Friday, October 05, 2007

Epistemologically speaking

Over at Parchment and Pen, an interesting post and conversation is happening. It is quite controversial because the Rev. C. Michael Patton has a view which to my reading is similar to what some Concordians have articulated before. For him the canon is not closed. Well in a way it is and in a way it is not. So I'd let you read his post but the comments, needless to say have grown quite long so be careful with your time!

Unlike other confessions, the BoC (and this I noticed right away) does not have a list of canonical books compared to the WCF. The question of canonicity and closeness of the canon is quite important simply because Protestants do shout sola scriptura. Of course to be clear, the Concordians have a different way of treating scripture, by the word "alone" it does not mean no church, council or tradition. They mean (correct me if I am wrong), the Scripture is the final rule of faith. It does not deny that there are other rules of faith only that the final rule is Scripture. Some Prots circumvent that and chuck other rules of faith like creeds and confessions and history etc. i.e. by-passing them as irrelevant and head to the Scripture "naked". I remember a denom priding it self with the slogan - 'no creed but the Bible'.

In return the Roman and Orthodox Churches (apologists) challenge that by saying -'how do you know it is the list of books if it was not for the Magisterium/Church who told you that in the first place', hence, their thesis is that to have an infallible Bible, you need an infallible asserter for that and that is the Church. Plainly stated "you can not have an infallible Bible, if you do not have an infallible Church/Magisterium who tells you that it is infallible".

The implication of this is the question of an epistemological starting points. You can choose I think three starting points both carrying an embedded presupposition.

1. The church is infallible (Roman/Orthodox)
2. The bible is infallible (generic Prots)
3. Jesus is the Christ (Concordians?)

Being a mathematician by training, I can attest to you right now that I can witness to infallible statements without me being infallible. I make an infallible statement each time I say 1+1=2. Within the proper usage and consistent use of those terms, my assertion is true and can be proven by arithmetic (number theory). Option #1 is not true by experience and will be discovered to entail circularity because the RC/EO also refers to Biblical passages to affirm so.

Option #2, also appeals to Scripture itself and so the RC/EO counters by saying - how do you know you have the complete list since Scripture is a book of books? I do not go for Option #2 because to me the church is founded on the confession that Jesus is the Christ and what that entails so as expected I lean to Option #3.

So what about Option #3, is this a sound propositional starting point from which we can build all of our Godly knowledge of life and the world etc? I think so. Firstly I believe Jesus taught scripture alone so at the end of the day, you can have all your approaches but Jesus knows better and if you do not line up with his, you are on shifting sand. Option#2 proponents doubt if Option #3 does not wind up in circularity. Perhaps people in Option #1 will chime in and side with Option #1 here.

I do not think it does, because first attestation of Jesus is Messiah were by the Apostles, they wrote this attestation down and I believe it. Yes the Church did attest that this was written by the Apostle or was inspired by the Holy Spirit, yet I did not believe it because simply they said it, for there is the object, it is there for me to examine and I find its contents sensible. There was no necessity or presupposition on my part that they had to be infallible in order for me to make sense of a proposition they make. I am a mathematician by training and when I see an elegant and brilliant proof, I admire it but no way do I attribute the creators of the proof with infallibility'.

This Messiah says too that the Scripture can not be broken. If someone asks me which are these lists of books that is said to be Scripture - I tell them - go ask Jesus. I guess the whole point of the Bible being infallible is for the Christian to continue to believe that he has eternal life in the Son, is that not the whole point? For faith and practice of course, but is it not in the context of "Jesus is the Christ"? As far as I can tell from the Scripture that has been received, Jesus says to trust no one but him.

Now I have not fully worked this out because right now I am savoring the implication of that confession - Jesus is the Christ.

So I want to know where my epistemological starting point is weak, sensible or not feasible at all. Setting me straight can only be a good thing.


William Weedon said...


Your comments are good - have you been reading Dr. Sasse? It also reminds me of Dr. Nagel asking of any and every statement of doctrine (including statements on the Scriptures): "How do you hang that on Calvary?"

L P Cruz said...

Pr Will,

Not yet, but Sasse is in the queue. I have started to read Krauth (online), mainly because you and others have alluded to him.

I am still lacking in books authored by the Lutheran fathers.

Pr. WIll, I have been thinking more and more about what it means to confess Jesus is the Christ. I have been drawn to it because Jesus says on this he will build his church. Yet in Mt 16, though Peter confessed it he did not understand what that meant and had to be corrected by the Lord.


Steve said...


Another why to think about this question is this:

Do you believe that that the bible is true since Jesus is in it or do you believe that bible is true because Jesus says it is?

David said...

I love the scriptures because they testify of Jesus. I dont love Jesus because the scriptures testify of Him.

Another thing that goes unmissed from being absent from reformed circles is the bibliolatry. We are of course to worship God not the bible that speaks of Him. Although God did inspire the bible. Hmmm something else to keep in paradox?

Say that in some circles one can see the stake erected and the wood gathered.

God's peace. †

Steve said...

Jesus had to deal with the propose of Holy Scripture with the Pharisees. In John 5:39, Jesus stated that they are looking to the Scripture for eternal life, but eternal life is not found in Scripture but in Christ. One can be saved without ever reading Scripture and one can read Scripture and never be saved.

L P Cruz said...

It is amazing that after I came to faith, I got hungry for the Bible and immediately bought one - I started with the Good News Bible. I read the Bible because the preacher was preaching Jesus from it and I was interested to know more of the gifts God has provided.


Past Elder said...

I came from Option One. I used to counter Protestants by saying if we take Scripture as the sole rule of faith, then we must abandon the NT because nowhere in it is Jesus recorded as having written anything nor commanded anyone else to write anything, and moreover what he promises will come after him is the Spirit, not more books.

You know what? I still think that, but in a different way. Clearly, the Christian Bible is a product of the Christian Church. Yet we so often treat is as if its history were more like the Qu'ran, dictated and written first then the faith and community followed. The New Testament church so many desire did not have the New Testament.

When I read the BOC as part of my instruction before becoming Lutheran, it struck me that Luther seems to have understood this very well. He was hardly setting a book against the Church or Tradition. While he acknowledged that the confusion on so many things is so prevalent that making a clean sweep of it all and starting over sometimes seems like the way to go, he did not go that way.

The reason he called the Church to fidelity to the Bible is precisely because it is its very own book! It is the book of which the Church said to the world, Amid all the writings which purport to speak of God, here are the ones upon which you can rely. And then quit relying on them.

So he did not reject the church or set the Bible against it, he called for restoring the right relationship between the church and its book.

Which is why Lutherans (with notable exceptions) don't do the If it ain't in the Bible we ain't doing it thing. There is much that is good and valuable to Christian faith and life that is not in the Bible, liturgy foremost (their are no orders of service in the NT!) and writings of great Christians and Tradition held to be from the Apostles and tradition in human terms. And so we retain them all, not insofar as they are found stated in the Bible but because they accurately convey what is in the Bible and do not contradict it.

Maybe we should speak of a quia subscription to the Bible as well. Just as we say we accept the Book of Concord because it and not insofar as it correctly teaches Scripture, so we accept the Bible because it and not insofar as it teaches Jesus.

Which explains not only Luther but also St Paul. What did he do in preaching not to Jews who knew the Hebrew Bible but Gentiles who didn't -- say The Bible says ...? No, he quoted from their writers, not his, then told them about Jesus! And so it is for us. Are we first converted to a book, then to Jesus because the book says so, believe first in a book then in Jesus because it says to?

Jesus is the Christ. That is the Rock upon which the church is founded. The Bible is not the Rock, the Church is not the Rock, Peter (literally or figuratively) is not the Rock. And without that Rock the Bible is one more of hundreds to thousands of books claiming to speak of God. But with that Rock, Jesus becomes the Word of God. Now, we call the Bible the Word of God but the Bible calls Jesus the Word of God. So upon that confession Jesus is the Christ, that Rock, we know Jesus to be the Word of God and in turn we know the Bible to be the Word of God in the sense of infallible divinely inspired writing about him upon which his church says we can absolutely rely as the touchstone of everything else.

So among Option One and Two one will find Option Three stated, but a part of what flows from Option Three will be exalted and exaggerated out of its right relationship to the other parts -- the church with Option One and its book with Option Two. In what is known among men as the evangelical Lutheran church, which is not its denominational name nor even its right name, the Rock is the confession Jesus is the Christ, from which flow the Church and the Bible, all affirming each other.

L P Cruz said...

Past Elder,

As usual, you are better in stating well the things I want extracted from my head :-)

On Luther: your observation is well noting, because it is a lesson for us who got here after the Church was born. He did not try to do "How to reconstruct the Church 101".


Past Elder said...

Well, I'm a Boethian music theorist by training and education, which one may take as a sort of mathematician, so perhaps that accounts to some extent for our understanding each other!

However, I think it has more to do with being confessional Lutherans than that.

Do you speak Spanish?

L P Cruz said...

Senior Past Elder,

Si, un poco, pero necesito practicar,
mi confianza es pequeña.

Boethian music, sounds like esoteric maths to me (LOL).

think it has more to do with being confessional Lutherans than that and probably because we were ex RCs too.


Past Elder said...

It is esoteric maths. My dissertation was about disengaging the Boethian concept "musica" from the specific knowledge of the time it classified and use its categorical definitions to classify current knowledge, which effort was extended then to the whole Seven Liberal Arts.

Spanish names in the Pacific are interesting. Here on our cable provider, there is one channel that re-broadcasts newscasts from around the world. One of the most interesting was a Filipino morning show called something like Cinco y media. It was amazing to hear Spanish derived words, English and English derived words, and indigenous words all to-gether!

Now if I start blogging about multitudes and magnitudes and mobility and immobility you can come straight over to my blog and shake me!

L P Cruz said...

Past Elder,

Hahaha...!An esoteric mathematician! There are a very few geeks like you around, and in the geek world, Past Elder, comparatively to your discipline, we look mainstream and not geekish at all!

You describe the Filipino language well called EngSpangalog. It is a mixture of 30% Spanish and depending on how the talker happens to be Americanized or not the English and Tagalog components varied.

It reminded me of a British guy working with me while I was in Manila. We indios (so the Spaniards used to call us) would speak in front of him with those mixtures and it would frustrate him because for a while he would be catching up on the conversation and would feel happy only to be brought down to confusion when we switched!

Your blog is always insightful with arguments to advance, so please say more.


PS. I will link to your comment on the liturgical movement sometime.

Past Elder said...

There must be a lot of ethnic Chinese Filipinos. Close to a former workplace was a Chinese restaurant, and they were all Filipino but ethnic Chinese.

Curious aside -- I love Chinese food and have always eaten it with chopsticks (the reasons for which are shrouded). It cracks me up to go to a local Chinese place and see silverware, which tastes like a metal shovel to me, and you have to ask for chopsticks. Not to mention when I do, I'm the only one -- so here's this round eye using chopsticks while everyone else uses shovels! I mean, would you go to a steak joint and see chopsticks set out and have to ask for a knife and fork?

As to being mainstream, I don't think my dissertation committee thought so. But then again that was 1980. You just don't get a lot of music theory dissertations without a note of music in them except for things drawn from the overtone series. And I think there were more Pythagorean numbers than notes!

Seems like the Spaniards called everybody Indians and never did hit India. My kids are part Cherokee through my wife. I'm English descended. Luckily the boys got her skin instead of my blotches and freckles.

I haven't posted on my blog in a while -- real life can really interrupt blogging! Generally I wait until something strikes me, and have the time.

L P Cruz said...

Past Elder,

Yes, Filipino-Chinese are about 10-20%. We have a diaspora right now, I am sure you might be aware - we are scattered around the place.

I linked to your article I enjoyed very much.

You know my synod is LC-Aust, we are somewhat medium rare in comparison to WELS,LCMS or ELS which we would consider to be well done;-) Besides we are from down under so we are a bit "low" :-)


Past Elder said...

Thank you for the link, the reference and the endorsement.

Originally I was WELS, and ELS is the only other American Lutheran body with which it is now in fellowship, but I am now LCMS. The LCA is an associate member of the ILC to which the LCMS also belongs. WELS and ELS belong to a similar group, the CELC (or KELK in German) which was my first window into international confessional Lutheranism.

Where I grew up in Minnesota, around 1960 there were many Filipinos who immigrated, largely nurses and their families, pretty much all of them RC (as was I at the time).

And a PS, the local cable company has removed the international newcast rebroadcast channel to its digital only channels to which I do not subscribe, so I can't see my Filipino early morning show any more. What a drag! I also enjoyed the Catalan broadcast, whose language is similar but not Spanish as I know it (which is Puerto Rican, but that's another story!).

L P Cruz said...

Past Elder,

I think I know the program you are referring to.

The influence of American Revivalism/Pentecostalism in my home country is pervasive. Today if you want to evangelize Filipinos in the Philippines you have to contend with the Pentecostal/Evangelical mindset as well as the RC folk piety mindset too.