Biblical Illiteracy amongst the Experts

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. – Hosea 4:6

Something that has become more and more apparent in reading the scholars of our day in a wide range of fields is that they have only a tenuous grasp of the Bible. And I am referring to fields that ostensibly are tied to theology. Scholar and gentleman, Alastair Roberts puts it well in this post:

A faithful interpretation arising from profound Spiritual attentiveness and attunement to the text can be hard to arrive at for various causes, many of which are powerfully operative in the Church today. Among these reasons one could list a limited knowledge of or exposure to the whole body of the biblical text, the absence of exposure to the broader hermeneutical ministries of the body of Christ (including such things as the life of the liturgy), sinful resistance or a slothful inattentiveness to the text.

The fact that those who hardly know the Scriptures at all, handle it very selectively, avoid the contexts in which its meaning is revealed, fail to make diligent use of the means of interpretation provided to them, come to the text unwilling or unprepared to be attentive on account of a prior agenda, or do not consistently expose themselves to the ministries of faithful interpretative communities arrive at radically different understandings of the text tells us nothing whatsoever about the perspicuity of the text itself. Given the levels of biblical literacy in the Church today, should interpretative pluralism really surprise us at all? I would suggest that, before questioning the perspicuity of the text, we should be far more suspicious of ourselves.

I’ve seen seminary-educated folks with a seeming blank spot when it comes to reasoning in anything other than an immature way when it comes to our ultimate norm – the Scripture. There are lots of appeals to history, standards, Aristotle and Kant, but precious little to the Bible aside from a verse here or there. John Milbank comes to mind here.

This is why James Jordan has called for us to “return to the Bible and become fanatically and ferociously and radically and fully saturated with it.” If our knowledge of the Bible is surface deep and we aren’t meditating on the Torah day and night, our theology will show it. We really face a generations long struggle to turn the tide in this area, but it can start at any time.

Mormons and Tongues 3

I wrote a couple posts on this subject two years ago. I just came across another account of the same phenomenon in the book Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman:

A spiritual outburst on January 22, 1833, foreshadowed what lay ahead for the School of Prophets. A conference was suddenly visited with the gift of tongues. Joseph spoke in another tongue, followed by Zebedee Coltrin and William Smith, and finally all the elders, along with “several of the members of the Church both male & female.” “Much speaking & praying all in tongues” occupied the conference before adjournment “at a late hour.” The next day, the men came together again and started “speaking praying and singing, all done in Tongues.” Lucy Smith remembered hearing of the spiritual outpouring while she was baking bread. She dropped her work and rushed to join the meeting.

Joseph loved these times when the Spirit enveloped the Saints in “long absent blessings,” proof that New Testament religion had returned.

I wonder if modern, mainstream Mormons still practice tongues at all? It ought to give Pentecostals pause.


The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing III

One well-known feature of the Book of Mormon (BOM) is its reliance on the Authorized version of the Bible. I have often wondered if Smith just pulled out the Bible and dictated these sections of the BOM from it, but Dunn addresses how these sections might have happened under an automatic writing model:

Just as individuals under hypnosis have been able to quote lengthy passages in foreign languages which they heard at the age of three, so have automatic writers produced detailed information from books that they have read but in some cases cannot remember reading. Thus, if Smith’s scriptural productions borrowed material from the Bible, this is entirely consistent with other instances of automatic writing. This quirk of memory, known as cryptomnesia, may also explain the presence of styles and literary patterns that are found both in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Another common question is how Smith addressed the origin of Indians and certain theological concepts of his day in such detail if he didn’t have access to the texts current in his day? Dunn says:

But automatic writing renders such a question irrelevant. Automatic texts often contain information available to the writer in the most obscure manner imaginable. One researcher described a woman who, with a ouija board, produced automatic writing that recounted “almost exactly” the death notices in an available newspaper. Although the woman apparently had not read these obituaries, she had done the crossword puzzle found on the same page in the newspaper. It seems that her mind had picked up and stored material that was in her field of vision as she worked the crossword puzzle; she had unconsciously read and unconsciously written information of which her conscious mind was entirely unaware. Interestingly, the researcher further reported that the writing contained information to which the woman had no access whatsoever. It should not be surprising, therefore, to find Smith’s scriptural productions repeating things he may have heard or overheard in conversation, camp meetings, or other settings without any concerted study of the issues.

Dunn ends his fascinating essay with a series of questions about what makes scripture into scripture? He really doesn’t have an answer. The test should clearly be doctrinal fidelity with previous Scripture, namely the Old and New Testaments. He doesn’t pose this as a test, but he should have.

I believe Dunn’s proposal to be the best explanation for the authoring of the BOM. Other explanations are a bit rag-tag in proposing dependence on this or that text, or the penmanship of Cowdrey or Rigdon. What he fails to consider is the possibility of demonic influence/dictation. Perhaps automatic writing is a combination of the subconscious with demonic guidance. I have addressed this before in relation to Socrates, who claimed demonic inspiration. Socrates said:

There is something spiritual which, by a divine dispensation, has accompanied me from my childhood up. It is a voice that, when it occurs, always indicates to me a prohibition of something I may be about to do, but never urges me on to anything ; and if one of my friends consults me and the voice occurs, the same thing happens : it prohibits, and does not allow him to act. And I will produce witnesses to convince you of these facts.

As the Apostle Paul warned us, even an angel from heaven might appear bearing a false gospel.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing II

Dunn continues examining the various forms that automatic writing have taken over the years. He multiplies examples, many of which have obvious parallels with Joseph Smith. One obvious parallel are people who use scrying stones:

In such instances, the individual may experience some sort of vision while the hand writes. Typically, the text reports what was seen in the vision, but in some cases, the stone-gazer sees written words […] One psychologist reports that a young boy dictated a fantastic adventure story, which he saw enacted in the crystal while his hand wrote automatically at the same time.

Dunn cites studies suggesting that automatic writing may be a product of “the unconscious mind.” He also spends a good deal of time discussing Pearl Curran who experimented with an ouija board and produced the writings of one ‘Patience Worth.” Curran’s writings, like Joseph Smith’s, exhibited skills she should not have had, in her case it was the appearance of a massive number of Anglo-Saxon words, “proof” of their ancient nature. One scholar cited by Dunn calls these works a “philological miracle.” Dunn also says:

Another startling thing about the works attributed to Patience Worth is their accuracy on factual details that Curran apparently could not have known, a defense often applied to writings given through Joseph Smith […]

Dunn says, “Pearl Curran is like Joseph Smith in still another way: for both, available evidence militates against  the likelihood of conscious fraud.” Dunn then outlines evidence for the BOM being a product of automatic writing:

…the content of automatic writing is often similar to that of the Book of Mormon: Examples include multiple authorship, use of archaic language, accounts of bygone historical figures, accurate descriptions of times and places apparently unfamiliar to the writer, narratives with well-developed characters and plot, accounts of various ministries of Jesus Christ, poetics, occasionally impressive literary quality, doctrinal, theological, and cosmological discussions, and even discourses by a deity. […]

In addition, the bulk of the Book of Mormon, dictated after Oliver Cowdery became Smith’s scribe, was completed in approximately ninety days. This represents fairly rapid work for a book of this length-588 typeset pages in the first edition-even if the translation progressed will every day. Again, the speed and ease with which Smith worked is characteristic of automatic writing.

Dunn mentions that Smith “pronounced the words of the text with his face buried in a hat, looking at a seer stone” and concludes that “This certainly implies a relatively effortless or automatic process. Moreover, this use of a crystal or stone is a well-known method of producing automatic writing.”

Smith had time to think through themes for the BOM before he launched his project, but Dunn says this isn’t unusual for automatic writing:

Before producing Oahspe, John Newbrough was visited by its angelic authors, asked if he would “perform a mission for Jehovih,” and was told to prepare for this experience…Finally, ten years after the first visitation, the angels told him to proceed with the automatic typing of their work.

Dunn brings up one critic, the ever-present Blake Ostler, and writes:

Blake Ostler has put forth what is essentially an automatic writing model, though he is reluctant to call it that. He states that Smith’s “state of consciousness differs from…most reports of automatic writing in that he did not lose consciousness of his surroundings or become dispossessed of his personal identity,” apparently unaware that the same is true of A Course in Miracles and all of the Patience Worth literature. “Further,” Ostler continues, “there is no evidence that [Smith] claimed to hear a voice or take dictation from another personality, unlike cases of spirit writing or channeled text.” But this also applies to such dramatic instances of automatic writing as The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ and The White Goddess. In spite of his attempts to distance Smith from these works, nothing in Ostler’s characterization of the translation process is inconsistent with the best-documented instances of the this phenomenon.

The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing I

In his essay, Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon, (available here) Scott C. Dunn argues that the Book of Mormon (BOM) is the product of automatic writing. He begins with the example of Helen Cohn Schucman and her three volume “A Course in Miracles” dictated to her by “by an inner voice that identified itself as Jesus Christ.”

His second example is Jane Roberts who “conducted experiments” with the occult “which soon led her into contact with “Seth,” a discarnate personality who spoke through the medium of Roberts’s mind and voice. In these sessions, Roberts lapsed into a trance while Seth lectured on complex philosophical and metaphysical subjects beyond the educational experience of Jane Roberts herself.” He also mentions Levi H. Dowling, author of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

For the purpose of his essay, Dunn defines “automatic writing” as “the ability to write or dictate text in a relatively rapid, seemingly effortless and fluent manner with no sense of control over the content. Indeed, except for sometimes knowing a word or two moments in advance of writing and speaking, the individual is typically not consciously aware of what the content of the writing will be.”

Dunn mentions channeled texts such as the Oahspe by dentist John Newbrough “who claimed that the book’s angelic spirit authors controlled his hands on the typewriter each morning for fifty weeks.”

Aleister Crowley wrote The Holy Books of Thelema under the influence of something he called his Guardian Angel. He said of his prose, “It is characterized by a sustained sublimity of which I am totally incapable and it overrides all the intellectual objectives which I should myself have raised.”

How about someone a bit tamer? Dunn brings up Charlotte Bronte who “is said to have written her masterpieces Villette and Jane Eyre at a constant rate with her eyes shut. Dunn writes:

Calling her a “trance-writer,” critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar quote entries from the author’s journal that describe her visionary experiences and moments of “divine leisure” in which “the stream of thought…came flowing free & calm along its channel.” Similarly, the English poet A.E. Housman once noted that entire stanzas of poetry would come into his mind all at once. More on the mystical side is the visionary William Blake, who claimed that his lengthy poem Jerusalem was “dictated” to him.

Anyone familiar with Joseph Smith can see where this is going. More in my next post.

Meanwhile, back at Sovereign Grace…

C.J. goes on the warpath:

I think the days ahead are going to require more discernment as it relates to the identification of slander and the influence of slander in our churches. I think the days ahead are going to require courage on the part of pastors and when necessary publicly identify those who are divisive.  I think the days ahead are not only going to require, I think they are going to require courage. I think in some ways in SG we have more humility than courage. And we are going to need more courage. Humble courage. It doesn’t mean we don’t learn from critique, we do. But there is a difference between learning from critique and allowing critics to define you. We are [not?] capitulating to slander in the name of humility.


Donlon Dupes Rwanda?

I hope to read Canon Donlon’s response to the Washington Statement and interact with it in the next day or so. My first impression of it is underwhelming. Perhaps that is due to the buildup of the document by Father James Kennaugh who referred to it last week as “the document of record and correction.” At least it is something, compared to the emptiness of the three press releases from Rev. Brust. I don’t know if the Donlon document has the AMiA imprimatur on it, as we haven’t seen it officially referred to yet.

On a more interesting note, Robin Jordan has a scathing article about Donlon up at his blog. To Jordan’s credit, he has been tracking Donlon’s activities for some time now. Jordan passes along an assertion that Donlon pressured the Rwandan bishops to ratify his revisions to their canon laws under the pretext of urgency, an action that is a shameful way to treat a friend. From Jordan’s piece:

In these emails this individual stated that he was disturbed by the false impression of the doctrine and practice of the Anglican Church of Rwanda created by the new Rwandan canons adopted in September 2007. They did not reflect the Province’s longstanding Anglican doctrine and practice. He went on to state that the Rwandan House of Bishops was not given sufficient opportunity to examine the new canons or to make comments or suggest changes at the time the new canons were presented to them for endorsement and promulgation. The Rwandan Bishops were assured that Canon Kevin Donlan who had drafted the new canons was an expert in canon law. The endorsement and promulgation of the new canons was stressed as being urgent and not allowing for delay as it was essential for the legal changes that Anglican Mission needed to make in its charter.

What is becoming clear is that Donlon is pushing his vision of Eastern Rite Roman Catholic canon law as the basis for unifying GAFCON through intermediaries like Bishop Murphy, who probably don’t care what he does as long as it keeps the old ship AM sailing. Jordan continues:

My analysis of the Rwandan canons confirmed my earlier examination of the canons. They are heavily indebted to the Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law (1983). They replace Anglican teaching with Roman Catholic dogma as well as establish Roman Catholic governance structures.

As I wrote in my assessment of Canon 6, it attempts to recreate in the Anglican Church of Rwanda—at least in part—the papal system but on a smaller scale. The relationship of the Primate to the Primatial Vicar closely resembles that of the Roman Pontiff to a diocesan bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Canon 6 recognizes the Primate as the supreme legislator for the Province as the Code of Canon Law (1983) recognizes the Roman Pontiff as the supreme legislator for the Roman Catholic Church. It further recognizes that legislative authority may be validly delegated to the Primatial Vicar as his deputy and agent.

So AMiA, which many of us thought was a a church planting movement rooted in Scripture and the classic formularies is now being turned into a strange amalgam of radical theology (women’s ordination, Jack Deere and Todd Hunter) and an inorganic attempt to impose unity on the emerging GAFCON bloc of Provinces via a foreign code of canon law. I will have more to say on this later, but I thank God that this has been brought to the light before it all was set in stone.

Note also that there is no concern for unity with ACNA in anything that Donlon and Bishop Murphy have done. Our Lord’s desire for unity, expressed in John 17, is hard enough to achieve given our many differences of theology and practice. What we are seeing from theAM is an attempt to move further and further away from ACNA. My contention from the beginning of ACNA has been that it is a very imperfect body, but that it is the body that now exists. The time for CANA and AMiA is over. Bishop Minns and Bishop Murphy should move on, and their organizations should fold into ACNA. Canon Donlon’s machinations drive a stake through any hope that AMiA will ever join ACNA under the leadership of Bishop Murphy.

Donlon’s Sacramental Confusion

While addressing Forward in Faith, North America, Canon Kevin Donlon said that the Church requires that “the historic sacraments must take place.” According to Donlon, “the question of the number of sacraments was not an issue, it was resolved long ago by the Church…” He then referred to an address given by Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan, Bishop Jonah to the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in 2009, as if to say that Bishop Jonah had answered the question of the number of sacraments to his satisfaction. According to VirtueOnline:

What would it take for this reconciliation to occur? The Metropolitan was explicit:

Full affirmation of the orthodox Faith of the Apostles and Church Fathers, the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Nicene Creed in its original form (without the filioque clause inserted at the Council of Toledo, 589 A.D.), all seven Sacraments and a rejection of ‘the heresies of the Reformation.

I wouldn’t expect an Eastern Orthodox Bishop to think any differently, but I would expect an Anglican Canon to. Particularly since GAFCON issued the Jerusalem Declaration, saying in part:

4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

Canon Donlon is free to disagree with this, but he should be honest about it and not try to change this position from within. The other five sacraments of Rome are respected by us as signs, ceremonies and covenants, but not God-ordained sacraments. The testimonies of our early divines are clear. For example:

Besides this, we acknowledge there be two sacraments, which, we judge, properly ought to be called by this name: that is to say, Baptism, and the Sacrament of thanksgiving [Eucharist]. John Jewel, The Apology for the Church of England, page 51.

Therefore the papists’ seven sacraments, or septenary distribution, is confused, partly redundant, partly defective, and unworthy to be made a part of their faith or religion, or the matter of their peevish and ignorant contendings. Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, III. 690

The determinate number of seven sacraments is no doctrine of the scripture, nor of the old authors. Thomas Cranmer, Miscellaneous Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, page 115

Donlon Vs. Cranmer

Canon Kevin Donlon suggests that perhaps the Anglican Communion should adopt the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalum as a normative basis of canon law. Donlon writes:

An example from a Byzantine source could be found in the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalum. In this codex from the Oriental Rite here applied to Anglicanism, common law designates laws and lawful customs that would be common to all Anglican churches. This is opposed to a particular law, which designates laws, lawful customs, statutes and norms not common to the whole communion or to all provinces.

Among other travesties, the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalum adheres to a seven sacraments view, a view which was explicitly rejected by the Anglican Reformers. Donlon has said, “the question of the number of sacraments was not an issue, it was resolved long ago by the church.” But in this, he reflects clearly his Roman Catholic background, and betrays a total lack of appreciation for the historic Anglican position, as codified in the Articles of Religion:

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.
Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

It is impossible for the Articles to be any more clear than they are at this point. Donlon may think that this only applied to the 16th century, but he is wrong. This is not a time-bound statement, but a universal one. And let me look at another issue near to my heart, from the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarium Orientalum, namely, icons. The Codex says:

Art. IV. Veneration of the Saints, of Sacred Images and Relics

Canon 884 – To foster the sanctification of the people of God the Church recommends to the special and filial veneration of the Christian faithful the Holy Mary ever Virgin, the Mother of God, whom Christ established as the Mother of the human race; it also promotes true and authentic devotion to the other saints by whose example the Christian faithful are edified and through whose intercession they are sustained.

Canon 885 – Veneration through public cult is permitted only to those servants of God who are listed among the saints or the blessed by the authority of the Church.

Canon 886 – The practice of displaying sacred icons or images in churches for the veneration of the Christian faithful is to remain in force in the manner and order established by the particular law of each Church sui iuris.

Canon 887 – §1. Sacred icons or precious images, that is, those which are outstanding due to antiquity or art, which are exposed in churches for the veneration of the Christian faithful, cannot be transferred to another church or alienated without the written consent given by the hierarch who exercises authority over that same church, with due regard for cann. 1034-1041.

This is again completely antithetical to the norms of Anglicanism. For example, in the year 1549, injunctions were issued by Edward VI, by virtue of 31 Hen. VIII. c. 8, confirmed by 34 and 35 Hen. VIII. c. 23, the Proclamation Statutes. In these injunctions we find:

3 Item. That such images as they know in any of their cures to be or have been so abused with pilgrimage or offerings of anything made thereunto, or shall be hereafter censed unto, they (and none other private persons) shall, for the avoiding of that most detestable offense of idolatry, forthwith take down, or cause to be taken down, and destroy the same; and shall suffer from henceforth no torches, nor candles, tapers, or images of wax to be set afore any image or picture, but only two lights upon the high altar, before the sacrament, which for the signification that Christ is the very true light of the world, they shall suffer to remain still, admonishing their parishioners that images serve for no other purpose but to be a remembrance, whereby men may be admonished of the holy lives and conversation of them that the said images do represent; which images if they do abuse for any other intent, they commit idolatry in the same, to the great danger of their souls.”

The Twenty-second of our Articles of Religion says:

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardons, worshipping and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

So, if GAFCON was to agree with Donlon that a greater adherence to canon law is needed, why would we not rather start with Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum? Why on earth would we start with a Byzantine Catholic legal code that is like a dagger pointed at the heart of a Reformed Catholic Church?