Theology: April 2005 Archives

In previous posts (here, here, and here, I wrote about the resistance of Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, to Pope John Paul II's movement toward recognizing something closer to historic Protestant views on justification. I have to take that back. Ratzinger did not oppose John Paul II's movements in that direction. What had led me to say that was a document hastily prepared by some cardinals under Ratzinger's direction, and he apparently opposed them in this because he didn't think they understood the issues properly. The rest of this post is an email I received from someone who knows much more directly what went on with these events. [The JDDJ is the Joint Declaration between Lutherans and Catholics that I've referred to in other posts.]

Scot McKnight, biblical scholar and theologian, extensively interacts with D.A. Carson's forthcoming book on the emergent church (or really about the epistemology of Brian McLaren, one of the key leaders in the emergent church). I really like Scot's attitude about this and think he's mostly right in his understandings of the issues. I hesitate at some of his conclusions, mostly out of ignorance and reluctance to go that far without further understanding, but much of what he's saying seems right to me given my limited understanding of the emergent types (even though my brother is one of them). I've left some lengthy comments where I have anything to say and don't really want to reproduce any of that here, mostly because it would be a lot of work to provide the context for each comment. The best way to find all the posts is to go to the April archives and read starting at the bottom.

Benedict XVI

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The College of Cardinals has selected Joseph Cardinal Ratinger to be pope. As the title indicates, he's taken the name Benedict XVI. I have to have mixed feelings about him. After all, he's the one who insisted to John Paul II that he not sign the Joint Agreement with the Lutherans (which I've posted about here and here) that I think was generally indicative of a good movement within the Roman Catholic Church, and he also changed none of the catechism as a result of the Joint Agreement with Lutherans. I think that's the most critical issue for the future direction of the RCC. [Update: I've been corrected on this. See this post for more information.]

On the other hand, on issues I think they need to hold ground on, he's been a stalwart. I don't agree with the RCC position on artificial contraception, and I think the whole category of priests is unbiblical (or at least restricting it to some but not all believers is unbiblical), so the issue of women as priests is irrelevant. There are issues lurking behind the scenes there that I do care about, and I suspect he's more likely to agree with me on those. As much as I disagree with the Catholic statement of the gospel, it's much more accurate than those who reduce it to social and political themes, and Ratzinger has resisted that pressure.

David Heddle has a nice post up giving a synopsis of five key Christian figures from the mid-fourth to mid-fifth centuries: John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Leo the Great, and Augustine. This is part of a larger series on church history that's been very good overall, much worth checking out. Two things in this post caught my attention as worth saying something about. (There's much more in the post that caught my attention, but not to the point of wanting to flag it.)

1. David ends the post with a very nice discussion of Augustine's theology as a systematic development of what was later called Calvinism, leading into an especially good treatment of limited atonement as a theological issue independent of Augustine himself.

2. In the section on Jerome, we see a precursor of contemporay translation debates, though David doesn't mention it as such:

In 382 he returned to Rome and was charged by Damasus, bishop of Rome, with the job of revising the Latin New Testament. Jerome was reluctant, knowing that he would be "blamed" by those who found their favorite translations altered, and this time with the Church�s authority. (Indeed, "I think the original must be wrong," said one such malcontent when told that his favorite translation had been undone by an appeal to the earliest manuscripts.)

Hmm. Haven't I heard that exact claim about the earliest manuscripts before?

Many Protestants say that Catholicism is simply not part of Christianity. They say that Catholic views about justification and salvation in general are not compatible with what the Bible teaches about such matters, and in fact Catholics are teaching what Paul in Galatians calls another gospel, which is not really a gospel at all but something else. Paul was right to condemn the Galatian heresy as another gospel, which is not really a gospel at all but something else. It's quite clear to me that Catholics do not teach or believe the Galatian heresy, however. That leaves it open that Catholic teaching is another gospel besides the Christian one, but if so it's not the one Paul was confronting in Galatians, as many Protestants seem to insist on.

My own view is that some elements within the Catholic church do teach and believe something that might be characterized as another gospel and thus might not saved according to what the Bible teaches about salvation. I'm not sure if this view is another gospel, but it might well be. However, I also firmly believe that many within the Catholic church do not believe another gospel at all. Now that I've said both those statements, let me point out that what I said is consistent with saying that from the top the Catholic view is another gospel, and many within the RCC are faithful to the true gospel despite that. It's also consistent with saying that from the top the view is the true gospel, and many within the RCC depart from that. I actually think both of those would be false, and the reasons are fairly complicated. [Update: I've been corrected on some of what follows. See this post for more information. Apparently Cardinal Ratzinger was not behind the opposition to the Joint Declaration. He in fact opposed that opposition.] The fact is that there isn't a teaching that can be said to be from the top, because the Pope John Paul II and [Update: some within] the catechizing wing of the Vatican have endorsed conflicting theologies, one of them as far as I can tell fully consistent with Reformation theology, at least on the matter of justification.

Pope John Paul II died today at the age of 84. I have little to say except that, as a Protestant, I'm extremely grateful for the most Protestant-friendly pope so far. What I'll remember him for has little to do with what most of the media outlets have been talking about endlessly for the last 24 hours. It's for the groundbreaking progress in Catholic-Protestant relations under his watch, most notably the accords within the last decade between Catholics and Lutherans.

According to a the Catholic end of the declaration from that time, the heresy they had condemned as Lutheranism turns out not to be Lutheranism after all. Luther wasn't a heretic, they now say, though the view they had condemned is a heresy. He just didn't hold that view. They now understand Protestants to be using the word 'justification' the way Paul does, and they believe they've been using it all along the way James does. In the end, the views are close enough that neither should see the other as a heresy.

One of the views on the Intermediate State is that our bodes and souls are inseparably related. Thus, when the body dies, the soul ceases to exist until the boy is resurrected. That person exists for a time, then doesn't exist for a time, and then resumes existence. Thus, that person is a "gappy" person as there is a temporal gap in their [note: I'm trying out TNIV style singular "they/them/their/theirs"...let's see if this works.] existence.

Many people have problems with gappy existence. For them identity demands continuous existence; fragmentation or gappiness is an ontological problem. To these critics, the person in question has been destroyed and then at some later time a copy has been created. But that copy is not identical to the "original" person.

Identity requiring continuity is a fairly strong intuition. But there is another description of the events which, with equal intuitive strength, indicates that identity does not require continuity: time travel. Say that upon death, God "teleports" a person forward in time to Resurrection Day. They have skipped the intervening days. From History's standpoint, they are a gappy person--they existed for a time, then they didn't exist for a time, then they resumed existence. But if they have experienced time travel, then that is no problem. They haven't been destroyed and recreated (or a copy of them created). They just jumped forward in time.

I think that most people's fundamental objections to the body-soul unity view of intermediate state is that they object to the gappy person model on a gut level. That ends up guiding their interpretive choices on various scriptures. This is not to say that there aren't some actual scriptural problems with this view of intermediate state, but I think that most people focus on the wrong problems.

Back in my post on the Nature of Wrath, Rey made the following comment

...my problem doesn't have anything to do with the propitiation but with the "united with Him on the Cross through the Holy Spirit" bit when 1 John 2:2 says that Christ was a propitiation for our sins and the sins of the world. If we're united in the Holy Spirit to Christ on the Cross then it sounds like the world is united in the Holy Spirit to Christ on the Cross...and they can't even receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:7). I don't know, it just really sounds like there is a line being fuzzed out in there when the connection to Christ on the cross is the Holy Spirit.

I promised a response, so here it is. Unfortunately, I'm going to answer in a bit of a roundabout way...

Leaving Time

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Evangelical Outpost has joined the intermediate state debate (cf. my contribution here). The views on the table were cessation of existence and then resurrection, an intermediate state of complete consciousness, and my own tentative suggestion that there's a conscious intermediate state but not fully conscious and not involving much of what we normally consider to go along with our conscious states now. Since it was mostly scriptural interpretation, I was keeping it at my own blog, but now that it's philosophical I'm cross-posting it at Prosblogion.

Joe says that he's surprised not to see a fourth view, that we simply cease to exist in time but don't cease to exist altogether. We live in time until we die, and then we leave time to go be with God in eternity, a timeless existence. He says he doesn't think his view conflicts with Christian scripture. I agree that his view need not conflict with scripture, but I don't think it can make any sense philosophically without conflicting with one of the most crucial Christian beliefs about God's creation of the universe.

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