Summa contra Stetzer

  1. Trust me: I’m a Missiologist
  2. Best advice to Trump-Era GOP so far
  3. Making Melanesia Great Again
  4. Radical Greedhead Terrorism
  5. Making capable and sensible people

1

Father Andrew Stephen Damick read the annoying Ed Stetzer column that bugged me. He saw some things I glossed over and made one powerful contrary observation after another. I encourage you to read it all, but here are some of my very favorite parts of an essay all of which is “a keeper.”

On liturgy and cultural relativism:

Here’s a question I’d like him to answer: If the early Church was eucharistic and liturgical, and if Christians kept being that way for centuries in numerous cultures, languages, etc., then why should we conclude that that kind of worship is merely a “cultural form”?

Historically, almost all Christians have been liturgical. Even today, the majority of Christians are liturgical. So why is it that the comparatively parochial phenomenon of revivalist church services relativizes liturgical worship to make it merely “cultural”?

And if the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Christ, how can that ever be “cultural”? And if it’s not really His Body and Blood, we’re talking about questions of heresy, not merely culture. Stetzer wants both to affirm early Christian liturgy and also relativize it. But you can’t really have it both ways. Either the way the Apostles taught their disciples to worship (and was subsequently passed down almost universally for centuries) is authoritative or it’s wrong. It’s not just good for a certain time and place.

If it were, it wouldn’t be the only mode of corporate worship ever mentioned in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. And we also have to imagine that the Epistle to the Hebrews would look really different if liturgy wasn’t intended as the worship norm.

And what about the worship we see in Heaven? Is that just a cultural form?

On Apostolic succession — the assurance that a Church is truly a successor to the Original:

He unfortunately doesn’t mention that apostolic succession was the early Church’s way of proving that something came from the Apostles. He also doesn’t mention that Orthodox apostolic succession doesn’t depend on Constantinopolitan claims about St. Andrew. Those claims might be dubious, but no one questions, for instance, the Petrine origins of the Churches of Antioch or Alexandria nor the apostolic origin of the Church of Jerusalem, etc.

Comparing those churches’ historical succession to Baptist Landmarkism, which is essentially an attempt to trace anti-Catholicism through a long succession of various heretics, is really a stretch.

On merely “cultural church forms”:

He doesn’t mention what exactly he has in mind, but he also doesn’t answer why it is those “cultural forms” proved so universal and trans-cultural throughout Christian history. So the onus is on him to demonstrate why it is that something so universal is really just “cultural.”

He adds:

That’s not helpful and it actually hinders the advance of the gospel, which in part explains why American Orthodoxy has far more converts from evangelicalism than it does from secularism.

Actually, I don’t think it does …

Overall, I don’t think most Christian groups of any kind really know how to convert people from secularism yet. Most people becoming Evangelicals, for instance, are usually just trading in older denominational affiliations for something more “contemporary” or need-based.

On “don’t import, export”:

He goes on:

Perhaps the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a good time to remember the value of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, and Sola Deo Gloria as signposts for our unique expression of the gospel that goes deeper than tradition. In fact, it brings us to principles which are expressed in different cultural languages using different cultural methods.

This is hard to read as meaning much more than “So remember to be Protestant.” It’s also not going “deeper than tradition.” Those five Solas are a tradition.

(And it is worth remembering that the solas are biblical truths restated, not cultural truths discovered 500 years ago.)

They’re neither. They are a specific hermeneutic developed within the Reformation. The question is whether you buy into the Reformation’s hermeneutic tradition and why you believe it’s more authoritative than what came before.

(Emphasis added)

In conclusion:

My point here isn’t to make hash of Stetzer’s piece. I get what he needs to do here, which is to reassert Evangelical identity in the face of conversions away from Evangelicalism …

That said, if he’s going to reassert Evangelical identity as more desirable than Orthodoxy, he’s going to have to address the very real problems that tend to drive conversions of conscience from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy. Here are some of those questions:

Why is my interpretation of the Bible correct?

What right do I have to do doctrine and worship so differently from the disciples of the Apostles?

Why did almost no one interpret the Bible the way the Reformers did prior to the Reformation?

What did the disciples of the Apostles say about how they believed and worshiped?

How did we get the Bible we have today? Why does my Bible have fewer books than the Orthodox Bible?

Why is the high view of Scripture I hold as an Evangelical only barely reflected in my worship? Is there a church that truly saturates the worshiper in Scripture?

Why are liturgical worship and episcopal government the norm for almost all Christians for 2,000 years?

What is the Church? Does it have binding authority? Can it be located?

Those questions are just a beginning, but answering them would go much further in terms of figuring out why some Evangelicals become Orthodox and why Stetzer’s answers aren’t likely to make them change their minds.

This item was much longer, as I found it irresistible to clip and paste excerpt after excerpt. I’ve trimmed it down by more than a third.

Fr. Andrew comments on Stetzer’s swipe at the supposed intellectualism of Orthodoxy. I’ve omitted that, but must add my own note. I was far more “inside my own head” as a Protestant than I am as Orthodox. Granted, I was a Calvinist — i.e., only equivocally Evangelical — and Calvinists with “discernment” pretensions can be very — well, look at my domain: “Intellectualoid.com.” I didn’t pick that randomly. That’s my history.

Perhaps the “30,000 foot overview” of my own annoyance with Stetzer is this:

  1. He artfully dodged issue after issue, piling up some bullet points with little substance.
  2. It was pretty obvious that he had a job to do — reasserting Evangelical identity in light of a prominent defection — and took a “trust me; I’m a missiologist” approach.
  3. If Orthodoxy is right, there’s really not much use for missiologists telling us how to contextualize domesticate the timeless faith for 21st Century American Suburbia, is there?

If you’re Orthodox but rattled by Stetzer, you need to read all of Fr. Andrew’s article.

If you’re Evangelical and smirking that Stetzer made short work of Orthodoxy, you really need to read it all.

2

Peggy Noonan has written one of the most important columns of the Trump Presidency. She leads with observations on Fox News starting to clean out some of its sexual predatory stars and then segues to Trump:

Republican officeholders should by now have figured out how to speak about our ever-interesting president, and most have not. They think since he is a Republican and they are Republican, they must defend him on all things. They are looking at it wrong. He is Donald Trump. He is not “a Republican.” He is a wholly unusual historical figure who happened to them, and who now heads their party. They owe him an eager and open-minded willingness to work with him, to create helpful legislation, to join in debate and support him on areas of mutual conviction. They do not owe him a thing in terms of covering for his gaffes or oddnesses, mistakes or failures. They should not defend him on his tax returns unless they think he is right not to reveal them. They should not defend him on his refusal to make public the White House visitor’s logs—unless, bizarrely, they think that constitutes good public policy.

Being loyal isn’t being a lickspittle.

The president has a base of support. They’re with him and will give him time before they detach—if they detach. They hope for big, serious changes in policy. But they are not children. They are not unaware of his faults and weaknesses. Treat them with respect by speaking to them like adults.

Make clear you want to work with Mr. Trump but won’t cover for him. If the president doesn’t like it, and lashes out, so what? He’ll tweet that you’re not attractive. Laugh and say: “That’s what my mother said. But I have great hopes we can work together to reform our tax system. Best, Unattractive Tom.”

When being loyal involves not stating obvious truths, maybe you’re being loyal to the wrong thing.

(Republicans, Learn the Limits of Loyalty) Noonan shows how it actually can by done from the example of Iowa’s junior senator, Joni Ernst, who has had some shining moments of candor — not brutal candor, but candor nonetheless.

It will be a very good thing for the Country if 100% of D.C.’s Republicans will read, heed, and keep a copy of Noonan’s column as a touchstone.

3

The best way to gauge America’s capacity to reignite economic growth through tax reform is to move beyond congressional economic models and look to the empirical evidence of our historical ability to grow and prosper.

So opens a Phil Gramm/Michael Solon opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal. What follows is predictable partisan talk befitting the title Do You Want Reagan’s Economy or Obama’s?

I understand the appeal of that. But I am not convinced by this Cargo Cult.

For those of you not familiar with cargo cults, let me provide a brief overview of the South Pacific incident I referenced, understanding that there are many more. During World War II, islands in the South Pacific that had little prior contact with Japanese or American/European explorers were subjected to a series of war-related occupations. Troops would come in and set up landing strips along with all the other associated infrastructure — barracks, offices, control towers, etc… — and, in the process, share some of their stores with the natives on the island. In many cases, the stuff that was shared proved lavish for people who had been used to lives of privation.

Then the war ended, the troops left and, of course, the materials ceased coming. How would the residents of these islands restore this level of abundance? You can imagine a local leader and their Make Melanesia Great Again campaign. All we need to do — or so it goes — is to do what was done before and we’ll get the same results. It’s so obvious it’s hardly even debatable.

4

It’s almost refreshing to read of terrorism motivated by good, old-fashioned greed, not Islamic fervor:

A Russian-German man detained Friday for allegedly bombing one of Germany’s most prominent soccer teams sought to financially profit from the attack, Germany’s top prosecutor said.

The 28-year-old suspect, identified as Sergej W., took out a loan on April 3 to finance the purchase of 15,000 “put options” in the publicly traded shares of soccer team Borussia Dortmund, the prosecutor said in a statement. The purchase represented a bet on the soccer team’s shares falling in value.

Eight days later, the day of Borussia Dortmund’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal match against AS Monaco, the suspect stayed at the same hotel as the team and planted three bombs along the street taken by the team bus, the prosecutor alleged. The bombs were covered with three-inch long metal pins and set off by remote control.

“A massive fall in the stock of Borussia Dortmund would have brought a profit representing a multiple of the investment,” the prosecutor’s statement said. “A significant fall in the stock price would have been expected if players were seriously injured or even killed in the attack.”

(Wall Street Journal)

5

Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. ~John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867. (H/T Imaginative Conservative)

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.