Sunday, May 02, 2010

King Of Ireland, The Problem of Othniel, and Biblical Hermeneutics:

At American Creation, my co-blogger King of Ireland has a good post that responds to me and Dr. Gregg Frazer and puts much on the table.

Let me sort some of this out. First there are differences among the personal religious convictions of Jon Rowe, Gregg Frazer, Joe Winpisinger (aka KOI) and John Calvin. Further, the Bible says what it says regardless.

We need to keep that in mind because I see KOI sometimes improperly conflating these things.

Gregg Frazer's notion that submission to government is absolute (even if it's Hitler or Stalin), obedience is conditioned on not sinning against God while doing your best to obey the civil magistrate, is NOT derived from John Calvin's authority, but from the Bible's alone (or, if you will, how Dr. Frazer understands the Bible as the inerrant infallible Word of God).

Likewise, Calvin asserted his teachings were derived from the Bible alone. And indeed, what Calvin believes and what Frazer believes sometimes strikingly parallel. But to (supposedly) find a flaw or contradiction in Calvin's understanding of the Bible is not to find a flaw in Frazer's. Indeed, Dr. Frazer believes in only four of five of Calvin's points. And, surprise, it's because Frazer says the Bible disagrees with Calvin's notion of limited atonement (the L in Calvin's TULIP) that Frazer rejects it.

On a personal note, I am an open minded, hopeful agnostic with deistic, theistic and universalistic tendencies. My rational mind says I don't know if there is a God. My heart says everyone gets into Heaven eventually. Who knows, maybe that temporary punishment for the sins that we do on Earth requires subsequent reincarnation where bad shit happens to you (the question, "what did I do in a past life...?").

My mind is only so open, however. It's not open to Zeus, it's not open to the idea that those 19 highjackers did God's will and were rewarded with virgins and it's not open to the idea that human beings, as a result of the barest or original sin, (eating an apple when God said not to, or coveting, stealing a candy bar) deserve either the horrors that many humans experience on earth (i.e., the holocaust, childhood cancer) or eternal misery.

The first idea (Zeus) is ridiculous -- something in which virtually no one currently believes -- though the last two notions have more than a nominal number of believers. But they are just wrong. They are wrong because I know they are wrong. I don't care what you think the Bible or Koran says. I can and have formed logical arguments as to why they are wrong and sharp minded apologists for either notion (eternal miserable damnation as a default desert for the original or barest sin or Allah sending 19 highjackers into the WTC and rewarding them with virgins) have rationalized why those notions are just and true.

But in the end, they are just plain wrong and I am going to either 1) reject the authenticity of "revelation" that teaches otherwise, or 2) explain why such revelation, properly understood, doesn't teach these things. [Keep 1) and 2) as rationals in mind because they relate to the overarching theme of this post.]

And indeed, some/many Muslims who believe the Koran God's holy and revealed word rationally and vociferously reject such interpretations of the Koran. Just like "Bible believing Christians," some unitarian like Charles Chauncy and John Adams, some Trinitarian like John Murray and Benjamin Rush argue, God's Word in the Bible, properly understood, does not teach eternal damnation, rather temporary punishment, universal salvation. [Interestingly, many early church fathers believed this as well.]

Though, I can't say that I've found evidence that Rush, Murray and Chauncy simply wrote off parts of the biblical canon as "interpolations." John Adams (and Franklin, and of course, we know Jefferson) however did. To Jefferson, most of the Bible was "interpolation," hence fit for his cutting room floor.

One beef some readers -- American Creation's Tom Van Dyke notably -- have with Dr. Frazer's interpretation of America's Founding political theology, is it stands for "reason trumps revelation" -- or man's reason judging what parts of scripture are not true and jettisoning them. Clearly, J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin did this and said they did.

But did Rush, Chauncy, Mayhew, and others? Well, I can't tell if they said they did like Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. But what they did, among other things, was reject the Trinity and eternal damnation. And, the logic goes, since the Bible clearly teaches both those doctrines, anyone who rejects them subjects the Bible to man's razor of reason and edits from it like what Jefferson knew he did (regardless of whether Mayhew, Chauncy, et al. consciously did this).

I don't have personal issues with Romans 13, because like Jefferson, I don't believe St. Paul's words were God's (the Holy Spirit writing inerrant, infallible scripture through Paul's hand) but rather were Paul's and Paul's alone.

However, when I do approach this issue -- biblical hermeneutics -- as a thought experiment, I act as though the Bible were inerrant and infallible. As such, all of the competing texts have to be harmonized so as to not contradict one another (if that is indeed possible).

One argument against the Bible as Truth is that it contradicts itself more than hundreds, but thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of times. I used to argue this. But I discovered it a half truth. It is indisputable that the Bible appears, on the surface, to contradict itself many times over. But a good, smart biblicist can "smooth out" the apparent contradictions.

We are left with what the Bible says, plus a hermeneutical explanation of why it doesn't contradict itself. And that results in Sola Scriptura Protestantism, with thousands of [the Bible + why it doesn't contradict itself], from smart theologians, that contradict one another.

For instance, orthodox Trinitarian evangelicals who believe the Bible inerrant, infallible, argue over, among other things, every single letter of Calvin's TULIP. Outside of historic orthodoxy, biblicists argue the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement on biblical grounds alone.

Knowing this, I better understood the Roman Catholic case for Papal Infallibility. It's not that the Pope is in fact infallible, but rather that someone has to have the final say on what the Bible means or else the Church is subject to Sola Scriptura Schizophrenia, which in my opinion, accurately describes how Protestantism was destined to be from Luther onwards.

Likewise, the Supreme Court says "we are not final because we are infallible, rather we are infallible because we are final." That is, someone has to have the final say or else we get thousands of schizophrenic, contradictory results of what an inerrant, infallible Bible (or constitution) really says. Such is Protestantism.

I outlined all this because it relates to this specific discussion on Romans 13 and revolt, as well as the broader discussion I've engaged in over the past few years on America's Founding political theology.

But back to the specifics on Calvin, Romans 13 and resisting the civil magistrates. Calvin's teachings seem quite clear that lower magistrates have the privilege of removing a tyrannical king only pursuant to some legally recognized mechanism. The examples he gave were akin to Congress impeaching a President, not revolt against tyrants.

Elsewhere in the same passage in Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" Calvin notes:

Herein is the goodness, power, and providence of God wondrously displayed. At one time he raises up manifest avengers from among his own servants, and gives them his command to punish accursed tyranny, and deliver his people from calamity when they are unjustly oppressed; at another time he employs, for this purpose, the fury of men who have other thoughts and other aims. Thus he rescued his people Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh by Moses; from the violence of Chusa, king of Syria, by Othniel; and from other bondage by other kings or judges.

KOI claims the Othniel example a contradiction in Calvin's writings. Personally, I don't see it. Calvin teaches God sometimes raises up individuals to deliver from tyranny. AND that sometimes the means those individuals use is righteous, sometimes sinful. Likewise, this accords with Gregg Frazer's understanding that, yes, it was God's will that the American Revolution resulted as it did. But that George Washington et al. used SINFUL MEANS to accomplish that end. Indeed, Frazer and Calvin both teach God sometimes uses the sinful means of man to accomplish his will. I can't tell from Calvin's context whether he thought Othniel was one righteously raised up or rather God using "the fury of [a man] who ha[d] other thoughts and other aims," to accomplish His ends. But in any event, there is no apparent contradiction.

And, contrary to KOI's assertion that Dr. Frazer refuses to answer his Othniel claim, Gregg has done so repeatedly. For instance here when Dr. Frazer wrote:

... [T]here are plenty of tyrants in the history of Israel after Saul who are not removed despite pleas from the people. If it’s as “simple” as you’ve made it, God should have interceded on behalf of all of the others. Also, God does not only recognize kings of Israel (His people) who’ve gone through a special anointing ceremony to be His “anointed.” Romans 13 says that all rulers are “ministers of God” and “servants of God.” And God refers to pagan civil rulers as His “servants,” His “shepherds,” and His “anointed” (see e.g. Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10; Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). So, what applied to David re Saul applies to all civil rulers AS FAR AS TAKING OUR OWN INITIATIVE IS CONCERNED. GOD may remove a ruler or even raise up a deliverer to remove a ruler or use the sinful rebellion of people to remove a ruler – but we have no authority or permission to do so on our own initiative. It isn’t up to us to decide, but rather God. You talk of having “a time to have the Spirit come upon you” -- as if that were up to you to generate. As if you were in control of the Spirit of God!!! God can send His Spirit; God can raise up a deliverer; God can determine that it’s time for a tyrant to fall – but that doesn’t mean we can or that we can simply decide that we are such deliverers!

You say that “’appointed’ authority can come under judgment themselves and their former slaves can even be the ones to take them out.” True. What is NOT true is the notion that WE get to decide when that time has arrived or that, contrary to clear command from God, we can do it our own way on our own timetable. You ask why the Declaration of Independence can’t be an example of this – BECAUSE THERE WAS NO REVELATION TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARIES TO TRUMP THE BIBLICAL COMMAND NOT TO REBEL. God did not reveal to them that this was an Othniel situation and He did not reveal to them that He had appointed an Othniel to deliver them! Othniel didn’t decide on his own – He received revelation from God.

Likewise Frazer's orthodox understanding of the Bible teaches God's actual revelation stopped with St. John's Book of Revelation. Therefore, whereas Othniel received revelation, George Washington, did not because, accordingly, he could not have. Unless that is you are a Mormon and you believe revelation continues after the end of the biblical canon.

Finally, let me said a word on what I think motivates KOI and many other Christians who refuse to accept Dr. Frazer's understanding of the Bible. It parallels my 1-2 explanation for why I reject eternal damnation (especially if eternal damnation is as bad as some claim). I wrote it's wrong because I know it's wrong. And therefore, I either 1) reject the authenticity of "revelation" that teaches otherwise, or 2) explain why such revelation, properly understood, doesn't teach these things.

In other words, it's an a-priori. On this Romans 13 issue, the reaction in the mind of the Bible believer is NOT "what does the Bible really teach, putting all of the competing texts together so they don't contradict one another?" but rather, "that interpretation CAN'T be true, because it would mean I couldn't rebel against Stalin or Hitler."

And the believer is therefore left with two options: Either disregard as authentic revelation those texts of the Bible that contradict your a-priori as false revelation (hence Adams' notion of interpolations in the Bible or Jefferson's cutting room floor where everything St. Paul said ended up) OR try to explain why the Bible, properly understood, cannot possibly teach this, with the outcome already determined.

King of Ireland in this sense, operates entirely in the tradition of America's Founders who argued rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God, regardless of what you think the Bible says. Regardless of what verses and chapters of the Bible you could throw at them, the Whigs' minds were already made up on the matter.

Whether this constitutes "reason trumping revelation" I'll let the readers judge.

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