Exegesis and Systematics: a response to Peter Leithart

Leithart has responded to my critique here. The substance of his critique is in this quotation:

When Keister attempts to apply Barr’s concept to systematic theology, I don’t know (what LK) he’s talking about. Systematic theology is precisely the effort to formulate a “total” view of a subject. When we formulate the doctrine of justification, we pay attention to all the passages that use the term, and all the different contexts in which it is used. Some relevant texts, of course, don’t use the term “justify.” The doctrine of justification, at least, should be placed within the larger context of a biblical doctrine of judgment (again, something I’ve been aiming at in my articles on this topic). But taking the texts that use the term into account is at least an important starting point.

The difficulty with this is that Leithart now commits the word-concept fallacy to try to cover over his ITT fallacy. He seems to think that the doctrine is present (or at least a portion of the doctrine) wherever the word is present. My point is that many contexts that use a particular word (such as צֶדֶק) don’t necessary deal with justification. Leithart is proceeding on the assumption that every text that uses the word needs to be taken into consideration when formulating the doctrine of justification. Yes, ST is about laying out the substance of what the Bible says about justification. But we cannot commit the word-concept fallacy in so doing.

On to the next text in Leithart’s article: 1 Kings 8:31-32. Here is it in Hebrew:

אֵת אֲשֶׁר יֶחֱטָא אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ וְנָשָׁא־בוֹ אָלָה לְהַאֲלֹתוֹ וּבָא אָלָה לִפְנֵי מִזְבַּחֲךָ בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה׃

וְאַתָּה תִּשְׁמַע הַשָּׁמַיִם וְעָשִׂיתָ וְשָׁפַטְתָּ אֶת־עֲבָדֶיךָ לְהַרְשִׁיעַ רָשָׁע לָתֵת דַּרְכּוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וּלְהַצְדִּק צַדִּיק לָתֶת לוֹ כְּצִדְקָתוֹ׃ ס          

Several things need to be noted here about this passage. First of all, the reason why Solomon is making this particular prayer. Keil/Delitzsch says it best:

But as this punishment could only be inflicted when the guilty person afterwards confessed his guilt, many false oaths might have been sworn in the cases in question and have remained unpunished, so far as men were concerned. Solomon therefore prays that the Lord will hear every such oath that shall have been sworn before the altaer and work…i.e., actively interpose, and judge His servants, to punish the guilty and justify the innocent (p. 129).

So the context is undeterminable oaths which the Lord alone could judge as to its truth or falsity. Secondly, note the close parallel between “bringing his conduct on his own head” and “rewarding him according to his righteousness.” These in turn qualify the sense in which “condemn” and “justify” are taken. Leithart argues that this forensic use of the term is not limited to the mere declaration of a sentence, and that Solomon is “asking that God reward those whom he declared righteous; indeed, he is asking Yahweh to declare the righteous by giving rewards” (p. 211). At this point, we need to remember that the Reformation exegesis of “justification” language made mention of two main uses of the term: declarative and demonstrative. This is how they explained the difference between James and Paul: Paul was talking about declarative justification (the verdict of not guilty), and James was talking about the demonstration of being declared not guilty. See, for instance, John Owen’s works, volume 5, pp. 384ff., Calvin’s Inst. 3.17.12, Pemble, pg. 200. For more modern discussion, see CJPM, pp. 149-150 for a discussion of dikaioo. A good case can be made that tsedeq and dikaioo overlap to a considerable extent, even to the two definitions of declarative and demonstrative. More than half of the LXX instances of dikaioo translate tsedeq (see Hatch/Redpath, I, p. 334). Surely, the background for Paul’s usage must be found there. In short, our understanding of how the passage works looks like this: either the meaning of tsedeq means the declarative sense, in which case, we take the lamed preposition to be indicating the result of the declaration; or, conversely, if we take tsedeq in the demonstrative sense, then the lamed preposition has the meaning “by.” I take the latter meaning to be more probable, given the parallel with the condemnation in the same verse. This is Matthew Poole’s verdict: “Ostendendo quod justam causam habuerit” (p. 484 of the Synopsis Criticorum).  Translated, it says “In order to show that he will have the just cause.” Waltke leans this way also: “In these instances the person is probably recognized as becoming either righteous or wicked by some observable act of judgment imposed on him” (IBHS, p. 439, emphasis added). Having shown, therefore, not only that the Reformers were aware of this use of the word, but also that they had read this passage (as Poole’s quotation shows), and didn’t feel that their definition of justification needed to be expanded, Leithart’s thesis that we need to broaden the Reformer’s definition of justification falls flat. In any case, Leithart’s contention that this is a declaration by reward has certainly not been proven. By the way, it should be noted in passing that Leithart does not deal explicitly with this passage in his commentary. So, no additional light may be thrown on Leithart’s interpretation by looking at his commentary, which, by the way, I reviewed briefly here.

28 Comments

  1. Sean Gerety said,

    July 2, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    The difficulty with this is that Leithart now commits the word-concept fallacy to try to cover over his ITT fallacy. He seems to think that the doctrine is present (or at least a portion of the doctrine) wherever the word is present. My point is that many contexts that use a particular word (such as צֶדֶק) don’t necessary deal with justification. Leithart is proceeding on the assumption that every text that uses the word needs to be taken into consideration when formulating the doctrine of justification.

    Such a plainly obvious and devastating point. Really well done Lane.

    I think Leithart’s posts are troubling on a number of different levels. For example he writes:

    “I know that justification is not by works, and I know that we never merit justification. It doesn’t mean that it makes justification our work instead of God’s. I know that I am right before God because of what Jesus did, and because He shares all He has with me. Those are fixed points, rightly so.”

    Would any Roman Catholic disagree with any one of Leithart’s fixed points? Then he adds:

    “But on a host of other questions, I don’t entirely know what the implications are. I haven’t worked things out thoroughly enough to know.”

    Please note, as a minister in good standing in the PCA, he admits that on a “host of other questions” — surrounding the doctrine of justification I might add — he hasn’t “worked things out thoroughly enough” to know where he stands.

    Remember, this is a man who has taken it upon himself, under his Presbytery’s oversight, to feed Christ’s sheep. Sounds to me he’s in the wrong profession entirely if he can’t figure this question out. Lane, of course, explained it for him and demonstrated the fallacy in his reasoning. Will he take Lane’s correction? Probably not.

    IMO if Leithart wants to prattle around wondering about what justification means and whether the WS got it right, he needs to get out of the pulpit and sit is butt down in a pew with the rest of us. And if he won’t step down on his own accord, his Pres is duty bound to make sure he does. Now the question is, who will make the next move?

  2. Paul B. said,

    July 2, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Pastor Lane,

    I see that you reviewed Pastor Leithart’s book without reading it. Have you read it since?

    I haven’t read it myself. But for clarity’s sake, it may be worth noting that it’s part of the Brazos Theological Commentary series, in which the accent is on “Theological.” As a user of commentaries, I’m often bemused and dissappointed by the paucity of actual theological comment. It won’t surprise me if Pastor Leithart or others in the Brazos series devote little space to to interacting with commentaries that center on exegetical details.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I have not read the commentary itself, except on 1 Kings 8. His omissions in the area of bibliography would be forgivable if your thesis as to its reason be plausible. However, it is not plausible, given the bibliography that he does give. For instance, he does have Brueggemann’s commentary listed in the bibliography, and quotes him 5 times. He has exegetical articles, such as Robert Cohn’s contribution to JBL (1982). On the other hand, one really has to wonder why some of those other commentaries I listed were not on the bibliography, when Robert Kagan’s 2004 work is. And, as I said, some of the commentaries in the bibliography are not quoted very much if at all, in the work itself. So, to suggest that his work is theological, and therefore not exegetical, will not really absolve Leithart of his bibliographic difficulties.

  4. Paul B. said,

    July 2, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    Pastor Lane,

    I don’t follow your reasoning about Pastor Leithart’s bibliography, and I can’t tell whether you think something sinister is afoot. Might not the answer be as simple and as innocuous as the following:

    He listed only the books and articles that he found helpful or provocative for the design and purpose of the series.

    Does his own book make a positive contribution to theological commentary on Kings? If so, what difference does it make how many items appear in the bibliography? In other words: Never mind the bibliography for a moment; how valuable is the *commentary* as an exercise in *theological* commentary?

    It seems unfair to claim here that you’ve written a “review” of Pastor Leithart’s commentary when what you’ve done is review his bibliography. But to what end?

  5. Clay Johnson said,

    July 2, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    BOQ . . . Leithart . . . seems to think that the doctrine is present (or at least a portion of the doctrine) wherever the word is present. My point is that many contexts that use a particular word (such as צֶדֶק) don’t necessary deal with justification. Leithart is proceeding on the assumption that every text that uses the word needs to be taken into consideration when formulating the doctrine of justification. Yes, ST is about laying out the substance of what the Bible says about justification. But we cannot commit the word-concept fallacy in so doing. EOQ

    Aren’t you and he really asking different questions? For the sake of discussion, let’s assume we have to account for the Scriptural uses of only that one Hebrew word, צֶדֶק

    Leithart seems to be asking, “When we take into account all of Scripture’s uses of this particular word, what does the range of the uses in their various contexts say about the possible boundaries of the concept/doctrine of justification?” This is asking what the boundary should be (what size and shape should the justification bucket be?).

    You seem to be asking, “Given what we know about the doctrine of justification [the sentence beginning “My point” seems to assume that it has a discernable, previous meaning], what usages of the word should we eliminate from the category of justification because contextual considerations force it outside of our definition?” This is about applying boundaries to particular usages (does it go in the justification bucket or the ~justification bucket?).

    If you use an answer to the second question to answer the first, doesn’t it rather beg the first question that Leithart seeks to explore? Am I reading you wrong?

  6. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Paul, as I did mention in my review, I hope to profit by the book. A book may be quite profitable without quoting other works. However, I was noticing in the review that Kings is exceptionally poorly served by commentaries. If I were writing a *theological* commentary, I would still wish to have it informed by the very best critical scholarship and interpretive exegetical insights I could find. There is no divide between exegesis and ST. There is a distinction, but no separation. I am especially sensitive to this issue, since I see perhaps the majority of exegetes out there today outright rejecting systematic categories in exegesis, which is foolhardy and stupid. Leithart does not bridge that gap, which is unfortunate, since I was hoping that this theological commentary series would do just that.

    Clay, the question you think Leithart is asking is still illegitimate. The boundaries of the question of justification do not hinge on the uses of tsedeq and dikaioo. That would be like saying that our doctrine of God has to include man, because elohim refers to men in Psalm 82:6. I feel strongly that this is what Leithart is doing.

  7. July 2, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Very interesting post. I continue to be intrigued by your comments.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    July 2, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Welcome to my blog, Kevin.

  9. July 2, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    […] on the etymology of ‘Justification’ Lane Keister has been looking at Leithart’s etymological study on the word ‘justify’ (among […]

  10. pduggie said,

    July 2, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    “My point is that many contexts that use a particular word (such as צֶדֶק) don’t necessary deal with justification.”

    Weird. Because the two cases you took eithart to task about, you ended up saying that you didn’t see a BROADER menaing for tzedeq, but just plain vanilla lawcourt righteousness.

    so where are the MANY contexts where tzedeq is used that have *nothing* to do with a court and a status?

  11. pduggie said,

    July 2, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    “Leithart seems to be asking, “When we take into account all of Scripture’s uses of this particular word, what does the range of the uses in their various contexts say about the possible boundaries of the concept/doctrine of justification?” This is asking what the boundary should be (what size and shape should the justification bucket be?).”

    I think that’s exactly right. Liethart is asking: what are the full OT boundaries of righteousness language. Once we know that, we can ask how Paul’s writings may or may not make use of those boundaries.

    Too much of the work has been done by starting in Romans and reading every thing in what we think the light of it is. But what was Paul’s context? What was he expecting to have happen. What story was he reading/participating in. What echoes of OT scripture can we find in the letters of Paul?

    Very *legitimate* questions, I would think any inerrantist would hold to.

  12. pduggie said,

    July 2, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    “That would be like saying that our doctrine of God has to include man, because elohim refers to men in Psalm 82:6.”

    Yeah. Nobody would ever say that it doesn’t matter if we start with God or Man, because Man is in God’s image and God made an image in Man. Nobody ever starts a theology saying that its impossible to choose whether to start with God or Man.

  13. greenbaggins said,

    July 3, 2007 at 7:47 am

    But man is not included in the *definition* of God, however much of Calvin you wish to quote here, Paul.

  14. Xon said,

    July 3, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Lane, I know you’ve asked in the past for folks to point you to comments that they have made that they don’t think you’ve answered. My response here will lean on that invitation a bit.

    First, as I argued under the post “Gen. Response to Leithart’s Article on Just., Part 2,” you have never demonstrated that Leithart committs the ITT fallacy. Nowhere in Leithart’s article that I can see, and certainly not in any of the stuff you quoted from him directly, does he either assert or assume the principle that “all meanings of a word can be packed into every occurrence occurrence of the word.” So your claim here in this post that Leithart “covers over his ITT fallacy” by committing the word-concept fallacy is highly doubtful simply b/c Leithart doesn’t commit the ITT fallacy. And so there is nothing for him to “cover over.”

    Second, to your claim that he is now committing the word-concept fallacy simply b/c he wants to “pay attention to all the passages” that use a term x when we formulate our doctrine of x, I don’t see how this is so either. Leithart doesn’t say that every passage will figure in equally to a doctrine of x. Some passages might use the word in a way that is outside the range of what we are looking for. However, as I also pointed out under that other thread referenced above, this can be only discerned on a passage-by-passage basis. So, strictly speaking Leithart has to be right here: we must take every passage into account that uses the word.

    Of course, there might be certain passages where the word is used in a way that is completely outside the scope of what we are looking for for our own doctrine-forumalating purposes, but I’d see Leithart responding to that sort of possibility in several ways:

    1. If there is a really egregious example–such as some surfer-dudes from the NT era using ‘righteous’ to mean “neat, cool, awesome,” then I’m sure Leithart would leave that passage out of his doctrinal formulations.

    2. He would be cautious, however, about so flippantly throwing this distinction out there when it comes to Scripture. Scripture is God speaking to us in the words that He thinks are appropriate. Who exactly are we to tell God, “Well, using the word ‘justify’ in that passage from I Kings is interesting, Lord, but we don’t really care about that right now b/c we’re too busy formulatins our ‘doctrine of justification’ and we’ve discerned that that particular usage doesn’t fit with the doctrine.” You can see how this sort of thing would seem a little, er, forward, can’t you?

    2a. Matt and I have already asked you in different threads “where are the brakes?” And I think it’s a good question. How, exactly, do you discern successfully which usages (other than obviously slangish ones like surfer-dude saying ‘righteous’) are relevant to the doctrine and which ones are not? Who says, for instance, that integrity/honesty is not relevant to a doctrine of justification? God chose to used the word ‘justify’ in the context of talking about integrity/honesty, after all. So what makes you so sure that this isn’t ‘relevant’ to a proper doctrine?

    Here’s what I said along these lines (again, from the Gen Response to Leit, Part 2 thread):

    Leithart looks at passages like romans 6:7 and 8:1-4 and sees a “deliverance” aspect to those passages. And those passages use the word “justification”/”righteousness.” Are you saying that we must form a “doctrine of justification” without at least taking into consideration all the Biblical usages of the word “justification”? ??

    “Oh, sure, that passage uses the word ‘justification’ to speak about a situation in which deliverance is a major component of what is going on, but in that passage ‘justification’ is being used in a way completely foreign to the ‘real’ doctrinal idea of justification that we are interested in. Not every meaning of a word has to be included in your conceptual doctrine, after all.” This seems like special pleading, and it also seems like a hopeless epistemological maze. How on earth do we determine, on the front end, which usages of “justification” are applicable to a proper doctrine of justification and which ones are not?

    I mean, Leithart isn’t saying that we just insert every single occurrence of ‘justification’ or ‘righteousness’ into our doctrine, no questions asked. If, for example, there were Bill and Teds in the NT era who wrote a letter to the church at San Demas and they kept calling everything “righteous”, we would be able to tell from context that those occurrences of “righteous” mean “cool, excellent, tubular, bodacious” and have nothing to do with how a person is made right with God. Fine, and good, and I don’t see where Leithart would disagree with that sort of obvious point. But these uses of “tsadaq’ aren’t like this–they are not obviously unrelated to the proper doctrine of justification. Who says that “integrity” and “honesty” don’t have anything to do with how God gives us a righteous status in His sight? This cannot simply be asserted (though I realize you have more posts left, but it seemed as though you are going to move on from this point which is why I am questioning it now instead of waiting for the later posts.) And in the Pauline passages Leithart talks about it’s even more unclear how Leithart could be mistaken. These passages use the word “jutification,” so if someone asks “What does the Bible say about justification?” how can we not take a look at these passages and see what they have to say? Again, if they turn out to say something completely unrelated to our general concept of doctrinal justification–like in my silly Bill and Ted example–then that’s fine and we would be able to tell this from the context. But Leithart’s whole point would be that this is not happening in these passages in Romans (for example). Here “righteousness”/”justification” language is used to describe a deliverance, and so it seems like deliverance should figure more promienntly into our doctrine of justification if we want to be faithful to the Scriptures. What a priori reason is there to preclude the deliverance aspect of these words from the “proper” doctrine?

    Not that you asked for it, but my suggestion is that in this particular series of posts you stick with the exegetical interactions with Leithart, passage-by-passage. I would drop all of this pretension to picking apart his ‘logic’. These claims that he is committing such silly fallacies, for one, don’t jive with the general respect that TRs like to urge upon us when in the presence of those who have attained academic honor. Well, Leithart certainly qualifies, so we should tread carefully, no? For two, these claims to sit as logical umpire over Leithart’s reasoning is opening you up to similar refutations. It could easily be said, for instance, that you are simply begging the question when you say that intergrity/honesty in human affairs has no bearing upon our doctrine of justification, Lane.

    So, again, I say just drop these ‘meta’ posts on Leithart’s “grand error”; and get back to the exegesis. If Leithart is wrong in his reading of Genesis 31, then you can use exegetical and theological arguments to show that this is so. But I don’t see what profit there is in these a priori critiques you keep trying to offer (i.e., Leithart is wrong b/c he commits the ITT fallacy, or the word-concept fallacy, etc.)

  15. July 3, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Xon writes:

    Matt and I have already asked you in different threads “where are the brakes?” And I think it’s a good question. How, exactly, do you discern successfully which usages (other than obviously slangish ones like surfer-dude saying ‘righteous’) are relevant to the doctrine and which ones are not? Who says, for instance, that integrity/honesty is not relevant to a doctrine of justification? God chose to used the word ‘justify’ in the context of talking about integrity/honesty, after all. So what makes you so sure that this isn’t ‘relevant’ to a proper doctrine?

    I believe the answer here to this question must and should be the wisdom of the Reformed churches over the ages as it is expressed in the central confessional norms we have before us. For all the talk of catholicity in FV circles, why are the confessions and their language somehow ignored or simply redefined in a way that would make the Oxford Movement proud in these discussions as if they now don’t apply to our current situation as they have been traditionally rendered? Why is Leithart bent on expanding the traditional categories put forward by the historic Reformed confessions and traditional Reformed systematic theology? I believe Pastor Lane is making it quite clear that it doesn’t have to do with the specifics of biblical exegesis.

  16. Xon said,

    July 3, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Why is Leithart bent on expanding the traditional categories put forward by the historic Reformed confessions and traditional Reformed systematic theology? I believe Pastor Lane is making it quite clear that it doesn’t have to do with the specifics of biblical exegesis.

    I don’t doubt that this is your belief (how could I?), but it’s an insane thing to believe, Kevin. (And I say this as someone who has appreciated a ton of reformedcatholicism.com stuff. I say that in all sincerity.) For one thing, how can we emphasize catholicity by then insisting that various theological terms only be defined according to the confessions of one branch of the historic Church? I’m not tracking you argument there at all.

    As to your direct question, perhaps Leithart is ‘bent’ on this because he honestly and sincerely believes that the Bible uses these categories to say more than traditionsl Reformed systematic theology has said. If this is his perception, then what do you want Leithart to do exactly? Say, “Well, unfortuantely my tradition has already defined these things, and so no matter what I think the Scriptures are actually saying I’d better just keep my mouth shut and think no thoughts outside what I’ve already been told it’s okay to think.” ?? Et tu, Brute?

    As to Lane making it “clear” that Leithart’s motivations are not sincerely exegetical, what pray tell do you think they are? Let’s not beat around the bush, man! Come forth and present your accusation. :-)

  17. July 3, 2007 at 10:13 am

    I don’t doubt that this is your belief (how could I?), but it’s an insane thing to believe, Kevin. (And I say this as someone who has appreciated a ton of reformedcatholicism.com stuff. I say that in all sincerity.) For one thing, how can we emphasize catholicity by then insisting that various theological terms only be defined according to the confessions of one branch of the historic Church? I’m not tracking you argument there at all.

    Well, first of all, I believe it’s quite mistaken to think that the Reformed confessions are representative of only “one branch of the historic Church”. In truth, the Reformed confessions (and the Reformers themselves) would see what is put forward in the confessions as nothing less than the catholic faith of the ages especially as it has to do with central tenets of the gospel such as justification and what our salvation means to us. Additionally, the origin of the Reformed confessions–especially in the case of documents like the Heidelberg Catechism–speak louder than a mere Reformed or Presbyterian witness in regards to these things especially when we consider that Catholic ressourcement scholars are quite free today to admit that Luther was right in his formulation of forensic justification and others such as Louis Bouyer and Jaroslav Pelikan recognize the catholic substance in Protestant framings of the matters in question. In other words, the confessions are not quite so narrow as you have supposed but represent not only the ancient faith of our fathers but also the major influences of the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformation.

    But putting aside the direct claims of the Reformers in this regard, it would also be wise to note that catholicity is as much about fidelity to the truth of one’s own communion as it is recognizing a common doctrine among all “branches” (a problematic term which we will for the time being allow for the sake of the discussion) of Christ’s Church.

    To assert that we must go wide afield of our own confessional tradition to understand what Scripture says can only be done when it is clear that Scripture itself makes this plain. My view is that Leithart, as usual for his own take and as usual for most James Jordanesque “exegetes” just doesn’t make his case and Pastor Lane has in some sense been pointing this out whether he is always right about everything he notes or not. Why can’t Leithart go beyond the bounds of the confessions of the PCA? Well, the most obvious answer (and one that has been rightly pointed to by others on many occasions) is that he has taken an oath to be faithful to the Confession–and that is the nature of confessional Presbyterianism. He has limited himself in this regard if he intends to be faithful to his ordination vows. Redefining the text of Scripture through sloppy exegesis and redefining the confession and how it is viewed is no excuse for the waywardness with which Leithart puts forward in handling these things. In Anglicanism, tactics similar to Leithart’s took on the form of the Oxford Movement and greatly aided the advent of liberalism in their ranks as well as a good number of conversions to Rome. Are we not seeing much the same effect now in FV circles and only after five years of the theology crisscrossing the Reformed world?

  18. Xon said,

    July 3, 2007 at 10:42 am

    Kevin, perhaps I’ve completely misunderstood the “reformed catholicism” you have been arguing for over the last few years. In any case, I’m playing a bit of catch up now trying to reorient myself to what you seem to be saying. Bear with me. So a few points, if I may.

    1.

    In other words, the confessions are not quite so narrow as you have supposed but represent not only the ancient faith of our fathers but also the major influences of the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformation.

    The majority of our fathers in the ancient faith, at least of those from whom we have available writing samples, do not believe in foreordained salvation apart from anything in the creature. When the eastern fathers are included (which they must be, of course), this is no contest. Just one example. The Reformers may have believed that they were simply being true to the fathers, but on at least some issues there can really be little doubt that they were incorrect. Calvin, for instance, was one of the most knowledgable scholars of the eastern fathers in his day, but still it is almost universally recognized by Calvin historians today that he pretty badly misread many of the passages from those fathers to which he appealed. (In the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a knock on Calvin; such misreadings were ubiquitous were ubiquitous in Calvin’s day, and have hardly been licked in our own.)

    2. Claims that Leithart hasn’t made his exegetical case, or that his exegesis is sloppy, just assumes the very matter that is in dispute and does not help the conversation at all. I understand that you’re just telling me “your view,” but in any case “my view” is different; I think Leithart makes a good case. So now what? We can’t really do anything but consider his exegetical arguments themselves and talk about them, can we? But this is a different thing than mkaing this sort of “a priori” argument against Leithart that you have offered here, where you would have it that Leithart is wrong because he’s taken vows to be true to the Confession but now he’s violating those vows by broadening certain confessional concepts. Whether or not such broadenings represent a true break with his vows hinges entirely on whether, as you yourself put it, “Scripture itself makes things plain.” And I think that Scripture does make some of these matters rathre plain, and that Leithart has commented upon the Scriptures faithfully in this regard. You think not; but this is not an argument against Leithart in and of itself. To the particulars of the exegesis we must go!

    3. Similarly, unless you are a strict subscriptionist, you recognize that deviations from the Confession are allowable so long as they do not “strike at the vitals of true religion.” Leithart does not believe his differences from the Confession strike at those vitals, and so Leithart does not think he is violating his vows to be true to the Confession. Confessional presbyerianism requires no such commitment as “I’ll never go afield of what the Confession says, or else I have made myself a liar.”

    4. Finally, these historical comparisons are completely useless in these discussions. You think Leithart is like an Oxford Movmement Anglican, opening the door for liberals and conversions to Rome? Okay, and Gary Johsnon thinks that FV is just “mainline liberalism” all over again as it struck the Presbyterian church in the early 20th century. And I can play this game too: I think that Leithart is a Luther who is sincerely and in good faith trying to recover some things that have genuinely been obscured, and that he is now getting hit over the head by the “pope” for no good reason for his trouble.

    Fukuyama notwithstanding, history does not repeat itself, at least not in so simplistic a way as we often imagine. Even if it does, it has done so enough times now that it has become a wax nose claimed by all sides in a discussion. Let’s argue more substantively than this, if we can.

  19. July 3, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Xon writes:

    The majority of our fathers in the ancient faith, at least of those from whom we have available writing samples, do not believe in foreordained salvation apart from anything in the creature.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. Truth and catholicity are not immediately connected with the majority view or even with what we think the Fathers may or may not have supposed. Interpretation of the Fathers is a notoriously complex matter and setting aside Calvin’s opinion on the matter with a wave of the hand by referencing what modern scholars may have to say is decidedly something other than fully treating the subject at hand. Suffice it to say, as I have already stated, that Calvin and the rest of the Reformers (and those that came after them) viewed their theology and their confessions as in line with the ancient faith. I suppose you can remain skeptical but you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Either the confessions conform to the ancient faith or they don’t. If so, you can hardly claim that engaging in revising or broadening the meaning of them is being faithful to the Scriptures, the Fathers, or the Reformers. At least we have come to the point where you admit through this line of argument that what Leithart and FV advocates are putting forward lately is something other than classic confessional Reformed doctrine.

    Of course claiming that Leithart has abandoned his vows through sloppy exegesis and revising the content and scope of the Westminster Confession is an assumption that plays into my claim that he has abandoned his ordination vow. Where did I argue otherwise? I don’t have the time to engage in the sort of tit-for-tat exegetical work that Pastor Lane is providing here but I’ve read enough of Leithart to know that my assumption is not completely unreasonable. I do believe Lane is asking good questions and on occasion hits the nail right on the head. You can say otherwise–but I have yet to see you engage in any sort of real argumentation that rebuts what Lane has said to this point other than to say get back to exegesis and don’t try to pick apart Leithart’s logic. This is true also for Douglas Wilson who recently attacked Pastor Lane with the worst sort of ad hominem but failing again to actually respond to the arguments Lane puts forward. It’s enough for some FV leaders to quote Chesterton and talk about how famous their scholars will be in upcoming centuries as if that somehow makes their case.

    On your third point, my recognition of what subscriptionism is (strict or otherwise) is really irrelevant. I’m not the minister in the PCA who has made this vow and I’m not a lone voice in thinking that Leithart is in serious trouble here.

    Last, historical comparisons are quite useful (1 Cor. 10:6) and your own prophets tell you this every day. Look at the Wilson post I quote above. He references C.S. Lewis and then makes a comparison to Leithart in the same breath. The truth is you just don’t like the comparison. You have yet to say anything which would indicate it is somehow inappropriate.

  20. Xon said,

    July 3, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything…

    Well, it has a good deal to do with my original point about “catholicity” as I understand it. I think it’s clear from these last few rounds that you and I are using different definitions of that term, so I think much of our effort has been so much wheel-spinning up to this point. You claimed that the way to figure out whether an occurrence of a word in the Bible belongs properly to the doctrine of such-and-such is to simply trust what “the central confessional norms” of the Reformed churches say. (your #15) (The fact that the central confessional norms don’t exactly tell us how to exegete individual passages would seem to count against this rule, but I didn’t bring that up at the time.) I responded by pointing out that my own view of catholicity precludes this sort of “The Bible says such-and-such b/c the Westminster Confession says so” kind of thinking. This, on its face, is a reasonable response to your point in #15. We might disagree, and we might go on to discuss exactly what catholicity really means, but I was hardly bringing up an irrelevant consideration in response to your initial point. After that, I’m not all that inclined to give a ‘full treatment of the subject at hand.’ (What subject is that, anyway? Sorry, I’ve got my hands in a lot of pies over here.)

    At least we have come to the point where you admit through this line of argument that what Leithart and FV advocates are putting forward lately is something other than classic confessional Reformed doctrine.

    But that little phrase “other than” is such a hinge in that sentence. Since the Westminster Confession, for instance, was a consensus document that was meant to be subscribable by people who had a whole host of different opinions on things, the very men who drafted and originally subscribed the Confession all held to things “other than” what was in the Confession. If you believed in the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, for instance, then that is something “other than” what is in the Confession. If you denied IAO, then that also is something “other than” what is in the Confession. (The Confession does not state either position). In this sense, every single person in the PCA, unless their full set of theological beliefs consists only of things said in the Westminster Standards, believes things ‘other than’ the Westminster Confession. So this isn’t a problem.

    Now, if you meant by “other than” that the FV actually believes things that contradict the Westminster Standards, which I suspect is more likely, then that’s something that I have not admitted (at least on any substantially important matter; if you are going to count any contradiction at all then you’ve already got Leithart ‘nailed’ on paedocommunion, and big whoop) and don’t think is true. I don’t see the FV men as teaching contrary to the Westminster Standards to which they are confessionally bound in any way that is “vitally” important to Reformed orthodoxy. But, again, this is sort of the whole point of the FV debate.

    Of course claiming that Leithart has abandoned his vows through sloppy exegesis and revising the content and scope of the Westminster Confession is an assumption that plays into my claim that he has abandoned his ordination vow. Where did I argue otherwise?

    We here on this blog have been talking about Leithart’s article and about his exegesis. You then swept in and simply proclaimed that, on your view, Leithart is sloppy and his exegesis doesn’t hold up. But you don’t want to offer any detailed “tit for tat” explorations of this; you just want to make the proclamation. Not very helpful, but maybe that wasn’t the point? I don’t know, but I pointed out that making such proclamations does little to advance the discussion we were already having (though it might successfully divert us into arguing over the body of Moses as we are doing now). My argument was not that you had ever “argued” that you’re not making assumptions. My argument was that the particular assumption you were making was the whole point of the debate, and that your bare assertion of it without even trying to back it up (which you have now admitted you have no intention of diong) is unhelpful. That’s it.

    I don’t have the time to engage in the sort of tit-for-tat exegetical work that Pastor Lane is providing here but I’ve read enough of Leithart to know that my assumption is not completely unreasonable. I do believe Lane is asking good questions and on occasion hits the nail right on the head. You can say otherwise–but I have yet to see you engage in any sort of real argumentation that rebuts what Lane has said to this point other than to say get back to exegesis and don’t try to pick apart Leithart’s logic.

    I’ll let my criticism of Lane’s ‘meta’ comments stand as already written until Lane gives his thoughts.

    But, again, I find myself at a loss as to what the point of this conversation is, Kevin. Your unargued assesment of Leithart’s exegetical work is “not completely unreasonable?” Okay, congratulations. Neither is mine or Matt’s argued assesment. So, again, I say now what? We both have a sort of prima facie plausibility to our positions; neither of us has committed some gross logical fallacy in the very expression of our bare bones position. A dude has done some exegitcal work, and in theory his work could be solid or not so solid. There is nothing “completely unreasonable” about either assesment, on its face. Again, not much to write home about. Let’s raise the bar a bit and have an actual conversation comparing our different assesments (which some of us were already doing before you came along to argue about….whatever we’re currently arguing about). But you have already said that you don’t want to do that. You’re not looking to do any detailed argument, you just want to register your agreement with Lane. Okay, then let Lane and I go into it in more detail. I believe I submitted some comments for Lane’s consideration. Barring this, what exactly do you want in this conversation, Kevin?

    On your third point, my recognition of what subscriptionism is (strict or otherwise) is really irrelevant. I’m not the minister in the PCA who has made this vow and I’m not a lone voice in thinking that Leithart is in serious trouble here.

    And I’m not the lone voice defending him. Is this a stalemate, or can we go into a deeper level of discussion?

    Last, historical comparisons are quite useful (1 Cor. 10:6) and your own prophets tell you this every day. Look at the Wilson post I quote above. He references C.S. Lewis and then makes a comparison to Leithart in the same breath. The truth is you just don’t like the comparison. You have yet to say anything which would indicate it is somehow inappropriate.

    Historical comparisons can be useful when appealing to a shared history with a shared interpretation (I Cor. 10). or when simply making an analogy to illustrate how you look at things (Wilson’s blog post comparing Leithart to Lewis and Chesterton). But they are not useful, at all, when two parties are in disagreement as to who is in the wrong and one party simply trots out a comparison to some bygone crisis as a trump card.

    I mean, if I said that your position just reminds me of Pope Leo X coming down on Luther, Kevin, then I gues I’ve just made a ‘useful’ comparison. I guess you should submit to my historical exegesis. The truth is you just don’t like the comparison, but you have yet to say anything which would indicate it is somehow inappropriate. Are we getting anywhere?

  21. July 3, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Xon writes:

    We here on this blog have been talking about Leithart’s article and about his exegesis. You then swept in and simply proclaimed that, on your view, Leithart is sloppy and his exegesis doesn’t hold up. But you don’t want to offer any detailed “tit for tat” explorations of this; you just want to make the proclamation. Not very helpful, but maybe that wasn’t the point? I don’t know, but I pointed out that making such proclamations does little to advance the discussion we were already having (though it might successfully divert us into arguing over the body of Moses as we are doing now).

    The point was merely me offering my opinion of what has been brought to fore so far. I guess I’m at a loss as to how that is so wrong or unhelpful to the discussion. Some people, I imagine, aren’t interested in wading into the obscure details of the micro-exegesis that has to be gone through to adequately address Leithart’s claims. Maybe some people would be more interested in the views of others who can actually make the issues at hand readable to someone who can’t delve into the fine points of Hebrew and teh surrounding hermeneutical assumptions. I don’t know.

    But, no matter how many arguments you make or how much you talk about the exegesis in question, Leithart’s status, or whatever else, this is just a blog comment thread that exhibits the sort of free-flowing discussion the Internet is famous for and your own comments are no less than opinions as well–on or off-topic. Take my comments however you like but excuse me for offering my opinion.

    It may not be very helpful to you or Lane, but I imagine there are others who are quite interested in what I’ve put forward so far.

  22. Xon said,

    July 3, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Kevin, far be it from me to be the “comment police.” Perhaps I was a touch too prickly. Please forgive me.

  23. July 3, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    NP, Xon. This debate has always been somewhat overheated, I think.

  24. July 3, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    I see that you reviewed Pastor Leithart’s book without reading it. Have you read it since?

    This is the most absurd question I’ve seen in some time. Pastor Lane has to read an entire commentary before he can comment on what Leithart has written on a particular passage? Oh brother.

    No one buys commentaries to read straight through–you access the various parts of the commentary as needed to review whatever book or subject it is you’re studying. And a person can certainly review any work without reading it all the way through–it’s done all the time no doubt especially in the sort of academic journals that Leithart contributes to!

  25. Oliver said,

    July 3, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Now that Xon has spoken, we can all go home now! What an authority!!!!

  26. Sean Gerety said,

    July 3, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    On your third point, my recognition of what subscriptionism is (strict or otherwise) is really irrelevant. I’m not the minister in the PCA who has made this vow and I’m not a lone voice in thinking that Leithart is in serious trouble here.

    Kevin, just curious, serious trouble perhaps, but from whom? Who in the PCA will take Leithart at his word? Who is going to file charges against this man? He thumbs his nose at his Presbytery and why would anyone think any of those men will do anything about it or anyone else for that matter?

  27. July 3, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Sean,

    In some sense, the tragedy of American religion is that normal discipline regarding things like this is almost impossible.

  28. July 11, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    […] [Written over at Green Baggins, not much more than a week ago] […]


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