Justification: metaphor or the real thing?

Henry Neufeld, at his Participatory Bible Study Blog, has entered the fray about John Piper’s criticism of N.T. Wright’s approach to justification. I cannot claim to understand the whole post because I have not read the chapter by Piper which it refers to (although I have read the Wright article in question). But Henry makes this interesting point in the first part of his post:

There is a fundamental assumption that Piper makes, that there is one, and only one way to understand justification. For him, justification is a fact, not a metaphor. It is the core reality. Metaphors can be used to describe it, but it is the real thing. I emphasize this repeatedly, because it underlies many of the arguments that Piper makes. For him, it would be quite inadequate to suggest that a different metaphor was in play in a different verse, and thus perhaps it might be understood differently.

This is a significant point because it brings out what I see as one of the major weaknesses in Reformed theology, alongside the reliance on tradition which I have also criticised recently.

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My Ethical Philosophy

I have not studied ethical philosophy in any formal way. But I found it interesting to follow this tip from Doug Chaplin to the Ethical Philosophy Selector. My results are interesting:

1. St. Augustine (100%) Information link
2. Aquinas (94%) Information link
3. Kant (88%) Information link
4. Ockham (83%) Information link
5. Spinoza (79%) Information link
6. Ayn Rand (67%) Information link
7. Aristotle (64%) Information link
8. Jean-Paul Sartre (57%) Information link
9. Jeremy Bentham (55%) Information link
10. John Stuart Mill (52%) Information link
11. Nietzsche (52%) Information link
12. Nel Noddings (51%) Information link
13. Prescriptivism (50%) Information link
14. Stoics (45%) Information link
15. Cynics (42%) Information link
16. Epicureans (39%) Information link
17. David Hume (38%) Information link
18. Plato (28%) Information link
19. Thomas Hobbes (11%) Information link

So, while I have problems with the theology of Augustine of Hippo, it seems I am close to him in ethical philosophy. Given how I answered, it is of course not surprising that I am closest to the two major Christian figures in the list.

More on Rowan's Advent Letter

Yesterday I wrote my own response to Archbishop Rowan Williams’ Advent Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Moderators of the United Churches. Today I note several other perspectives on this letter, including this from Bishop David Anderson of the American Anglican Council, and this from Jonathan Petre of the Daily Telegraph.

Also Rev John Richardson, the “Ugley Vicar” and Chelmsford diocesan representative of Anglican Mainstream, and occasional commenter here, has written a long and technical but interesting response. Early in his essay he writes about Rowan’s letter:

Compared with some of his earlier pronouncements, this is different. It indicates a certain clear resolve, and an expectation that others should both accept his authority and, to a certain extent, conform to his vision. All may not like it. There are things about it I do not like. But to be a leader is to lead, and it is surely better for an organization to be lead imperfectly than not to be lead at all.

Moreover, it is easier to get to grips with that with which one disagrees than with ‘marshmallow’ pronouncements that mean nothing.


Towards the end John writes:

Despite this, however, there is some reason to be positive. Dr Williams has acknowledged that the Anglican Communion must have boundaries. Moreover, in identifying these he has rightly put Scripture first, and has insisted that a novel reading of Scripture cannot simply be imposed by one group in the Church as acceptable over against the wider reading and the longer tradition.

Most importantly, he affirms that the reading of Scripture currently adopted by TEC and others (if it is a ‘reading’ at all), renders its recognition as Anglican (and therefore traditionally Christian) problematic, to say the least.

Yet for all this, Dr Williams must be commended for giving a lead — for stepping up to the plate when it was needed. We may (indeed, I do) disagree with some of what he has said. But we need not (and I do not) disagree with it all, even though considerable anxieties may remain.

I would go further. If Dr Williams is prepared to continue in the same vein, it may, after all, be appropriate for everyone who has been invited to Lambeth to attend. If he seriously regards this as a gathering of the orthodox and the unorthodox, at which it may, finally, be admitted that some sections of the Anglican Communion are no longer recognisably following the same faith and the same Lord, and at which some clearer definition may be given to what that means, then this may be a table at which it is important to sit down.

… If Dr Williams’ statements are given credence and if his leadership is allowed to prevail at this point, it may just be possible for the Lambeth Conference of 2008 to rescue the Anglican Communion intact, not in membership but in the faith.

This is interesting largely because it suggests a possible change in policy by the conservatives. Of course this is only one man’s opinion. But it does open up the possibility that the conservative bishops will turn up en masse and use their majority to push through their view of the Communion. Rowan’s words suggest that he would not be unhappy with this. A consequence might be that those with other views would be marginalised to the extent that they choose to leave. This must be what John means by “rescue the Anglican Communion intact, not in membership but in the faith”. I guess Rowan would not be so happy with that, but he might realise it is the best outcome he can hope for.

Well, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Is Rowan fiddling while Canterbury burns?

The story tells us that the Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burned. This is probably only a rumour, but (according to Wikipedia) it is an ancient one (originally with a lyre rather than a violin), recorded as a rumour by Tacitus who as a child was an eyewitness of the great fire of the year 64. What Tacitus records as fact is that the public blamed Nero for the fire, and

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. (Tacitus, Annals 15.44)

Now it looks as if history may be repeating itself to some extent, with Archbishop Rowan Williams playing the role of Nero and Canterbury replacing Rome. So, is Rowan fiddling while Canterbury burns? Continue reading

My new house

My new houseA few weeks ago I mentioned that I was buying a new house. Now at last, the interminable English system of home buying has been completed actually rather quickly, only just two months. On Wednesday morning I got the keys to the house. I don’t actually have to move out of the old house straight away, as I am letting it, not selling. So I have the luxury of moving gradually. Nevertheless, with the Christmas holidays coming up I need to get a move on.

My main concern was whether I could get a carpet for the lounge-diner before Christmas – all the other carpets had been sold with the house. I went to the carpet shop on Wednesday afternoon, and the response was at first predictable: “That’ll be difficult, we’re really busy just before Christmas” – and then they said they could fit a carpet the very next morning at 9 am, if I chose one they had in stock! Of course I went ahead. But first I wanted to repaint the walls of the room, something which of course makes sense to do before laying a carpet. The old paint was lilac as in this “before” picture397 Meadgate Avenue interior before, a beautiful colour for flowers but not in my opinion for walls, and it would hardly go well with my new “harvest” coloured carpet. So I bought some magnolia paint and spent Wednesday evening painting. As a result, within 24 hours of getting the keys I had both a new carpet and freshly painted walls in the main room. This kind of energy is not quite like me. Let’s see how long it lasts! Maybe there will be an “after” picture.

This is of course the main reason why I haven’t been blogging for the last few days. But I am not doing very much in the new house over the weekend, so I may have a chance to write a few things.

Archbishop doesn't like the political bits

Ruth Gledhill has a short post whose significance is in its title rather than its content: Rowan: ‘I like my job – except the political bits.’ For the evidence for this title she links to her article today in The Times, about how the Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed by three teenagers for a youth magazine. She reports that

he enjoys his job – “at least the non-political side of things.” This is because he is passionate about the environment and likes meeting people.

But I was encouraged by these words of Archbishop Williams, in the same interview:

I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible, gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practicing [sic, even in The Times] homosexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.

Well said, Your Grace. But if that is really what you believe, Continue reading

Some are more equal than others

In George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, the animals who took over the farm from their human owner initially proclaimed

All animals are equal.

But later this was altered, by the pigs who emerged as the rulers, to this:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

Orwell’s book was written as an allegory about Communism. But in many ways it can also be taken as an allegory about the church. Continue reading

Anglican warfare

A quote from Ruth Gledhill of The Times:

The chilling thing about Anglican warfare is that participants are too well-versed in the Word ever to need to resort to true expletives. Instead, we try to murder each other with the sharp veneer of Christian civility honed through decades of service on parochial church councils.

Well, the current goings-on in the USA and Canada, where real splits and legal proceedings are now under way, show some worldwide Anglicans in a slightly different light. But in the Church of England which I know and have a love-hate relationship with, Ruth’s description still seems to fit.

Piper has answered Adrian's question: Wright is not preaching another gospel

A few weeks ago I wrote about what is wrong with John Piper’s theology. But in fact it turns out that in at least one respect his beliefs have been misinterpreted by Adrian Warnock.

I mentioned in my post a post of Adrian’s entitled John Piper: Is N. T. Wright Preaching Another Gospel? (See also the 31 comments on this post, now deleted from Adrian’s blog but saved here.) This was part of Adrian’s series on Piper’s book The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, available online free of charge (PDF format).

Adrian’s title suggests that Piper is claiming that Wright is “preaching another gospel”, and the content of the post seems to confirm this suggestion. But in fact, as I will show here, this suggestion is incorrect: Piper does not consider Wright’s teaching to be “another gospel”.

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Complementarianism: Sola Scriptura or Sola Traditio?

I don’t often read materials from the so-called “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (CBMW). They promote a complementarian position, that is (to put it rather tendentiously), that whereas men and women are supposedly equal in status, all of the roles in the church and the family which are generally considered to be of high status are reserved for men only. As my regular readers know, this is not my position. Authors associated with CBMW, such as Wayne Grudem, often try to justify their position from Scripture, but in my opinion, explained further below, their arguments are generally seriously deficient.

But my attention was drawn to a series of posts on the CBMW blog in which David Kotter, Executive Director of CBMW, responds to my blogger friend Molly Aley. See also the discussion here, and Molly’s response to the series (which includes an excellent account by Elijah McKnight of how he moved from complementarianism to egalitarianism when he learned a proper approach to the Scriptures).

In part 2 of the series Kotter seeks to root CBMW’s complementarian position in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura:

The complementary nature of manhood and womanhood and its implications for the home and church can only be defended from the Scripture alone.

But in fact neither his logic nor CBMW’s arguments for complementarianism support this conclusion.

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