Friday, July 12, 2013

Vaughn Ohlman responds

Below is a response to Vaughn Ohlman, the "practical theonomist" who commented on one of my earlier posts regarding his biblical hermeneutic. Vaughn's comments, typos and all, can be found in this post, and are displayed below as well:
I am afraid that you argue against a bit of a straw man here. I do not reject, as you suppose, the idea that "cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christians ethics in all generations, but must be interpreted in light of their own redemptive-historical context."

That was not what the issue was. What I reject is the whole-cloth rejection of example itself. Where the Scripture, and the commentators, are free to point to example after example, and even call each of us to be an example for other Christians, the particular view I reject reject all example, everywhere.

I firmly believe that all examples must be taken in their context; altho you and I might disagree as to what that context is and how it applies. But I do not reject context. Indeed I propose it in the very same paper. 
BTW, in as much as the issue of headcoverings is dealt with in a didactic text, and was held pretty uniformly by the Christian church for the first 1900 or so years of its existence, I am a bit surprised that you put it in this context.

Below is my response to Ohlman:

Thanks for commenting. If you're willing, let's keep this dialog going, now that I have your attention. 

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough in my critique of your position. Perhaps I was mistaken too. If I am mistaken, I will apologize publicly on this forum. And I would hope that your misunderstandings of my position, which are worthy of apology, would be made public as well. But to get to the point of contention, in context, I did not mean to infer that you always interpret historical narratives as standing laws. In fact, I even alluded to the fact that I don't think you always interpret historical narratives that way. But I concluded that in doing so, given your stated rejection of one aspect of redemptive historical interpretation, such would be suspect of arbitrariness, and even inconsistency insofar as it is indeed arbitrary. 

I also did not mean to infer that you deny the validity of examples being "taken in their context." My contention was two fold, the one leading into the other: 

First, your claim about one aspect of "redemptive historical" methodology contradicting second Tim. 3 16-17 is simply not true, either logically or "methodologically." And you don't explain, anywhere in your writings, in what way there is a logical contradiction. You merely state it. That was the first red flag which I noticed. Furthermore, I only mentioned that "historical narratives per se cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christian ethics in all generations..." The "per se" part is important for understanding my argument properly. I too reject the whole-cloth rejection of example itself, yet I don't think your specific rejection of one aspect of "redemptive historical" methodology justifies your claim that it "contradicts" first timothy 3:16-17.

Second, from a theonomic hermeneutic, of which I consider myself a student (particularly of Bahnsen's methodology, with minor reservations), I can confidently say that Bahnsen's approach to hermeneutics in connection with theonomic ethics most certainly does not comport with yours regarding courtship/marriage, head-coverings for women, and absolute patriarchal authority. And keep in mind that my second point, following from the first, was that Bahnsen actually critiques important aspects of your *official* position on courtship/marriage, head-coverings, and patriarchal authority as being inconsistent in principle. His hermeneutics course explains the necessity, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the one aspect of redemptive historical methodology which you apparently reject. If you have not studied that course, you may want to consider doing so as long as you endorse Greg Bahsnen's works of theonomy in Christian ethics. His course on Biblical hermeneutics ties them both together. 

Yes, you and I may disagree as to what the "biblical context" is concerning a historical narrative, and we might even disagree with how it applies. (I happen to be fascinated with narrative criticism, and so I realize there may be huge disagreements between us in that area alone.) But logically, either one of us is right, or we're both wrong. We can't both be right if our hermeneutical convictions are diametrically opposed. And I think it's embarrassing to endorse Greg Bahnsen's methodology, and even the "Redemptive historical" methodology, and yet reach some of the sweeping conclusions that you propose publicly. You make all sorts of sweeping generalizations (i.e. logical fallacies) throughout your writings, particularly in issues which treat historical narratives as teaching or endorsing normative Christian ethics. 

Take, for an example, your last sweeping generalization. You wrote, saying that "the issue of head coverings ...was held pretty uniformly by the Christian church for the first 1900 years of its existence." Well, are you absolutely sure about that? Or are you just "pretty" sure? Was it 1900 years or 1900 "or so" years? 

And with the widespread range of Christianity in world history, at what point (or percentage) does its practice in history justify it's validity for normative practice?  In your view, at what point (or percentage) does a particular practice constitute "uniformity" -- especially enough uniformity to justify it's normativity for Christian ethics today? If 1900 years of future history within the Christian church contained less "uniformity" to that particular practice, would that invalidate it's essential normativity for Christian ethics? If not, why bother mentioning 1900 years of it being "pretty uniform" in the first place? My own position is that, even if there were 1900 years of "pretty uniform" practice of headcoverings in Christian worship (which is a nebulous proposition to begin with), that history does not prove normativity for Christian ethics today, or in the future. 

And what evidence do you have to support such a sweeping claim about uniformity, which scholars such as Fee, Witherington III, Keener, Morris, and Plummer missed? In fact, Fee makes very clear in his commentary (NICNT) that there is great uncertainty about prevailing customs such as "headcoverings" among Christians, Jews, and Gentile unbelievers within 1st century Greek and Jewish culture. Yes, there is evidence of a post-100A.D. traditional tallith being worn among Jews on certain occasions, such as at weddings, funerals, and prayer. But it is not true, historically, that Jewish and Greek women were always veiled in public, and the argument that they ought to have been is just as lousy as arguing for it in private. We simply don't have cogent evidence of such sweeping claims (which others have made, embarrassingly). It's conjecture. You can cite Nicodemus ben Gorion and the Targum's values all you want (as you did in your article on headcoverings), but there is evidence to the contrary as well. "Headcoverings," according to Oepke (TWOT) and other 1st century scholars, was a custom that varied widely, and therefore can hardly provide support for Paul endorsing it as normative for Christian ethics for all time and in all "christian" cultures. We certainly do not find it as a requirement within God's Law, nor do we find it as a liturgical or civil illustration of God's moral law, which makes me wonder why theonomists today would mistakenly assume that Paul's "didactic" text is requiring the same for all Christian cultures. Again, as I said in my first post, the historical narratives per se cannot be interpreted as standing laws which are normative for Christians ethics in all generations, but must be interpreted in light of their own redemptive-historical context.

Furthermore, there is actually very, very, very, little evidence that Greek women ever wore "headcoverings" outside of liturgical service. (Older opinions of scholars in favor of such a regular practice have been subject to scrutiny because of more recent archeological discoveries.) And by "liturgical service," I do not mean mere attendance at a worship service. I mean actual liturgical offering of a "sacrifice," a public oracle, etc. But it is precisely there that we run into further problems of 1st century Corinthian culture -- problems which conflict with your argument in favor of "1900 or so years" of headcoverings as being normative for Christian ethics. If your argument is based upon I Cor. 11, modern research shows that both women and men wore head coverings in liturgical worship, and we have evidence of the opposite too. (See Witherington's socio-rhetorical commentary.) And so, in order to argue that such a "didactic text" as I Cor. 11 (as you said) provides justification for believing that specific practice spoken of by Paul was held "pretty uniformly" by the Christian church for the following 1900 years, you need to provide a LOT more evidence other than mere claims of such, and that evidence needs to comport with the 1st century Corinthian context. You ought not pick and choose what is convenient from historical opinion, whether it's the opinions of Matthew Henry, John Gill, John Calvin, or Nicodemus ben Gorion, and construct a morally obligatory "christianized" custom which did not exist "uniformly" in that culture at that time. Paul even says, at the end of that "didactic text," that "If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God." 

I thought your position-paper on headcoverings (to which I linked for everyone to study for themselves) was, in fact, a helpful example for others to study and compare in context. That is why I mentioned it in my original post.

In fact, I don't think I would have even mentioned it if you didn't begin your position paper with the following dogmatic statement:
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.

Since you seem to be so sure about these truth claims, what evidence do you have to offer the public for supporting a "pretty uniform" practice of head coverings, from the time of Paul in Corinth, for the following 1900 years of Christian worship? 

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