable. The running joke among the Orthodox is, “I don’t believe in organized religion, which is why I am Orthodox.” Certainly not all “high church” positions are created equal. One has only to look at history to know that we aren’t perfectionists. That after all is what the economia is for. In any case, Hays confuses our belief in the theological and spiritual perfection of Christ’s body as a whole with the personal failings of its members. (ya just got to love that fallacy of composition.) Moreover, given that the Orthodox are a species of Libertarians, we have a nifty explanation of why the world isn’t perfect without making God the ogre who causes and ultimately sanctions that imperfection out of some dependence via legal relationships on it.

As for “speculations” Calvinists in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones with doctrines like the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism. They aren’t exactly jumping off the surface grammar of every or any page. As for tu quo que arguments, showing that your opponent has the same problem doesn’t answer the opponent on his own grounds. It just extends the scope of the problem.

Steve also has a problem with causation. I argued that the revisionary project of protestantism doesn’t imply progress and I used Rome as an example by their lights of longstanding error. Hays replies correctly that Rome persisted in that way for specific reasons. But then he draws the still born conclusion that one would need to reproduce the same causes for that to be the case for Protestantism. One can have the same effect brought about by all kinds of different causes so there doesn’t need to be the same causal nexus underlying Protestantism to get longstanding error. Human nature will do just fine. (One wonders if he is a reductionist about the mind-body problem. If you don’t get the humor, read on.) Secondly, Hays seems to equivocate since I am glossing corruption widely and not narrowly as specifically Roman corruptions. There’s nothing in what I wrote that requires corruption to always come in terms of medieval Frankish additions. Subtraction is just as a viable form of corruption as addition, let alone redefinition of older terms (Just read how baptists and presbyterians read the baptismal section of the Creeds.) In any case, this is simply a sidestep for Hays offers no reason to think that it is any more plausible that Protestantism won’t  in fact get it wrong and enshrine large scale error or that this hasn’t in fact happened. Of course when you have a Nestorian ecclesiology this is a definite worry since the Church is a purely human entity subordinated to God via an extrinsic volitional relation.

I also brought up the recent hullabaloo over the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) as an example. The rather rapid and rhetorically charged dismissal of the NPP by many of the conservative Reformed denominations makes it all the more plausible I think that they are less likely to do any better than Rome and in fact far worse. Hays asks, “Are these reforming movements or deforming movements?” Well of course, that is the question isn’t it? Why think that Protestants are guaranteed to get it right or even likely? Have they managed convergence on say baptism? Once you start off taking up ministerial offices upon yourself without biblical license, that is without being ordinarily or extraordinarily commissioned, (Calvin was never ordained by anyone) I would think that it is all the more plausible to think that you are going to get other things wrong as well. In any case, if people truly believed semper reformada, I don’t think they would reject revisionary projects like the NPP out of hand or treat them dismissively as they have by and large done. Most of the critical literature I have seen coming from conservative Protestants tends to be the usual kind of cherry picking and hatchet jobs that I have seen proffered on Orthodoxy or other theological traditions or movements (Horton’s garbage is a prime example). They are designed to scare the frozen chosen to keep them in the flock and not much else. That is, you’d think that people who thought that every interpretation was fallible and in principle revisable, even ones that they have settled on for a long period of time, like oh say sola fide or sola scriptura, would be far more open and less intractable and incorrigible such as to act as if their treasured interpretations were de facto infallible. People who deny an infallible interpreter are the ones who most act as if they have one. And this Newman rightly saw that Protestants did not adhere to sola scriptura but in fact were engaged in constructing a new tradition with new fathers which passed down a new interpretative rule that pealed away anything that did not conform to the rationalism of humanism. (can you say “Clear and Necessary Inference?”) They were making Christianity safe for Humanistic consumption.

As for controlling the future, certainly this is a claim you don’t truly wish to proffer for comaptibilists have usually claimed a kind of “guidance control” in genuinely contributing to future events so as to secure human agency. And as I have pointed out previously, why think that God is going to save your theoretical arse?  Since God has predestined the corruption of the canon in the past (not to mention the corruption of the Presbyterians and Lutherans), which you readily admit, how does it help matters, even in terms of assurance, to bring in divine providence which can for “hidden reasons” determine you to not only think that you have the correct canon but also determine you to corrupt it? To take a lesson from epistemology, it is certainly true that I don’t have to worry about the kinds of skeptics that turn up in say Contextualist narratives. I am not concerned that when I take my five year old to the zoo that a nasty skeptic is going to take away my knowledge that I am looking at a zebra by changing the epistemic context in saying, “How do you know that is a zebra? That could be a cleverly disguised mule?” But if I am playing the reason game and trying to show that my account of things is correct, I should be able to give some good reason why I think it is so. To throw up my hands and say in an epistemology seminar, “Why do I have to answer all these silly questions?” is just to cease to do epistemology, to play the reason game and to abdicate the battle field. Whining very loud and taking up your toys and going home because you refuse to play by the rules is not an argument. Hays could have saved us all a bunch of time in addressing my objections instead of asking why he needed to answer these objections with simply saying “I don’t know.” The two answers are functionally equivalent. But as Socrates taught us, these words are difficult to utter.As for Hays not dealing any of life’s cards and just playing the part, it is amazing to me how much convergence there is between Calvinism and Stoicism.

“Remember that you are an actor in a drama of such sort as the Author chooses-if short, then in a short one; if long then in a long one. If it be his pleasure that you should enact a poor man, or a cripple, or a ruler, or a private citizen, see that you act it well. For this is your business-to act well the given part, but to choose it belongs to another.” Epictetus, Enchiridion, 17.

Is it any wonder that Luther appealed to Stoic necessitarianism to defend his view of the will? So much for being Augustinian. In any case, Hays is confusing the supposed factual status of his view of divine providence with his giving or inability to give justification for what he believes. I am asking him to show that his account is rational and well founded and not to show the reasons why God permits this, that or the other.  If the high church position is interchangeable with the mentality of the psychic in fear of the future as Hays claims, then certainly the Protestant position is interchangeable with the Gnostic who fears the past and the idea that God unites himself to creation intrinsically. In fact, I do trust God’s providence contrary to Protestant Gnostic presuppositions that make it impossible for God to preserve anything mediate and visible as truly united to Him. This is why Baptists like Steve view the sacraments as nothing more than signs and the Presbyterians aren’t much better viewing them as occasionally employed tools, the occasion of employment of which is beyond our epistemic reach because after all, there’s nothing ore than a volitional union between God and Creation. It is amazing to me that these people still profess belief in an incarnation at all (or that I did when I was one. Must be divine mercy). In any case, this is all a red herring on Steve’s part to cover up the fact that he hasn’t addressed the objections I raised.  

As for Jason Engwer’s “documentation” since this person doesn’t know what the word “formal” means and uses Origen as a witness against icons I simply refuse to interact with him. The man didn’t seem to be aware of the most rudimentary reasons for Origen’s statements which would have undermined his entire use of him. I am sure Jason’s a nice kid, but a BA in English doesn’t exactly encourage me to think that he is worth talking to. So Steve is right, I didn’t look at what Jason wrote since Jason is not a profitable foil let alone dialog partner. Jason doesn’t know how to handle the sources reliably. He cherry picks and that’s about it. And that is why I don’t bother with open and self professed Nestorian wack jobs like Eric Svendsen. (There’s an implicit compliment in there for you Steve.)  

Again Steve confuses a question for an argument. What about the Monophysite episcopate and its claim to succession? Where is the argument? And of course, he’d need to understand the Orthodox take on apostolic succession to construct one. Must not be crackin’ d’em books, eh?

As for divine simplicity, Hays simply stalls. I challenge him to support the doctrine using his exegetical methods and Scripture alone and he responds that I am assuming he holds to it. I wonder if he holds to the London Baptist Confession of 1677/89, chapter 2, article 1? Or I wonder if he thinks that standard Reformed Baptist theologians who interpreted it it got it all wrong and on the doctrine of God no less? Put up or shut up here Steve. Is practically the entire Protestant tradition wrong in its doctrine of God at this point or not? (Can he produce a single representative Reformed baptist theologian who denied it? Same with the Filioque?) Hmm, would that be a case of enshrining serious error? Ya think? I would pay money (not a lot) to just watch Steve defend his rejection of divine simplicity or the Filioque before his congregational elders. In any case, Steve’s profession matters not since the doctrine is enshrined across the board in Baptist, Reformed and Lutheran Confessions and all of their major systematic and biblical theologians who exposit those confessions, thereby fixing the meaning in a sufficiently rigid fashion for my argumentative purposes. The doctrine takes a variety of shapes either a more Thomistic (Turretin, Gill) or Scotistic (Hodge) form, but all of them are Platonic and not derived from Scripture alone. It is a feeble argument in deed to argue that the authors and interpreters didn’t have the Platonic doctrine in mind since their reasoning follows point for point the Platonic reasoning, not to mention the fact that the historical use and derivation of their choice of terms is from the Platonists, through the Scholastics and on to the Anglican Divines and the 39 Articles into their own Baptist confession demonstrates otherwise. Tis grasping at straws.  Nor does it do any work to claim that the philosophical theology is merely ancillary since you don’t require subscription and profess as doctrine ancillary speculations.

It seems funny to me that rather than admit the point, Steve has to condemn his own church, confessions and major theologians, either explicitly or implicitly in order to condemn Orthodoxy. Hmm, looks like an inconsistency there. Might that be an internal critique maybe? And of course he completely ignores my question of justifying the Filioque on biblical grounds. Is that just another doctrine he conveniently and rather on an ad hoc basis rejects? Better start talking to your elders there Steve about all these doctrines from your Confession that you deny and that your church has enshrined. 

As for citing hostile sources, it is irrelvant per the charge of universalism that Steve didn’t cite hostile sources. The problem is that Steve is cherry picking through handbooks, dictionaries and on line pieces by popular authors, who are incidentally often criticized by members of their own tradition, rather than showing any real familiarity or grasp of the system from the inside out. This is why I don’t even have to break a sweat to refute them. Anyone familiar with Maximus’ theology or Origen for that matter would have seen the equivocation from the source Steve cited leap from the page. It is demonsratably false and well known that Maximus didn’t hold to Origen’s or Gregory’s universalism. The problem is not therefore the presence of a hostile witness but of an incompetent one. I can see nothing generally wrong with Ware’s statement even though it needs clarification, but that is because I am familiar with the more nuanced explanations he is drawing on. I can understand how someone might take it from a non-Orthodox background. Nonetheless, Steve’s question of why he should take the word of a Layman over a bishop says a lot. First, we don’t have the same ecclesiology as Rome, let alone the same methodological outlook. Consequently, some of the best theologians of our church were laymen-Maximus is a prime example. This does not mean that I am one of them. What it does mean is that bishops can individually make mistakes. Furthermore, one doesn’t have to be a bishop to know that the dictionary you cited was factually wrong. One has only to read through the sources and the fact that Steve didn’t spot the glaring error shows that he is simply cherry picking and has no real understanding of the sources he is deploying but is merely spoof-texting.

Florence, ROCOR and other tidbits.  And so goodie for Steve that Steve was citing from a dictionary (in fact Gene wasn’t citing a dictionary but an interlocutor.) I fail to see how that touches my point. The question on the table was why didn’t Orthodoxy issue statements in councils like Florence? And I addressed why Florence wasn’t accepted. Not all delegates signed, some of those that did, did so under duress, simony and bribery, not to mention the fact that the Emperor played an ipso facto negating role in the council by excluding certain theological issues and ideas.

As for ROCOR, Steve would need to demonstrate that they aren’t able to rescind previous statements, rather than draw an analogy. The strength of the analogy depends on demonstration and not the other way around. Not to mention the fact that logically it could have all been true, but that doesn’t imply that it always had to be since Moscow could have rectified the problems. Repentance is possible and this cuts both ways. In any case, the previous ROCOR accusations only do work for you if they were true and I don’t think they were.

Sure a Calvinist can create his own canon and text on his own principles but usually Calvinists do exactly what I said they do, come up with nifty interpretations rather than taking the stronger action of getting out the scissors and editing Mark. And I know plenty of Presbyterian, Lutheran and Baptists ministers who have in the past and in the present preached on Mark 16. In any case, I don’t see why the fact that you cut out Mark 16 from your Bible precludes me from keeping it in and exegeting it differently. Consequently my original point is untouched. It seems strange to me that you keep harping on Mark 16, especially in light of a number of facts. First, no Protestant Bible society that I know of has removed it from the text or relegated it to an appendix. Secondly, why not Protest it (that’s what you’re good at right?) like other historical spurious additions like the Apocrypha? I don’t see why you don’t have the same kind of acrimony about the long reading of Mark as you do the longer text of Jeremiah which includes Baruch and other works. So is the long ending of Mark inspired Scripture or not Steve? If it is, why employ it against me? If it isn’t, why do you attend a church which includes it as the inspired word of God? To be quite frank, either tell your pastors that they are heretics for adding to God’s word like you do with Catholics, Mormons and others or just shut up about it. 

As for Gene’s statement that he has “cracked the books” his reading activities leave a lot to be desired. The fact that you guys are spoof texting from popular dictionaries and authors says it all, not to mention the fact that you can’t see glaring historical and theological errors in the sources you cite. Good thing Steve is in seminary and Gene wishes to go.

As for face saving maneuvers, I haven’t engaged in any of them so please, pin those mistakes on the appropriate persons.  I have engaged in arguments and given reason why the sources you cite are in fact wrong or are being misread by you and Gene. And in fact, I am not the one dismissing objections by simply asking questions about them. I mean seriously Gene, how much time have you seriously spent trying to understand Orthodox theology from the inside out? Apparently, not much. 

Have a nice day.


  1. Aplogetic discussions are something to be avoided, in my experience. It is just frustrating – normally, nobody seems to be able to take into account their own set of glasses through which they view the subject matter. When the spit starts flying and the arms start waving, it is time to pack up and spend yuor time more profitably elsewhere, like in the veggie garden. We really add to our burden by feeling the need to get into every nutcase argument that comes along.


  2. Scylding,

    I don’t think Hays is a nutcase. And I have other purposes in mind. I do a few rounds with him and let it go after the point has been made. I used to go to a discussion group where more learned apologists would show us how to argue effectively and then stand back and let us practice on some loud mouth atheist. It was a profitable way of learning to dialog with people. Something like that is at work here. I am not excpecting to convince Hays. But I know from my stats and I suspect his that we aren’t the only readers. I think that the Orthodox had better wise up because the novlty of being Orthodox and ethnic conclave won’t protect us much longer from Protestant missionaries. They are already showing up our festivals like they did last year passing out tracts. It won’t be long till they start picking off members in large numbers.


  3. I didn’t realise that they are showing up at Orthodox festivals to pick off members. Seems the Orthodox conversion boomlet has stung somebody in the backside. I know they aren’t adverse to “converting” the Orthodox, because I have a cousin who is an evangelical missionary in Israel and she was open about the fact that she would “witness” to Orthodox Arabs so they would get saved.

    As usual, you pick apart the Triabloguers with surgical accuracy.


  4. Perry, although I could never express it the way you do here, you have nailed it, sir. I spent the first 30+ years of my life as a Protestant, and spent a couple years seriously examining Calvinism (I was raised in an Arminian faith tradition) before ultimately becoming Orthodox. Your words here mirror my study and experiences almost exactly. Well done.


  5. Rob,

    Thanks for the compliments but I didn’t post it for them. My point in engaging Hays is at least to blaze a path that others can copy it in the future with others. As things stand the general feel of things is that one becomes Orthodox because of smell, bells and pretty pictures. I think we can do better, lots better. This is not to say that Orthodox can be reduced to a rational scheme, because it can’t. It is to say that the Fathers used arguments and there are clear logical links between the things they taught in the main. Often converts are warry of rationalism, but they don’t seem to be concerned about going into the opposite error of something like Otto’s Kantianism in The Idea of the Holy where what passes for religion is a non-rational nebulous feeling. People often favor this because it gives them a one up, a place that can’t be criticized, but it also makes them irrelevant and equalizes their positions with all kinds of non-personal religions. Such a view isn’t Incarnational but Apollinarian.


  6. Perrry says: “This is not to say that Orthodoxy can be reduced to a rational scheme, because it can’t. It is to say that the Fathers used arguments and there are logical links between the things they taught in the main.”


    You hit it spot on!

    I think too many in the convert boomlet seem to forget that yes, in fact, the Fathers DID use arguments in the exposition of their dogmatic teachings. It is impossible to read the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers and not see that there are coherent, tight arguments there. Look at St. Maximus the Confessor’s disputation with Pyhrrus on the two energies of the one incarnate Logos. Or consider St. John of Damascus’ Philosophical and dogmatic chapters.

    No, Orthodoxy cannot be reduced to a “system”. But neither is it just a simple matter of just shutting off our rational faculties and just “FEEEEEEEEling it”.

    My two-cents worth, anyway.

    Pax tecum
    Robert Thomas Llizo


  7. Perry, I agree with you and echo Mr. Llizo’s sentiments. My catechist was Fr. Reardon, and before I had him as a catechist I had him as a philosophy prof. Believe me, I know the value of rational argument.

    I think the ‘smells, bells and pretty pictures’ often serve as an initial attraction to potential converts, which is fine as far as it goes, but their grasp of the rational aspects of the faith should be emphasized in their catechesis more than it tends to be, IMO. I think that sometimes we glory too much in the fact that our theology is “unsystematic,” and that furthermore, we tend to equate “unsystematic” with “disorganized” or “haphazard.” This plays into the hands of our critics, who many times already have this view of Orthodox theology. Having said that, though, I certainly wouldn’t agree with those who say that systematic theology is necessary (R.J. Rushdoony wrote a book with the title “The Necessity of Systematic Theology”, for instance). I think we can certainly present our theology in an organized, rational manner without it collapsing into a “system.”


  8. The nutcase comment was specifically geared towards mr Hays, but there are some of those out there.

    BTW, I’m not Orthodox myself, but have attended an Antiocian Church, and have good friends that are, and have been to events. I would have a big problem with any protestant (and I am one – Lutheran in the making) passing out tracts at an orthodox meeting / festival. What brand of protestants were these?


  9. To all,

    Excellent points. Every time I hear the anti-rationalism jargon flaunted about by most Orthodox I tend to cringe. “Anti-rationalism” is often used to mask intellectual sloth or ignorance. I was convinced of the truth of Orthodoxy before ever setting foot in a liturgy. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but nevertheless that ‘s how it happened. I firmly believe that ALL of Orthodoxy can be perfectly argued in the public arena without lapsing into some sort of uber-rationalism. If I’m not mistaken, apophaticism applies to talk of the Divine Nature, not to all discourse regarding the revealed truths of our faith.



  10. Perry,
    This is well done. My Protestant doubts intensified when an Anglo-Catholic linguistic scholar from the University of Chicago made a similar case to me that you are making here. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    To all,

    My experience with Orthodox converts have been very different than what has been described here. I have spent some time in two predominantly convert parishes in New Mexico and Alabama. Most of the converts that I know can, in varying degrees, give a reason for the hope that is in them while I have met some lifelong Orthodox Christians who cannot give an answer beyond I am Greek. I find that the tendency in converts is toward rationalism rather than being anti-rational. I have never met a convert who is anti-rational though I am sure there are some out there. Orthodox philosopher Dr. David Bradshaw’s paper “On Drawing the Mind into the Heart” is an important read for anyone trying to understand the different use of reason in the West and in Orthodoxy. Dr. Bradshaw’s home page is


  11. Scydling,

    The species of Protestant was Evangelical/Reformed. Fortunately they came to the book table first so I was able to intercept them and turn them into theological pretzles before they could do any damage.


  12. “theological pretzels” LOL – that was one of the best ones I’ve heard in a long time. Being familiar with your technique in the blogosphere, I can only imagine…..


  13. Scylding,

    When I was a teenager and knew everything, I used to listen to Walter Martin on the radio. Martin wasn’t the sharpest of minds theologically speaking and he was no philosopher, but he was energetic and passionate about the truth, character flaws and all. The way I saw it then (and now) is quite simple. If Christianity is true, then believe it and practice it as best you can. If not, sleep in on sunday. And that is the way I teach my high schoolsunday school class. Of course, I wasn’t the soul of tact that I am today (you laugh but its true.) I am far more laid back and willing to let stuff slide. Ken Samples told me once when I was at CRI, “Never fight a battle where there is nothing to win.” He was right. I learned.

    In any case, I have always had a big mouth and the pretzel comment was taken from Martin. he had a mess of them that were winners. Sometimes I think of him and try to pray for him. Whatever his personal faults were, he had courage to take on established powers and tell it like it is. I have learned that people think that they are good and that they think that if they were in a situation that required them to speak up they would, but this is false. Most people will shut up and go with the flow and hence aren’t good persons. They lack the virtue of courage. Having the right ideas in your head doesn’t count for jack if you lack the power to bring them to act. I have been in enough church fights to know that this is true. Most people are cowards.

    It is sad though that Martin’s work has essentially been taken over by a seriously unethical man like Hannagraaf. In case you didn’t know, I worked there for nearly two years in the early 90’s and was terminated for whistle blowing on Hanagraaf’s financial improprieties as well as making under the table to deals to coverup theological error in exchange for financial gain. Plenty of others have suffered the same fate. I wait for justice.


  14. Dave,

    I hope you mind that I stole your Cool-Brittanica / Star-and-Bars symbol. Love it.

    * * * *

    Boy, I gave up disputing with TULIP Calvinists along time ago. Almost anyone who is a TULIP is an unswerving, true-believer, having made such a huge personal investment to time and energy in learning Jean’s absurd system. How to you argue with someone who beleives that scriptural references to “All,” actually have the contrary meaning of “Some.”

    My only question is whether TULIP Calvinism even counts as separated Christianity at all (as distinguished from those who learned the doctrine in good faith as authentic Christianity due to mere historical accident of birth). To me, Jean Chauvin’s system only differs from Mr. Smith’s in degree, not kind. Both are cut from whole cloth from the imagination of one man and sold as either direct revelation via Mormon or the “Bible” uprotted from its mooring and context (which makes the Bible cease to be the Bible).


  15. Acolyte,

    Thanks for that. I have been in a similar, yet much more minor situation: i had to resign from a Christian School board over financial irregularities etc., which they did not have the courage to address properly. It also caused me to have leave a church which I was attending at the time. Of course, within 18 months or so the school closed down. Why do Christians sell their birthright for pottage, again and again???


  16. Death, feel free to use my symbol, though if you use it as a WordPress avatar, it may confuse things. Glad you like it. It was the best way I could come up with to demonstrate my trans-Atlantic interests due to my expat residence.

    Perry, it sounds like you were a lot like me. I was a know-it-all teenager with a severe deficit of tact. Also at my Christian college, one of the freshman courses was on cults and the occult, with Walter Martin’s book as the textbook. I got an A+.

    I briefly thought Hank Hanagraaf was the best thing since sliced bread, but his focused seems to have narrowed down to a particular sub-species of Protestantism as the only true Christianity, with everything else as heresy. Sounds a lot like the Triabloguers, doesn’t it?


  17. Yo Perry,

    Nice post. I have a question though. What kind of normativity were you talking about? At first you were speaking of meta-ethics and then you were speaking of the concept of knowledge. The former is a different kind of normativity than the latter (the latter is weaker I believe). So when you speak of normativity with regards to Church authority, Scripture, etc., would you place it under ethics, epistemic, or other?


  18. Apolino,

    I think there is some dependence in epistemology on moral theory and hence metaethics concerning normativity. I am still tinkering with the concept and how I wish to deploy it exactly. So the difference seems to me not to be a difference in kind but degree. Of course, I could be wrong, but this is the way it strikes me now.


  19. Oops, stupid computer….

    Anyways, as I was saying, it’s sad to hear that there are so many new converts who are anti-intellectual Perry. My own experience was actually much different. As an evangelical Calvanist, I was totally turned off by the smells, bells, and icons. It was actually the intellectual arguments that led me to the church. It took a while of attending an Orthodox church before I grew to love the liturgy and the icons. Usually I see a much more intellectual brand of convert in my experience, but that is probably because most of the converts I know tend to be fellow students.

    I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here by training converts in how to defend the faith Perry. This blog has definately been an invaluable tool for me and my fellow convert friends during our journey into the faith. Keep up all the excellent work because I believe that it is having a good impact for the cause of Christ. God bless.


  20. Perry,

    I have recently stumbled across the blog, and really appreciate your work. I am a convert as well. I am embarrassed to admit that after 2 religions degrees (bachelors and masters) my skills in logic a way sub-par. I have seen the book list, any other suggestions that help develop skills in logic and argumentation.

    God Bless,


    BTW, do you want to come help with a festival in Louisville 🙂


  21. Perry/acolyte/whoever:

    I know that Orthodoxy can be defended intellectually, and IMO that is one way it MUST be defended (though doing “the signs of an apostle” while making one’s case can also be of great value!). While I like the sensory stimuli and reverence and decorum of the Divine Liturgy, Vespers, etc., in comparison to what we used to do as Charismatic/Evangelical Protestants (which I enjoyed for decades), I pay attention to what is said and chanted during the services. It is the content of the faith and its plumbing of the depths of what it means to worship a Triune God Who incarnated as man that grabbed and holds me. Nothing I had learned (or, rather, failed to learn or hear) in my previous Christianity, nor even in my admittedly incomplete reading of Calvin’s INSTITUTES, compares.

    Yet … I so easily get lost in the things you write and what the Triabloguers write. I am not stupid, nor ignorant of the Scriptures, but I find that I can be persuaded by whichever side I read last. I guess I need to bone up on my philosophy, yet what I most need to do is spend more time in prayer. Quandary of quandaries.

    I’m buying a used copy of Farrell’s FREE CHOICE IN SAINT MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR because you consider it essential reading. Maybe that will help me understand the issues and their importance.


  22. yo perry,

    i asked because someone may easily commit the fallacy of equivocation if one throws “normativity” around too loosely. my first instinct is that there is a difference in kinds of “oughts”. Rich Feldman gives this example. Suppose a child asks which doll is bigger, A or B. A is taller but B is wider or fatter. There really isn’t an “ought simpliciter”. Ought depends on value-context. Or, one could speak from transcendals, that moral oughts is concerned with the good and epistemic oughts is concerned with truth (although that is, of course, a controversial claim).

    Here is another example: Should S believe that knowledge is context sensitive or should S save the girl from a lion? What the question asks doesn’t make sense because each is evaluated differently, one with regards to evidence (or virtues, etc take your pick) and the other is practical reasons. Even if we take the virtue epistemoligist point of view, if each intellectual virtue is a difference in kind, then it seems plausible to say that moral virtues and intellectual virtues are different in kind. Unless, of course, one can argue that there is a unifying account of the virtues. But I’m not sure if there is one.


  23. i meant: Should S believe that the ascription of knowledge is context-sensitive or save the girl from a lion? Here, we see that it doesn’t make sense because there are really two “shoulds” taking place.


  24. I enjoyed this article, keep em coming.

    To Death Bredon, there are definitely converts to Orthodoxy from full blown 5 point TULIP Calvinists.


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