Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cross on Denominational Renewal

Bryan Cross and Todd Gwennap have engaged in a fantastic discussion here. I recommend that anyone considering conversion between a Protestant denomination and Roman Catholicism give it a read, especially those from (or inclined toward) a Reformed background.

Bryan, now a Roman Catholic, graduated from my denomination’s seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary. Todd is currently a student at that institution. I have relatives with strong ties, seminal even, to Covenant, so I have taken particular interest in Bryan’s story, and now this discussion between these two.

I will not spoil the plot, but Todd takes up some arguments on the nature of “church” with vigor. Bryan responds with aptitude. I hope to see the conversation continue. [Omitted.]

From what I've seen, I have developed a deep admiration of him. It is an exceedingly rare thing to see someone take Bryan up in learned dialogue. Bryan is logical and methodical in his approach, in a way that I surmise may intimidate the typical antagonists and Johnny-come-latelies of blogosphere spats. Todd is above that, and brave to boot. He enters the discussion graciously and thoughtfully. I continue to *hope* that these brothers (or brethren) will run the conversation to ground, as I stand to benefit. Besides being more theologically educated than I am, Todd has fuel to critique Catholicism that I depleted long ago.

A last substantive thought: Todd brings up an argument that has been central in my thoughts about how Christ has constituted His Church, and I believe its resolution would be meaningful to a great many seekers. To what extent is the parallel between the Old and New Testaments (Covenants) valid? Put another way, is the Church Era a recapitulation of the Jewish Era, or is it a whole novus ordo? Should we expect to see a division amongst Christ’s Covenant People as the Jewish people divided into a Northern and Southern Kingdom (see my post touching on this parallelism here)?

If the Church Era is a whole new order, such that the Holy Spirit would prevent such division, obviously the Reformation fails. If it is not so new (as human sinful nature may not have changed), and a recapitulation is possible then the Reformation could be proper (indeed, the Old Testament experience would serve as a “preview” warning to those of us in the New).


Kim said...

That was an excellent conversation! I think Bryan is reasoning me into Catholicism. ;)

Thos said...


Bryan is very compelling. I spent a long time in my own searching expecting to come to the strong arguments refuting positions such as his. Instead, I only found cross-lob attacks (e.g., 'Catholics worship Mary'). I hope Todd can press deeper than I was able. He has a lot on the line (his career), so we should pray for him.

As for being reasoned into Catholicism... I hope to do a post on this soon. The gist is something like this: I'm not sure you can be *purely* reasoned into it. I mean, reason may be persuaded, and one still can't get over some anxieties.

Peace in Christ,

Gil Garza said...

Regarding the nature of previous covenants, here is a handy dandy way to see them in relationship to one another a la Scott Hahn:

Adamic Covenant
Covenant Role: Husband
Form: Marriage
Sign: Sabbath
One Holy Couple

Noahic Covenant
Covenant Role: Father
Form: Household
Sign: Rainbow
One Holy Family

Abrahamic Covenant
Covenant Role: Chieftain
Form: Tribe
Sign: Circumcision
One Holy Tribe

Mosaic Covenant
Covenant Role: Judge
Form: Nation
Sign: Passover
One Holy Nation

Davidic Covenant
Covenant Role: King
Form: Kingdom
Sign: Throne
One Holy Kingdom

New Everlasting Covenant
Covenant Role: Royal High Priest
Form: Catholic Church
Sign: Eucharist
One Holy Catholic Church

The promises that Jesus made concerning His Church (John 17:20-23) do preclude more than one iteration of Church.

Thos said...


Thank you for sharing. There is some humorous irony in having a Catholic explain the Covenants to me (sarcasm - didn't you know that the Calvinist's discovered Covenant theoogy???).

Peace in Christ,

P.S. Your family blog is precious. May God bless you in raising those children!

Todd Gwennap said...

Just to let you know. I have every intention of continuing the conversation with Bryan as I am able.

I also wasn't trying to switch the focus of the discussion. My final two questions to Bryan were actually simply for my own interest, although I think that they are pretty crucial to the debate we were having.

The relationship of the OT to the NT is huge for understanding the nature of the church. And authorial intent is the measure of interpretive strength. Bryan continued to ask me, "Which interpretation do we follow?" My answer, although I didn't make it explicity, was, "whichever one fits authorial intent."

I'm not just trying to duck out, although I would readily concede that Bryan has superior rhetorical skill. My schedule really is insane right now.

I'm glad Bryan's and my conversation has been helpful. I really do intend to continue it as I am able.


Thos said...


I'm sorry that I doubted you. I had seen those lines in others before, when a conversation turned difficult, so I grew skeptical. For that, I repent; you clearly are a man of greater charity and integrity than I am used to on internet blogs, so I should not have prejudged you. I am very glad to hear that, once things settle down for you, you will resume the conversation.

As a fellow student (law), I certainly understand that things get out of hand at times.

You said, "The relationship of the OT to the NT is huge for understanding the nature of the church." I agree. Are you of the crowd that believes the Redemptive-Historical method of preaching should be used when approaching all O.T. texts?

"And authorial intent is the measure of interpretive strength."

May I press you on this just a little? My legal studies are supposed to give me a nose for finding rules and conducting analysis. This statement on authorial intent is a "rule" as we would use the word. But who made this rule? In many areas of the law, there are deep debates over the extent to which an author's intent should be given effect over the text of a document, or other evidence. How do we know that the author's-intent is the rock-bottom rule for biblical exegesis? I think there are instances where a N.T. author takes up an O.T. text and interprets it in a way that was probably not what the original (human) author had in mind. Also, can there not be several meanings to be derived from a text, beyond the dimension the author had in mind? I think Bryan mentioned the Jerusalem Council and its rule on meat with blood in it. It seems that the author's intent was conveying their decision (that rule), but we are now not incorrect to glean from it an infallible lesson on how the early church was run, no?

Anyway, tend to your studies and family over my question, please. These are just some thoughts of mine.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


To evidence my mea culpa, I've removed that section in this post casting doubt on your likely return to the discussion with Bryan.

I realized my claim to give you the benefit of the doubt was disingenuous (though now is genuine), and also thought it would be improper for me to have the equivalent of a "triple dog dare you" posted. Conversations of this importance should occur when we are able to tend to them, and not on a rushed timeline.

I hope you can accept my apology.

Peace in Christ,

Anonymous said...

a brief hermeneutical suggestion:

if 'authorial intent' is the measure of 'interpretive strength' then all interpretations are weak; reason being, authorial intent resides in the mind of the author, to which we have no direct access.

we do have indirect access to the mind of the author; namely, the text; that object, to which we have direct access, is the measure of 'interpretive strength.'

Some interpreters are inherently stronger than others, though.

Todd Gwennap said...


Apology accepted. I, too, have seen people back out of dialogue with lame excuses when they seem to get in over their head.

As for redemptive-historical preaching, I would identify myself as a part of that tradition, although, I hope, and exegetically-responsible part. I believe that we can preach the OT as Christian scripture without "doing" anything to it. That being said, I believe we can use authorial intent to set redemptive trajectories that then find their fulfillment in Jesus. There is no "leapfrogging to Golgotha" allowed.

As for authorial intent, that is trickier. To me (this already reeks of individualism), it is the closest thing to a measure of objectivity in exegesis. We can use discourse analysis to analyze (hopefully) what they author was saying in his own context and how an audience would have heard it. I think a scenario like this is the only way to avoid some kind of "death of the author" be it pre- or post-modern.

Anyways, I need to get back to my sermon. Just thought I'd check the blogosphere briefly

Thos said...


Thanks, your point is exactly one raised in an area of Contract Law, actually (not sure if you're a lawyer...). I totally agree with you that intent resides in the mind. If the text is not the sole exemplar of their state of mind (that is, if we allow "extrinsic evidence" to determine the author's state of mind) then we have a problem. That other evidence (say, some historian's discovery of a cultural condition that would have colored Paul's letter to the Romans) is not infallible.

I might post on this more fully later.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


Thanks, you are very charitable. I will just say that your position on redemptive-historical seems very agreeable to me. A type of moderation of interpetive technique is merited here.

I also appreciated your comments on finding objective methods of interpreting scripture. This is a deep strand of thought, so I will spend some time reflecting more on it.

Peace in Christ,