Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vaughn Ohlman dialog, part tria

Vaughn Ohlman posted four comments in response to our previous conversation. Those comments will be posted below, followed by my own response. Commenting on the statement of mine, that "one's interpretation of historical events necessitates an understanding of the context, culture, and occasion in which Paul's letter was written, just as much as the didactic commandments which Moses recorded in the Torah, and therefore can be legitimately understood as narrative in that broad sense (as viewed by future generations, like us today)," Vaughn Ohlman wrote:
Indeed I do not deny it. However it does rather ruin your idea that my method of interpreting narrative examples is what must necessarily drive my interpretation of the headcoverings passage.

My response:

Now I'm confused a bit. Perhaps it's because I haven't been clear enough. So far my comments about your method of interpreting narrative examples have revolved around two concerns: 1) presuming that historical narratives per se were intended to teach or endorse what is normative for christian ethics in all cultures and generations, and 2) claiming that one aspect of the redemptive-historical-method, insofar as it does not treat historical narratives per se as standing laws which are normative for Christian ethics in all generations, contradicts 1st Timothy 3:16-17. As a subset of the second point, your blog also infers that such a methodology does not comport with theonomic hermeneutics. 

With regard to your official position on head-coverings, I only have your blog post (here) upon which to base my claims. And your conclusion in that blog post begins with the statement that "except for the last hundred years or so, the church has always been in agreement that women should worship with their heads covered, as, indeed the Christian custom was that women should have their heads covered generally. However recently much of the church in the 'developed' world has abandoned this belief. Instead they teach that the passage was purely cultural, teaches only about long hair, or is irrelevant in some other way. This belief is new and, in my opinion, is, like any other departure from Scripture, dangerous."

That is quite a remarkable statement, and because I considered it worthy of some healthy scrutiny, I linked that post on the blog for others to evaluate as well. That way the world knows I'm not just flinging hazardous accusations around. Now, as far as your arguments after that statement are concerned, I see the crux of it as depending upon historical narratives, and the commentators interpretations of historical narratives as well. That's not to say that every aspect of John Gill's or Calvin's arguments (as you quoted) are grounded on historical narratives alone; but that is to say that the crux of all such arguments in your blog post redound upon historical narratives within Scripture as necessarily illustrating morally binding customs, not simply wisdom and decorum.

In conclusion to that particular blog post of yours, you state what you believe and teach as a result of such arguments, namely that: 
those women under my authority should always wear a headcovering when engaged in any public worship (i.e. church service, a gathering of a smaller group for purposes of worship, or family worship)" and that "those women under my authority should also wear a headcovering when meeting together with Christian women who wear the headcovering at other times (Romans 14).

My comments so far, which disagree with such peculiar interpretations as yours, have attempted to follow the flow of your arguments presented on that very same blog post. And the crux of those arguments, presented by you and the commentators you cite (Gill, Calvin, etc.), depends upon the presumption that examples within Scripture and it's history illustrate, as Matthew Henry said, "the ordinances and institutions of Christ." Even on occasions where the Apostles write in response to specific historical challenges within the new covenant Church, it is often presumed that the Apostles were either instituting brand new moral codes of conduct--even different from the Torah--under the authority of Christ, or they were re-instituting a moral code of conduct which has been required since the beginning of creation (which I just don't think is exegetically tenable, nor do I think that contradicts II Tim. 3:16). Such operating presumptions are precisely what I am challenging; but it's not as though I'm presenting a new challenge (or even a liberal one). I have inferred in previous posts that I am presenting a theonomic challenge, and I am espousing a hermeneutical methodology more in line with scholars like Greg Bahsen. (I even referenced his course on hermeneutics before, to which I agree greatly.) 

Now, if I understand correctly what you're saying in the comment above, you see a conflict (or contradiction?) with my initial concerns (about depending upon historical narratives) and my affirmation of I Cor. 11 as being didactic. Well, perhaps I'm mistaken, but I don't see why that ruins my point. As I pointed out in my previous post, Paul's response to the Corinthian church between 7:1 and 16:2 contains both elements of discourse, narrative and didactic. Narratives can contain didactic elements. And when Paul reports any connected events within his letter, which he most certainly does, that can be viewed by non-recipients of his letter (i.e. 21st century Americans) as a narration of events needing to be addressed and corrected with didactic statements.

My position concerning "headcoverings" is that, as an historical occasion for which Paul's second letter to Corinth was written, Paul's statements about men and women praying and prophesying with "headcoverings" (which is a disputed translation and interpretation, but I digress) regarded a social convention  which was easily identified by members of the Corinthian congregation, and therefore was culturally relative to some extent; but that is not to say that Paul does not appeal to God's unchangeable moral law for guidance in addressing that particular concern/problem in Corinth. Indeed, as many world-class commentators agree, Paul appeals to God's moral law and social order to justify the wisdom of applying or not applying "head coverings" for that particular concern needing to be addressed, namely of men and women praying and prophesying in worship. And I don't see why Paul's appeal to God's moral law and social order, specifically his statement that "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God," necessarily infers that "headcoverings" for women "engaged in any public worship (i.e. church service, a gathering of a smaller group for purposes of worship, or family worship)" always has been a moral law for all cultures and all ages. In fact, now that I am re-evaluating your concluding statements on headcoverings, I'm also not sure how you move from affirming these requirements for public worship to mandating them for private family worship as well.

Now, if you recall, my position, as stated in the previous post, is that even though I do not personally believe Paul is referring to "head-coverings" in I Cor. 11, I also do not believe that women today who wear "head-coverings" in worship are sinning. In fact, as far as I can tell, it's a public display of their love of obeying God (or what they believe God's Word requires of them). And to that degree, I commend them for holding firm to their personal conviction about the didactic elements of God's Word to them. 

* * * * * * *

Moving on the your second comment which concerns an illustration of mine--namely that Paul's didactic statement to "not seek a wife" should not be interpreted as meaning that all christians, of every culture, of every age, should not seek a wife--you responded:
It would be especially awkward to argue this as it would be contradicted in the very same passage. For example: 1Co 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 1Co 7:2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 

I'm afraid that oftentimes we take for granted what is "obvious" in the text. If we've meditated on a particular passage a few times, certain things seem to be more obvious than others. In this case, you seem to think it would contradict other statements within the same passage. But in fact, depending on one's presuppositions, that would not necessitate a contradiction (or even a sub-contradiction). 

Please consider the following argument as an example (however unlikely we both may perceive it to be):

When Paul begins chapter 7, saying, "because of the temptation to sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband," that could be interpreted as meaning that those who are tempted to engage further in sexual immorality should only remain with that one partner. And if they stick with that one partner, there are certain rights involved within that relationship. 

Following those statements in chapter 7, Paul speaks directly to those who are unmarried and widowed and he tells them "it is good ...if they remain even as I am" (i.e. single and celibate). From this, some could possibly argue, that when Paul addresses others, they are either already married or he addresses them as ones who are already in a "tempting" relationship (i.e. tempted to sin sexually). With such presuppositions, Paul could be teaching them that it's always better to remain single than to ever marry, and if someone feels some absolute need to marry, it should only be because of present temptations to sin. Therefore, with such a chain of presuppositions, the main "moral law" (it could be argued) is that all christians, of every culture, of every age, should not seek a wife, especially if they're not already "bound" to one through sinful temptations. They might have to just marry whomever they're currently tempted with, without seeking further, but if they can avoid being "bound" to a wife (or sinful temptation) they ought to remain celibate just as Paul did. With such presuppositional commitments, both Paul's and Jesus' examples could even be considered the chief "biblical" examples of singleness and celibacy as a moral duty.

Hopefully you see my point in using this illustration. My point is that it's logically possible to interpret Paul's statements that way, which means there would be no "contradiction" in teaching a new moral law to not seek a wife. And both Paul's example and Jesus' example could be used to buttress one's presuppositions. But notice carefully: that is not how you initially interpreted it. You interpreted it as a contradiction. And that goes to show how deeply our presuppositions affect your interpretation of those particular historical examples. 

* * * * * * *

Below is your third comment:
I am a bit at a loss as to where to continue this conversation. My method of interpreting narrative examples being attacked, I am now attacked with didactic passages. So is what is actually being attacked my entire hermeneutic? If so the RH method is no longer an issue, except for my second issue with them of forcing the main point.
Or are we having a discussion regarding headcoverings (in the context of hermeneutics)? I am willing to have that discussion as well, but perhaps we need to disentangle it from the present one. 

My response:

I'm not quite sure what I said exactly that lead you to conclude that your "entire hermeneutic" is being "attacked." I am sorry for coming across that way. I realize it can come across that way when stressing the need for greater clarity and precision. You are a Christian brother and I don't wish to cause violence to you personally, leaving you feeling as though your entire hermeneutic is being attacked.

Perhaps it will help to recap our discussion a bit. 

In the context of my first post, the RH method was only mentioned because you said one aspect of it contradicted II Tim. 3:16-17. I then posited that such a rejection, however partial it may be, must be adhered to if the arguments presented on your blog post are to hold a lot of weight. I then argued that not only does the partial rejection of the RH method (as you understood it to be "rejecting whole cloth example" entirely) not contradict II Tim. 3:16-17, but some of the conclusions drawn from such a rejection (essentially leaving the door wide open for any historic example to be used arbitrarily) also conflict with theonomy proper, especially the theonomic methodology espoused by Greg Bahnsen, whom you endorse on your blog, "The Practical Theonomist". Even I'm not in full agreement with every aspect of Bahnsen's hermeneutic. But I am quite sure that some of your distinctive theonomic interpretations conflict with those endorsed by Bahnsen, which, as I see it, creates an embarrassing association between the two.

Perhaps one avenue in which this conversation can continue is to do as you suggested, and disentangle our current discussion of headcoverings from the original concern/discussion. Although, I'm also comfortable continuing a discussion with both together because we both have identified one major disagreement in your final comment, and I still find the arguments of your blog post concerning headcoverings to depend upon Paul's narration of 1st century events in connection with its more general Old Covenant practice (note carefully Gill's citations and arguments on your blog). Neither of us dispute the fact that Paul is utilizing God's moral law to argue his point in 1st Corinthians. Our disagreement is over what that moral law is, and how the narration of events in Scripture lead us to dramatically different conclusions.

* * * * * * *

Below is your final comment and my response.

Commenting on my statement that "teaching the moral duty of such a practice in all christian churches is creating an unnecessarily embarrassing subculture of Christianity which does not edify all christian churches or the families therein. And that which does not edify, ought not to be enforced upon all Christian churches or presented as a standing law for all Christians in public worship," you replied:
Wow, now here I believe that our hermeneutical principles do contradict rather dramatically. With the various weasel words changed, I would affirm rather the exact opposite of this principle.

Vaughn, could you please clarify what you meant by this statement, so I don't accidentally presume too much about what you actually meant?

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