Signers and Decliners

Now comes another statement, named for a Tennessee city, with the signatures of more Christian scholars attached to it. I wonder if those who signed “An Open Letter from Christian Scholars on Racism in America Today” will also sign the Nashville Statement on biblical sexuality. Lots of professors are listed on each statement, and yet I can’t help but think each set has reservations about the scholarship practiced by the signers of the other statement.

What is it about statements? The one time Tim Keller and I agreed came in 1996 at the meeting of theologians and pastors that produced the Cambridge Declaration, a statement that expressed concerns about contemporary worship and megachurches. Keller did not sign. Nor did I. My reasons for not signing went along the lines that Matthew Anderson recently gave for not signing the Nashville Statement:

While I am generally ‘statement-averse,’ it seems reasonable to want a succinct depiction of the theological boundaries on these issues. If nothing else, such statements are efficient: they remove much of the work of retelling all of our convictions on a certain matter by giving us a public document to point to. It’s a lot easier to find all the people who are on board with a certain vision of the home, for instance, by asking what they make of the Danvers Statement.

Yet this virtue is also a vice: by creating a public context in which all the people who affirm certain doctrines or ideas are identified under the same banner, statements tacitly shift the playing field, such that to not sign is to signal disagreement.

Ding ding. Statements imply that those who don’t sign are not of the right outlook because those who sign are right. A lot of signaling going on.

Yet, a curious feature of the Nashville Statement is that it includes the heavy hitters in the Gospel Coalition. John Piper, Lig Duncan, D. A. Carson, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, even J. I. Packer and R. C. Sproul. Tim Keller did not sign.

The problem could be that statements are a problem. But Anderson also explains another reason for the Nashville Statement’s deficiency. It specifies a minimal set of norms while leaving aside a broader sexual ethic and biblical anthropology that should provide the source for specific practices or convictions:

With the signers and the drafters of the Nashville Statement, I am persuaded that the current controversies over sex, gender, and marriage are of maximal importance. With those individuals, I agree that there are matters here essential to the truthful, beautiful articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With those individuals, I agree that the crisis in the evangelical church is real, and that those seeking to alter our institutions so that they affirm gay marriage undermine and distort the faith that all Christians, in all places and times have affirmed.

But issues of maximal importance deserve maximal responses. It is possible to say too little, as it is possible to say too much. If I have sometimes erred toward the latter vice in my exposition and defense of a traditional account of sex and gender, I have done so only because the deflationary and minimalist approach to such questions is itself an intrinsic part of the intellectual atmosphere which has left the orthodox Christian view unintelligible to so many.

Meanwhile, secular academics are trying to defend middle-class virtues:

That [mid-twentieth-century bourgeois] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

These basic cultural precepts reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. They could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities, especially when backed up by almost universal endorsement. Adherence was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.

Imagine if the Christians who signed the Open Letter or the Nashville Statement had joined with Amy Wax and Larry Alexander in a defense of older American norms.

It sure looks like Wax and Alexander could use it:

We, a group of Penn alumni and current students, wish to address white supremacist violence and discourse in America. Even if we are not surprised that Charlottesville can happen, witnessing blatant racism takes an emotional toll on us, some more so than others. And yet, overtly racist acts are identifiable and seem “easy” to criticize. It is nearly impossible for anyone, white, black or otherwise to see what happened in Charlottesville and not admit that a wrong occurred — unless you are a white supremacist yourself, that is.

But at the same time, history teaches us that these hateful ideas about racial superiority have been embedded in many of our social institutions. They crawl through the hallways of our most prestigious universities, promoting hate and bigotry under the guise of “intellectual debate.” Indeed, just days before Charlottesville, Penn Law School professor Amy Wax, co-wrote an op-ed piece with Larry Alexander, a law professor at the University of San Diego, claiming that not “all cultures are created equal” and extolling the virtues of white cultural practices of the ‘50s that, if understood within their sociocultural context, stem from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today. These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities and immigrants in particular.

Wax’s and Alexander’s claims rely on a simplistic, bigoted and archaic notion of culture; a concept purported to be bounded and discrete, a postulate which anthropologists “dismantled” decades ago by showing how such formulations of culture are embedded in systems of political, economic and social oppression.

Against outlooks like this statements don’t have a snowball’s chance in hades.

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If You Can Take Passion Out of Sex

Why do you want to keep it in worship?

Garrett Kell explains that sex is not supposed to be all zowie and pizzazz:

God created sex to be a bond between a husband and wife that strengthens over time. Married couples make love on their honeymoon and after a miscarriage. They make love to conceive children and after they bury them. They make love when bodies are healthy and during battles against cancer. As a husband and wife pursue each other through intimate service, sacrifice, and struggle, God blesses them in a way the world can never know. . . .

That doesn’t mean sex is always enjoyable or easy for married couples. Because marriage is the union of an ever-changing and ever-growing pair of fallen people, we can expect that sexual intimacy to have both sweet and sour days and seasons. That is part of God’s wise design.

He has called a man and a woman to be committed to each other and to make love with each other during every season of life. Lovemaking on a honeymoon may be wonderful or awful. Intimate times are shared when buying a new house or burying a parent. It is pursued when God gives conception, and when he withholds it.

So if sex and passion can be ordinary and even sour, why have New Calvinists insisted that worship much be intense, earnest, deeply heart-felt if it is genuine? If married couples have seasons of less and more vibrant sex, Christians may also experience worship that is true and genuine even if all the religious affections aren’t bubbling.

Or maybe it was a mistake in the first place to introduce the language of passion and hedonism into the realm of piety. The Bible invariably uses agrarian imagery to explain the Christian life. Farms and gardens do not produce the intensity or sound of fireworks. Sure, Spring flowers pop (and they last a lot longer than even the best fireworks display). But even the flowers fade. That’s why we need less passion and more routine in worship.

What married couples do in the boudoir is on them (sheesh).

When Did Sex Become Orthodoxy?

This is how you know when the Church of England goes over the cliff:

I left the Church of England when, in 2008, it became clear what the inexorable trajectory had become. Wherever it leads, it doesn’t lead to orthodoxy and will always be shipwrecked on the rocks of secular liberalism and cultural Marxism. Secular liberalism rejects the Church’s notion of the complementarity of the sexes – male and female having separate and distinct roles within the economy of salvation – and cultural Marxism would do away entirely with the biblical teaching on marriage and the family. Both liberalism and Marxism reject the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.

Aside from the difficulties that Rome is not enduring with debates about marriage, divorce, and homosexuality (not to mention the sex scandal), why is sex such an indicator of sound doctrine? The only reproduction mentioned in the creed is the divine conception of the incarnate Christ.

But if you want to be on the Christian side of the culture wars, avoiding churches that ordain women and that prohibit abortion is apparently the preferred strategy for those who either have never heard of the NAPARC churches or who think evangelicalism is tacky.

You Don’t Need to Believe in God to thank God for the ACLU

Do civil liberties in the United States really depend on non-Quakers having access to self-uniting marriages (amazing what you find when you go to Philadelphia’s municipal offices‘ webpages):

What is a self-uniting marriage, you ask? No, it doesn’t mean you fulfill your self-love:

For couples who want to skip a formal marriage ceremony, usually their first thought is to just get a marriage license, go to city hall and get married by a judge, magistrate or mayor. But in Pennsylvania, getting married doesn’t even have to be that formal.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that offers couples the option of a self-uniting marriage license.

The custom is rooted in the Quaker faith and is actually part of a formal wedding ceremony. According to the book Quakerism: A Religion Meaningful for Today’s World, the couple walks into the ceremony together and later rises and states their vows to each other. At the conclusion of the event, all of the witnesses sign the marriage certificate.

But the ACLU became alarmed when some residents of Pennsylvania did not have access to a self-uniting marriage (civil libertarians don’t seem to care that residents of Ohio don’t have access to this kind of union):

Because Pennsylvania has a large Quaker population, the license is available in most counties. But you don’t have to be a Quaker to take advantage of the service; the state American Civil Liberties Union took care of that in 2007.

An Allegheny County couple had been denied the self-uniting license because they told the Register of Wills that they weren’t part of the Quaker faith. With the help of the ACLU, the couple sued, and the court ruled that the license cannot be denied to anyone.

That’s a relief.

But it wasn’t enough to keep Donald Trump from becoming POTUS. Never forget, never Trump.

Neo-Calvinists Ordain Women, New Calvinists Don’t

[corrected] Molly Worthen deserves credit for trying to explain the difference between neo’s and News in the context of wives, husbands, church officers and complementarianism:

“It’s like we opened up a blister, and we’re getting story after story. I’m frankly shocked,” [Marie Notcheva Darlene Parsons] said. “I would say that I’m getting word of new stories once a week, (from churches across the country) and they’re all tied to this Neo-Calvinist movement that’s become more popular.”

Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of American religious history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, refers to this as a Calvinist revival that has been taking place primarily in Baptist and evangelical churches since the ’70s and is continuing to spread into other churches to this day.

“It tends to refer not to the historic ethnically Dutch (Calvinist) church,” she explained. “It tends to refer more to conservative evangelicals, often southern Baptists who have chosen this as a way to support certain theological and social points.”

Worthen, whose studies served as the basis for her 2013 book “Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism,” said that churches in this movement of religious thinking often promote conservative “separate but equal” gender roles.

“There’s a lot of pressure for women just to accept things and accept the authority of men,” she said. “In the context of marriage and the context of the church, the man is the head.”

Worthen also said these churches tend to settle personal matters, such as marriage or abuse counseling, inside the congregation, rather than reaching outside the church for help.

When you start inspiring with every square inch, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

That Was Then

Here‘s why the church excommunicated Luther almost five centuries ago:

1. Separation of justification from sanctification.
2. Extrinsic, forensic, imputed justification.
3. Fiduciary faith.
4. Private judgment over against ecclesial infallibility.
5. Rejection of seven deuterocanonical books.
6. Denial of venial sin.
7. Denial of merit.
8. Sola Scriptura and radically private judgment: “if we are all priests . . . why should we not also have the power to test and judge what is right or wrong in matters of faith?”
9. Denial that the pope has the right to call a council.
10. Only justified men can do good works.
11. Denial of the sacrament of ordination.
12. Denial of exclusively priestly absolution. Anyone in the Christian community can grant absolution.
13. God has not instituted the office of bishop.
14. God has not instituted the office of the papacy.
15. Priests have no special, indelible character.
16. Temporal authorities have power over the Church; even bishops and popes: “The pope should have no authority over the emperor”.
17. Vows of celibacy are wrong and should be abolished.
18. Denial of papal infallibility.
19. Unrighteous priests or popes lose their authority.
20. The keys of the kingdom were not just given to Peter.
21. Private judgment of every individual to determine matters of faith.
22. Denial that the pope has the right to confirm a council.
23. Denial that the Church has the right to demand celibacy of certain callings.
24. God has not instituted the vocation of monk
25. Feast days should be abolished.
26. Fasts should be strictly optional.
27. Canonization of saints is thoroughly corrupt and should stop.
28. Confirmation is not a sacrament.
29. Indulgences should be abolished.
30. Dispensations should be abolished.
31. Philosophy (Aristotle as prime example) is an unsavory, detrimental influence on Christianity.
32. Transubstantiation is “a monstrous idea.”
33. The Church cannot institute sacraments.
34. Denial that the Mass is a good work.
35. Denial that the Mass is a true sacrifice.
36. Denial of the sacramental notion of ex opere operato.
37. Denial that penance is a sacrament.
38. Assertion that the Catholic Church had “completely abolished” the practice of penance.
39. Claim that the Church had abolished faith as an aspect of penance.
40. Denial of apostolic succession.
41. Any layman who can should call a general council.
42. Penitential works are worthless.
43. The seven sacraments lack any biblical proof.
44. Marriage is not a sacrament.
45. Annulments are a senseless concept and the Church has no right to grant them.
46. Whether divorce is allowable is an open question.
47. Divorced persons should be allowed to remarry.
48. Jesus allowed divorce when one partner committed adultery.
49. The priest’s daily office is “vain repetition.”
50. Extreme unction is not a sacrament (the only two sacraments are baptism and the Eucharist).

What about now?

If Lutheran teachings and practices don’t result in excommunication today, it likely has something to do with situations like this:

“Life is full of ambiguity”, Cardinal Cupich said, but the “important thing is to bring an attitude of discernment to a situation.” He then referred to a “wonderful article” by Professor Rocco Buttiglione in L’Osservatore Romano some months ago, “who situated historically that document in terms of the ongoing development of the teaching of the Church.” (Professor Buttiglione’s essay has since been refuted).

He ended by saying “there are enough voices out there in which the Holy Father doesn’t have to in any way have to defend a teaching document of the Church. It’s up to those who have doubts and questions to have conversion in their lives.”

Controversial passages never passed

But defenders of the Dubia argue that Cardinal Cupich’s comment that the controversial propositions in question were “voted on by two-thirds of the bishops” is especially problematic.

It is often forgotten, they point out, that despite the strenuous efforts by the Synod secretariat and others to manipulate and jostle the synod fathers into accepting the most controversial propositions (allegations detailed in my book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?), none of the three most controversial propositions managed to obtain a two-thirds majority during the first, Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in October 2014.

One of them was a proposition relating to the “Kasper proposal” of admitting the divorced and remarried to holy Communion after a period of penitence. That failed to pass, and only a proposition calling for “careful reflection and respectful accompaniment” of remarried divorcees made it through.

Under such circumstances, they would normally therefore have been rejected.

In spite of this, the Pope controversially broke with custom, which he can do, and authoritatively insisted that all three rejected proposition be kept in the document, thereby enabling them to be carried over into the working document for the Ordinary Synod on the Family the following year.

Not to worry, the more ambiguity, the more it’s the church Christ founded. If only the consequences for souls dependent on faithful ministers of the gospel and reliable expositors of sacred mysteries were so ambiguous.

That’ll Work

How to have a happy marriage:

First, divide all the work of running your family – from job to shopping to doing the dishes to feeding the dog — into three categories: Paycheck Work; House Work; and Childrearing Work. With scrupulous honesty (men, this means you!), calculate how many hours per week each of you spends doing these things; then add the two totals together. For instance, if Husband’s numbers are 45 hrs + 5 hrs + 10 hrs = 60 hrs total, and Wife’s are 40 + 21 + 21 = 82, then the combined total family work hours = 142. Now divide your individual numbers by the total to get the percentage of total work that each of you does: in this case, 60/142 = 42% (He), and 82/142 = 58% (She). Finally, multiply your respective percentages by two. The resulting final percentage compares you with the theoretical full contributor. Think of it as the percentage person your family setup is requiring you to be — or allowing you to be. In my hypothetical case, for instance, the husband is 84% of a fully contributing person, while his wife is 116%.

Is this part of Roman Catholic social teaching?

And Here I Thought W-w Was Hard

Turns out, obedience is harder:

In the first place, it seems that Gahl does not consider adequately the role of conscience. Is it sufficient that the confessor enunciates a principle such that it can be assumed that the conscience has been sufficiently enlightened? Perhaps not. Cardinal Newman made an illuminating distinction between a merely notional assent and a real assent of the conscience. It is possible that the penitent does not understand or does not accept the confessor’s admonition and refuses to promise that, in the same situation, he will not act once again in the same manner. The conscience will be enlightened only in the moment in which it has given real assent. What should be done if the penitent does not give real assent to the confessor’s admonition?

Pity the potato farmer who needed to find Denzinger‘s entry on notional assent.

The Trinity is so Fourth Century

While New Calvinists decide how to receive the teachings of Eastern bishops, Roman Catholic cardinals have moved on. According to Christoph Cardinal Schonborn:

AL [Amoris Laetitia] is an act of the magisterium that makes the teaching of the Church present and relevant today. Just as we read the Council of Nicaea in the light of the Council of Constantinople, and Vatican I in the light of Vatican II, so now we must read the previous statements of the magisterium about the family in the light of the contribution made by AL.

The funny thing about the evangelical controversy over the Trinity, the updated version offered by the likes of Ware and Grudem comes for the sake of outdated views of women’s roles.

Appropriating the past is tricky. Best to hire a historian.

Aggiornamento Has Its Limits

Many bloggers and reporters are trying to make sense of Pope Francis’ remarks as reported here:

Pope Francis spoke yesterday at a pastoral congress on the family for the Diocese of Rome, and his remarks are causing consternation among faithful Catholics. In off-the-cuff remarks, the pope made the dual claim that the “great majority” of Catholic marriages are “null” – in other words, not actual marriages – and that some cohabitating couples are in a “real marriage,” receiving the grace of the Sacrament.

“I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity,” he said.

Ed Peters wonders if the modern world has suddenly turned red in tooth and claw:

The collapse of human nature presupposed for such a social catastrophe and the massive futility of the Church’s sanctifying mission among her own faithful evidenced by such a debacle would be—well, it would be the matrimonial version of nuclear winter. I am at a loss to understand how anyone who knows anything about either could seriously assert that human nature is suddenly so corrupted and Christ’s sacraments are now so impotent as to have prevented “the great majority” of Christians from even marrying!

Phil Lawler questions the implications for Vatican II’s effort to engage modern society:

The Pope’s statement—if it was relayed accurately and meant seriously—would mean that our society is so thoroughly perverse that it has actually debased human nature. If that were the case, the Catholic Church could not reconcile herself to modern society; the faith would be in open conflict with the modern age. Yet in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis delivered a very different sort of message, suggesting that pastors should learn to work patiently, gradually, and sympathetically with people who do not share the Catholic understanding of marriage.

It is curious how Pope Francis’ openness to the less than ideal circumstances of modern romance and marriage is cheek by jowl next to an anti-modern prejudice (think industrial capitalism and modern finance).

Not holding my breath for Bryan and the Jasons’ authoritative interpretation.