Tomorrow begins another Round of Cherry-Picking

While Justin Taylor advises on how to prepare for Lent (can you believe it involves a book published by Crossway?), Carl Trueman reminds about the arbitrariness of tradition among evangelicals (high and low):

The question of catholicity is, of course, more complicated than merely adopting a practice or a doctrine because it has deep historical and ecclesiastical roots. After all, Anglicans in the tradition of Hooker have rejected a large number of the elements of ‘catholic’ tradition. Roman supremacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and the cult of the saints all have good claims to deep catholic roots. So why have Anglicans abandoned these? Presumably they have done so because they do not think that scripture gives grounds for retaining them. Well, once the scripture principle is allowed as an arbiter of true catholicity, the best we can say about Lent is that it might be a harmless, if biblically unjustifiable, personal preference with some historical roots – which is a point I never denied.

Yet if this point about the scripture principle is unpersuasive to Anglicans, let me offer an observation on Anglicanism along the same lines of Merrick’s critique of the Reformed. Anglicanism’s own selective catholicity would seem to imply that Hookerites regard those same centuries, 1500-1700, as a kind of moment of purity for the decision as to which prior catholic traditions can stand and which should be cast aside.

This is not a new problem for Anglicans. It was a significant part of what moved John Henry Newman Romeward. Of course, if the brilliant Newman could not persuade his friend, John Keble, Hooker’s greatest editor, of the immense difficulties of Anglican claims to historic catholicity, it is unlikely that I will do so with Hooker’s present disciples. Yet Newman’s critique surely remains a major challenge to anyone who blithely assumes the straightforward catholicity of the Anglican tradition as embodied in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer. It is actually much more theologically complicated and historically contested than that.

All of this is, however, largely beside the point of my original article. My main purpose was not to point to problems in the Anglican tradition’s claims to catholicity. It was to critique a recent cultural anomaly: The curious phenomenon of interest in Ash Wednesday and Lent among evangelicals whose ecclesiastical commitments do not theologically or historically sanction observance of such.

Funny how Trueman’s interlocutor assumes the historicity of Lent. But as with most subjects, history only makes certainties less certain:

The current state of research points to three possible conclusions. Because the evidence is slim and admitting of any number of plausible interpretations, one position has been to view Lent as a sui generis phenomenon—completely new and unique—that simply appears after the Council of Nicea. In this view, any attempt to hazard connections or lines of evolution from pre-Nicene fasting practices is too speculative to be of any value. Another, rather opposite, position has been to accept as historical the alleged Egyptian post-Theophany fast, to identify it as the dominant antecedent to Lent, and that Lent’s rapid dissemination throughout the Christian world is best explained in relation to the program of liturgical and theological alignment begun at Nicea. A final position, a sort of via media or middle road, acknowledges the incomplete and sometimes-contradictory nature of the evidence, but asserts nonetheless that Lent develops as an amalgamation of several early fasting customs and typologies of which the post-Theophany fast (if it existed) may have been but one of many. As with most issues in the study of the early history of the liturgy, certainty is elusive and we must be satisfied with possibilities. Judicet lector: let the reader decide.

Don’t mind me if I use the occasion to have an extra doughnut.

41 thoughts on “Tomorrow begins another Round of Cherry-Picking

  1. Is it possible I no longer have to wear a camel hair shirt for 40 days to convince God how swell I am?


  2. Bruce, it’s all about imagining what Christ’s life was like. For some it’s going to the cross, for others going to heaven:

    Have you ever wondered what it must have been like when Christ entered heaven after having ascended? This was a unique moment in redemptive history, and one that we should probably meditate upon a lot more than we do. At the risk of being occasionally speculative, here are some thoughts on Christ’s entrance into Heaven as the glorified God-man.


  3. If its good to mortify the flesh for 40 days, than its good for 365 and 1/4 days. That being said, is Lent about mortifying the flesh or foolishly attempting to earn merit with God?


  4. maybe you missed the process agenda in the ascension speculation, the now and the not yet—-

    MJ–“Heaven was as perfect as it could be before Christ entered. BUT it was also as perfect as it could be once he entered. Heaven attained a GREATER glory with Christ’s entrance. Thus, there is little doubt that heaven in its perfection after Christ’s triumphal entry was a place where those present had an INCREASE of joy and satisfaction that the Son had returned home as the victorious one.” – See more at:

    justified now yes we don’t deny that, but justified then “in the possession of”

    “united” now yes but there is always “more and more” union

    if the logic holds, then “union” also has “not-yet aspects”, which are conditioned on the “not yet” aspects of “faith after”. Thus an incomplete union and an incomplete justification.

    It is a CONTRADICTION to say that all of God’s acts depend on “union”, and then to turn around and also say that “union” depends on faith. Does faith also depend on “union”? Or does “union” depend on faith”

    On one hand it seems like we receive the “personal presence” of Christ inside us BEFORE we receive the benefit of Christ’s finished work.The “as long as he remains outside” idea is that we must obtain possession of Christ as a person not only before we are justified but also before God will impute Christ’s righteousness to us.

    But if there is some sense in which those who have been justified are not yet justified, is there also some sense in which God has not yet imputed all the sins of all the justified to Christ? Since the absence of “works of faith” is seen as not only a lack of evidence of final justification but also as the means by which many who have been “baptized” will instrumentally fail to be finally justified, how do the sins (or non-works) of the not-yet completely justified factor into their final justification?

    Is there a difference between good works and faith, or between sins and lack of faith and works?

    If faith is a condition of “union”, and if faith is yet incomplete, does that not mean that “union” is also incomplete? How does a person get faith before they are united to Christ? If a person has to get faith before they can get the personal presence of Christ, how does a person get this faith? How can “calling” be a condition of the “union” but not a benefit of the “union”?

    If the gift of faith is not given to us based on Christ’s righteousness (as taught in II Peter 1:1 –To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ), but instead the righteousness of Christ is given to us based on “union”, and that “union” is based on faith, and that faith is still always incomplete, how can anyone now think that their sins have already been imputed to Christ or that Christ’s death has already been imputed to them?


  5. “At the risk of being occasionally speculative”

    If Paul actually did see and said he should not utter what he saw, how much worse to speculate? Apparently God’s Law applies to others but not MJ.

    he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 2 Corinthians


  6. If there’s an upside to all this, it’s that many of my Evangelical “friends” on the Facebook declared that they are giving it up for the next 40 days. Which means my newsfeed will be less cluttered with Rick Warren quotes and anti-vaccination articles.


  7. Ash Wednesday? No thanks. I’ll be celebrating Ash Williams Wednesday by watching Army of Darkness. Remember: Shop smart, shop S-mart!


  8. mboss, I purposely try to follow people on twitter that are the most quiet. facebook, as an extension fo that thought (social media), as I believe sean or zrim alluded to, seems so effeminate. not that there’s anything wrong with that..


  9. When the non-denom churches observe Easter for 50 days, and keep the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus 8 days after Christmas (instead of New Years)–and stop talking about Mother’s Day and Superbowl—those are the real nondenom holy days– then I’ll pay attention. The church year without the lectionary is….bizarre, with bizarre fixations.

    A lot of the “40 days of xyz” is just an attempt to get some sort of pan-movement (“prayer,” “life”), a marketing gimick to include the liturgical churches, too


  10. Even when you disagree with Katy you gotta like her presentation. RC’s take note – you don’t have to be robotic or Kennish.


  11. Kennish is Crossian and he’s fighting Sauron over the doctrine of Hell with the drunk interlocutors.

    At least he’s a good sport, MG, even if not that bright..


  12. the sauron avatar alone should give anyone the heebie jebbies.

    Back to dust and ashes, apparently, the christian post says presbys and even some baptists celebrate today:

    Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting, is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. It occurs 46 days (40 fasting days, if the 6 Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter and can fall as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March. Ash Wednesday is observed by many Western Christians, including Catholics,[note 1] Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.[1]

    I seriously don’t know anything about this ash wednesday, a non-christian co-worker had to bring up the fact that yesterday was fat tuesday. I’m really a lame token christian in the office. What did I do today? I didn’t order my usual subway ham sammich. I made it a Tuna, cw would be proud of me.



    Philip Cary—We need to see that conversion happens many times in life, I think, if we are to understand exactly what Luther means by justification. As he puts it in the famous 1519 sermon on the two kinds of righteousness, the alien righteousness by which we are justified before God ” and whenever they are truly repentant.” Justification occurs many times, as often as you repent. We are converted whenever the Holy Spirit teaches us to take hold of Christ himself ….

    Cary— “Before conversion, I have no free will that can cooperate with God or do anything good by way of faith or obedience; afterwards my will is freed by grace to believe and obey God with gladness, making a real inward co-operation between God and man possible. Identifying this turning point, this before and after, is a crucial move in the Formula of Concord’s effort to clarify the sense in which our free will can and cannot co-operate with the grace of God.

    Cary—The Formula of Concord does not follow Calvin’s lead, however, in making the event of conversion irrevocable, as if after conversion there is no going back to what was before. On the contrary, it speaks of the possibility of sinning against conscience in such a way that sin reigns again in their hearts, so that they “grieve the Holy Spirit within them and lose him”


  14. Why would Jones speculate that “union” with the person of Christ now ascended to heaven is more important than the already finished work of Christ? Is it it because he wants to say that being a participant partaking of Christ’s presence now is more important than the already past death of Christ? (one act of death by law as a satisfaction for the all future sins of all the elect)

    I find it deeply ironic when Mark Jones claims (in his book on Antinomianism) that what he calls “the Lutheran view” (law-gospel antithesis) ends up “attributing to justification a renovative transformative element”. First, Jones still has not defined either union nor sanctification, but he seems to be equating “sanctification” with ethical renovation. Second, even if we WERE to say that God’s imputation of Christ’s death to us results in or causes ethical renovation, that is NOT saying that imputation is the renovation.

    It’s saying that renovation is a result of , not the same as the imputation. Imputation is one divine action, the renovation is another divine action.

    I am seeing this accusation more and more, and it makes no sense. God’s legal declaration in imputation (based on Christ’s death) results in many blessings, including the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. But that does NOT confuse the Spirit’s presence and work with God’s imputation. In fact, it makes the distinction plain.

    To the contrary, to start with undefined “union”, which consists of Christ’s personal presence but which is somehow before God’s imputation, is the order of application which opens the way for “union” as a renovation. If Christ can enter your heart before Christ’s righteousness is imputed to you and as the “condition” for that imputation then taking place, then what you have is something taking place in us before any legal transfer by God of the merits of Christ’s past death.

    The speculation makes it look like some kind of “renovation” is happening, merely by “union” with Christ’s ascended presence, which is supposedly more important than Christ’s death or at least which does not depend on Christ’s death.


  15. Carl Trueman reminds about the arbitrariness of tradition among evangelicals (high and low):

    The question of catholicity is, of course, more complicated than merely adopting a practice or a doctrine because it has deep historical and ecclesiastical roots. After all, Anglicans in the tradition of Hooker have rejected a large number of the elements of ‘catholic’ tradition. Roman supremacy, purgatory, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, and the cult of the saints all have good claims to deep catholic roots. So why have Anglicans abandoned these? Presumably they have done so because they do not think that scripture gives grounds for retaining them.

    Yes, the unitarians made the same sola scriptura argument against the Trinity.

    The Lutherans and Calvinists and Anglicans and Unitarians–and “liberal evangelicals” and so on and so–on keep returning us to the true religion and church that Jesus started. Ecclesia semper reformanda est.

    “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Neuhaus’s Law, with which JG Machen would surely have agreed

    [I quoted you approvingly on Machen the other day, Darryl. One day you’ll learn who your friends really are.]


  16. Well, so far I haven’t done any lent observing except going to Wednesday night service (not sure if we’ll make this week) and eat a hot fudge sundae every night this week

    I did munch on some divine humanity


  17. Didn’t even put the purple runner on the piano. But we are learning “Not All the Blood of Beasts” and “Glory be to Jesus” over the next 5 weeks, so there’s some cherry picking.

    (I only have the baptist edition of the Trinity Hymnal, otherwise I’d give you the page numbers…)


  18. Sean, the laity of the churches of the augsburg confessions receive both kinds, and our priests don’t do any sacrificing 😉


  19. I see, Katy, so your pastor declares ‘this will be my body”. I’m just trying to keep up.(PCA does emoticons, but I’m a dissenter)


  20. Mike Horton—I believe an evangelical celebration of Lent affords an opportunity to reinforce rather than undermine the significance of Christ’s person and work. Recapitulating Adam’s trial and Israel’s 40 years of testing, Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days, fasting instead of following Adam and the wilderness generation of Israelites in demanding the food they craved (Matt. 4:1-4).

    New disciples in the ancient church were instructed daily in Christian doctrine and practice for the 40 days of Lent, leading to their baptism on Easter Eve. They realized that they were quite literally wrestling with demons from their pagan heritage. ISN’T OUR CULTURE JUST AS TOXIC? Are we really making disciples, or just superficial converts? When unburdened by superstitious rites, Lent still holds tremendous promise if we will recover its evangelical purpose; namely, leading us and our children to Christ by his Word.


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