Saturday, October 03, 2015

Pope Francis on June 1, 2015 and the Failure of the Cross (with Bonus)

When you read the Pope's comments about the "failure of the cross" in light of this homily from earlier this year, I think it sheds some light on the subject. Just as Scripture interprets Scripture, so also Francis interprets Francis:
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day during morning Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, the Pope said the stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone; the scandalous executioner’s block that appeared to put an end to the story of hope, marked the beginning of man’s salvation.

And highlighting how the Scriptures speak to us today, the Pope said God builds upon weakness and waste; he said God’s love for mankind is manifested in the apparent “failure” of the Cross.


But above all - the Pope said - the story tells us of how Jesus’s death led to his ultimate triumph.

Let us not forget the cross – he said – because it is here that the logic of “failure” is turned upside down.

Jesus – Pope Francis said – reminds the chief priests, the scribes and the elders that although we can expect trials and rejection, in the end we will see triumph and he quotes the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

“The prophets, the men of God who spoke to the people, who were not listened to, who were rejected, will be His glory. The Son, His last envoy, was seized, killed and thrown out. He became the cornerstone” he said.

“This story that begins with a dream of love, that seems to be a love story, but ends up looking like a story of failures, ends with the great love of God who offers Salvation through the rejection of his Son who saves us all”.


Bonus Update:

Here's what Francis said back on May 29, 2013:
“Triumphalism in the Church halts the Church. The triumphalism of us Christians halts Christians. A triumphalist Church is a half-way Church”. A Church content with being “well organized and with... everything lovely and efficient”, but which denied the martyrs would be “a Church which thought only of triumphs and successes; which did not have Jesus’ rule of triumph through failure. Human failure, the failure of the cross. And this is a temptation to us all”.


Thursday, October 01, 2015

More Thorough Exegesis of Francis' "Failure of the Cross" Phrase

In response to Pastor Hall quadrupling down on his misinterpretation of Francis' words, let me explain how I know (with certainty) that Pope Francis was contrasting the divine perspective with the human perspective, when he said:
The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
a) Notice that the point of the paragraph is to explain the right way of measuring success. It's not a discourse on the atonement or on redemption, but instead of metrics of success. The cross is an example of how to measure success.

b) Not only is this confirmed by the thesis sentence of the paragraph, but also by the way that the paragraph fits within the section of the speech:
And it diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ. We can get caught up in measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success, which govern the business world.

Not that these things are unimportant, of course. But we have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and this is why god's people rightly expect accountability from us but the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in god's eyes, to see and evaluate things from god's perspective, calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it demands great humility.

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
b) Thus, the point of the Pope's statement is to contrast outward success, success as perceived by men, with true success.

c) The pope is drawing a distinction between measuring worldly endeavors (like businesses) with "our apostolic works" or "apostolate."

d) So, in context the pope is saying that measured by business standards, i.e. "humanly speaking" the cross was a failure.

e) The pope is saying that this is the wrong way to measure spiritual endeavors. It's an argument from the greater to the lesser. If measuring the cross by business standards would make it look like a failure, we shouldn't worry that our apostolate/apostolic works look like a failure by that standard.

f) That the pope was talking about failure that shouldn't count as failure can be seen from the fact that he refers to "seem to fail" when describing our efforts and works.

g) The alternative understanding, that Francis meant that the cross really did fail, would undermine the point of using the cross as an illustration. If the cross actually failed, then business method of measuring success is right, and we're not dealing with a "different way of measuring success," but with a same way of measuring success.

h) Finally, we see the same thing confirmed in the way that the pope wraps up his discussion in a subsequent paragraph:
I know that many of you are on the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape, like Saint Peter, I ask you, that regardless of the difficulties and trials that you face, be at peace and respond to them as Christ did. He gave thanks to the father, took up his cross and looked forward.
Notice that he encourages people to imitate Christ in their "front lines" of "an evolving pastoral landscape." That makes sense if the cross was a success spiritually, though not "humanly speaking," but makes no sense if the cross was truly a failure.

Now, I certainly agree that the RC views of the atonement and of the mass treat the cross as being at least partly a failure - but that's an external critique of their position - not something they themselves admit. Acting like Francis was admitting it here is inappropriate "gotcha" apologetics at best. We need to be honest in our criticisms, even of the Man of Sin whom God will destroy with his Spirit.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On Founders and Fathers

People like me appeal to the Founders of the American republic as authorities on what the Constitution meant when it was written. We do that because we believe in a grammatical-historical method of interpretation of any written document. In a similar way, many people like to appeal to the Church Fathers to understand the Scriptures. There are some similarities and some differences in these approaches.

Some Differences:

Unlike the Founders, the Church Fathers did not themselves write the Scriptures. The Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by those with a prophetic gift. Even the earliest of the Early Church Fathers we have were probably pretty young when the Scriptures were written. Furthermore, the writings of the earliest of the Early Church Fathers never explicitly purport to provide any insight into what was meant by the text as written. There is not a body of literature contemporary to the writing of the New Testament, parallel to the Federalist Papers (for example), to which we can appeal for documentation regarding why things in Scripture were probably written the way they were written.

In fact, most of the church fathers were separated as far as we are (or farther than we are) from the Founders. Thus, their value in a grammatical-historical model of interpretation is quite dilute. They may be useful in helping us confirm that we're still reading Greek in about the same way as they did, but folks like Augustine and his contemporaries didn't have any first hand, or even second or third hand knowledge of the apostles and evangelists, much less of Moses, David, and the prophets.

Additionally, the Bible is perfect. It is a complete document that will accomplish exactly what God intended it to do. Those tasks include communicating the way of salvation and thoroughly furnishing the man of God for every good work. The US Constitution is an impressive document, but it is far from perfect. We don't even have a reason to think it would be perfect. It's a merely human work, and humans make mistakes. There is no guarantee that it will accomplish all its authors intended.

Similarly, the Bible is perspicuous. By contrast, there is no doctrine of the perspicuity of the US Constitution. Even on important points, it is possible for the US Constitution to be vague. Just as their is not guarantee that the Constitution will work as intended, there is no guarantee that a fair-minded reader trying his best will correctly understand even the most important points.

Thus, the need to rely on external authorities becomes important when dealing with the Constitution in ways that it is not when dealing with the Bible.

Some Similarities:

Like the Fathers, the Founders were not always of one mind. In one interaction I had with a Roman Catholic, I recall the following interchange (I'm paraphrasing):

RC: Are you saying that church went off the rails from the very beginning? Because we know what Clement of Rome taught about ecclesiology.
TF: You're referring to the book of 1 Clement, which is usually attributed to Clement of Rome. But note that the author of that work was arguing with the Corinthians. He was saying that they went off the rails. So, did someone go off the rails right at the beginning? Apparently so - the very evidence you cite is proof of that, whether Clement was right or wrong.

A similar issue was recently raised by my brother, Jordan Hall, in a post about the Constitution. There he raised a comment by Thomas Jefferson in a letter written around 1819. My brother wanted to argue that Jefferson's position reflected what "the Founders" thought about the Constitution. The problem is this - Jefferson's letter is one that is arguing against his contemporaries (link to letter). In other words, while my brother may want to side with Jefferson, Jefferson is arguing with another of his contemporaries. "The Founders" were not of one mind on the subject, but of two (or more) competing minds.

That leads us to another similarity. It's not always easy to identify a "Founder" just as it is sometimes difficult to identify a "Father." Should we count Origen and Tertullian as Fathers? They are certainly highly influential early Christian authors, but their full orthodoxy is sometimes questioned. Similarly, who do we count as a Founder? One Constitution-focused website explains the problem:
Other U.S. Founding Fathers were not there [TF insertion: at the Constitutional Convention], but made significant contributions in other ways. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, was serving as ambassador to France at the time of the Convention. He kept abreast of the proceedings in Philadelphia by carrying on correspondence with James Madison. John Adams, as ambassador to Great Britain, wrote "Defense of the Constitution of the Government of the United States of America." Thomas Paine wrote the influential pamphlet "Common Sense," which immeasurably influenced the philosophy reflected in the Declaration of Independence. One of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, was initially opposed to the very idea of the Constitution! He wanted to keep the Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to the Constitution. However, when an agreement was made to add a "bill of rights" to the Constitution, Henry fought hard for its ratification.
(link to site)

We see similar divisions amongst the fathers. There were various theological battles over which those in the early church fought - sometimes on central issues (like Jesus' divinity) and sometimes over relatively trivial issues (like when Easter should be celebrated). While I certainly wouldn't treat an Arian as a "father of the church," it's important to realize that this identification involves me using the Scripture as my standard for deciding who to label a "father." Thus, my list of "fathers" is going to include generally orthodox men. I can't then turn around and say that their opinion proves that my doctrine is orthodox, as Roman Catholics sometimes erroneously attempt to do.

People who are trying to round up opinions of the Founders to support their views need to be similarly careful. Jefferson's view on the judiciary (as interpreted by my brother) would seem to place him at odds with John Marshall's views on the judiciary. Nevertheless John Marshall, like Thomas Jefferson, was a founding father (link to relevant information on Marshall). Although Jefferson is more famous, both men were founders and arguably represent (on some issues) competing views found amongst the Founders even in the early days of the republic. If you only count the Founders who agree with you as being Founders, your appeal to them is no longer grammatical-historical analysis but simply partisan politics or propaganda.

So be careful when applying external sources. The Constitution may need them to be understood-- Scripture doesn't need them, even if they are helpful. Moreover, when you are looking at them, look more for the points on which those debating found common ground. In the case of the Fathers, that was that Scripture is the highest and most ultimate authority, aka Sola Scriptura. Look for the things that they took for granted that their opponents would agree with, not those points on which they wanted their opponents to submit. Those points provide much stronger evidence for "the opinion" of the Fathers or the Founders.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Humanly Speaking the Cross was a Failure

The pope wasn't saying that Christ's death was a failure. He was saying the same thing that both Roman Catholics and Protestants affirm, namely that the disciples were expecting a Messiah that would give military victory over the Romans. Instead, the Romans killed him. He looked like a failure to those who had only a human perspective on things. The pope was contrasting the divine perspective with the human perspective, when he said:
The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.
This shouldn't be any surprise, since others have said the same thing.

Roman Catholic expressions of this:
"It is love and loyalty which persist even where humanly speaking there seems to be no reason for it — just as the cross of Jesus was humanly speaking hopeless, but brought salvation and goodness." A New Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults, with Supplement

"Humanly speaking, a failure: a colossal, blatant failure. Yet when all seemed to be lost, all was in fact saved. " Federico Suarez

Non-RC expressions of this:
"5. He was rejected and despised by the people among whom He labored. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." His work was, humanly speaking, a complete failure, and when He left the world He had but a handful of followers who had remained true to His teachings and person." Albert Simpson

"With all reverence, let me say to you, humanly speaking, the day the Master died on the Cross it seemed a colossal failure." D. L. Ferris

"That beautiful Iife promised so much, but the Cross shows how those promises, humanly speaking, ended in failure. The nation He came to teach rejected Him; the people He came to save crucified Him; a few Disciples only remained faithful to Him; and yet out of that " failure" came the greatest success the world has ever known, the success which has regenerated mankind!" Alfred Mortimer

"Humanly speaking, his work had failed. " Warren W. Wiersbe

"What enabled the disciples of Jesus to understand this enigmatic "message of the cross"? At first sight, we see in the cross the sign of a failure, humanly speaking. " Taize

There are good reasons to be opposed to the papacy, but this isn't one of them.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Judicial Precedent as Law - Summary

In America, judicial precedent is law. This is true even if it is true that:
a) Some of that law is bad law;
b) Some of that law is unconstitutional law;
c) Some of that law would be "honored in the breach";
d) Some of that law outrages us;
e) Some of that law could be overturned tomorrow;
f) Some of that law is contrary to God's law;
and we could probably think of many more to go with those.

The fact that judicial precedent is law in America can be seen in a variety of ways:
1) Look at dictionary definitions (I was told that this approach is un-American, but let the reader judge)
2) Look up what it means that America is a "Common Law" jurisdiction as distinction from a "Civil Code" jurisdiction.
3) Look up what the expression "case law" means (not in reference to the Torah, but in reference to the American legal system)

Now, Jordan Hall​, Marcus Pittman​, and Joel McDurmon​ have all expressed disagreement with my thesis - and they are all talented brothers in Christ. But on this point they are wrong, and not just white shoes after Labor Day wrong - they are as wrong as putting a "Tribble" caption on a photo of an Ewok, as wrong as thinking that "RC" in RC Sproul stands for "Roman Catholic", and as wrong as Bruce Jenner's current restroom choices.

There are lots of good reasons to oppose the new precedent set by the Supreme Court, but they don't include the absurd notion that, because the decision is not legislation it is not law (the errant opinion expressed by Jordan and Marcus and defended by Joel).

So please, brothers. Stop it. Just stop it. The media get lots of things wrong all the time, but this is not one of those things. This is actually one of those rare cases where they've made an accurate statement.