Machen puts Hahn and Benedict into perspective

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Puritan Board Freshman
With its "Biblical Scholarship" over the last 100 years, Rome has dug itself into a huge hole, from which it is only now scrambling to extract itself. Hahn's work on Benedict's "Biblical Theology" is an exercise in hyperbole, among other things, designed to keep the reader thinking that Rome is right on top of everything.

For example, without even blushing Hahn writes:

In Benedict's vision, the Church is a communion with the living God in the body of Christ effected by the Word and by the faithful response to the Word in the sacraments. The Church is united by the Word, built up by the Word, and given a mission to serve the Word. The sweeping "Word-centeredness" of Benedict's ecclesiology is truly remarkable and unparalleled among theologians, Catholic or otherwise.(Hahn, "Covenant and Communion," pgs 48-49)

(Please note: whenever you see the words "the Church" in Hahn's work, it always refers to the current definition of "Church" exposited by Rome. Keep in mind, too, that this definition is used anachronistically, so that when they intend to talk about the church of the fathers, they project this same definition back on "the Church" of that era. It is an assumption, a presupposition that Catholics make.)

Now, some Roman apologist out there will take Hahn's words about the "sweeping word-centeredness of Benedict's ecclesiology," and throw it out there, as if it were true. But it's absolutely not a true statement; it is an exercise in hyperbole.

In his 1972 work (38 years ago), David Wells wrote a work, "Revolution in Rome," in which he surveyed in brief form the theological results of Vatican II. Wells made this observation early on:

Present-day Catholicism, on its progressive side, is teaching many of the ideas which the liberal Protestants espoused in the last century. Though progressive Catholics are largely unaware of their liberal Protestant stepbrothers, the family resemblance is nevertheless there. Since these ideas have only come into vogue in Catholicism in the last two decades, they appear brilliantly fresh and innovative. To a Protestant, whether he approves or disapproves of them, they are old hat. (Wells pg. 8)

In this work, Hahn is floating back and forth between Ratzinger's works, citing works from 1962 and also the present. During that time, Ratzinger has acknowledged that he has moved from being one of the "progressives" in 1962 to his current "persona" as conservative watchdog.

Hahn posits that Ratzinger is now a great hero of biblical scholarship, whose primary mision is to defend to defend "the Church" from the ravages of modern biblical (historical-critical) exegesis. He gives this 2008 quote from Benedict:

When exegesis is not theological, Scripture cannot be the soul of theology, and vice versa; when theology is not essentially Scriptural interpretation within th Church, then this theology no longer has a foundation. Therefore, for the life and mission of the Church, for the future of the faith, it is absolutely necessary to overcome this dualism between exegesis and theology. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two imensions of one reality, which we call theology. (Pg 43, citing Benedict's October 14 2008 address during the Fourteenth General Congregation of the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.)

But Machen addressed this very issue over a century ago, and Protestant exegetes have had a handle on this same issue which is now ravaging Rome's great impressions of itself (as I've alluded in my previous posting on this).

Terry Chrisope, in his "Toward a Sure Faith," (his survey of Machen's work as a New Testament scholar at Princeton, from 1906-1929), gives this summary:

Although Machen's doubts were occasioned by historical criticism of the Bible, yet he did not oppose but forcefully advocated a rigorous historical method in biblical study. He utilized such a method himself, applying the full wieght of his impressive classical training to the tasks fo interpreting the New Testament text, elucidating its historical environment, and investigating the circumstances connected with the production of its documents. His book reviews reveal that he criticized those may have held to conservative theological views but did not adequately address the historical problems connected with the interpretation of the Bible. His brief dispute with his mother in the fall of 1906 gave eruptive expression to his demand for intellectual freedom and his insistence on intellectual integrity; only through a full and fair investigation, he believed, could arrive at assured and settled convictions in the matter. It need not be doubted that Machen gave the question the full hearing which he insisted was his right and duty to perform. His investigation led him to conclude, perhaps as early as 1906, that the historical evidence favored the supernatural origin of Christianity. (186)

The difference between Machen and the historicist or liberal scholars was the way in which they defined history; the latter would not allow for direct divine action in the external events of history (even though some of them might see a divine purpose behind natural historical processes) while Machen would. (186)

The evidence presented by Machen's more popular addresses, "Christianity and Culture" in 1912, and "History and Faith" in 1915, indicates that by these dates he recognized that this difference in philosophy of historylay at the bottom of the divergence of historicist and liberal thought from traditional Christianity. Thus Machen's resolution of the dilemma presented by biblial criticism was to adhere to an approach to the Bible that was historical without being historicist.

It is likely that Machen's mature convictions regarding the most effective way to defend Christianity against contemporary attacks were powerfully affected by his own experience. He had moved from doubt to certainty by means of a resolution of the historical problems connected with Christian origins. And by the time he produced "Christianity and Culture" in 1912 and his "Rapid Survey" in 1914 and 1915, he was arguing that it is necessary for Christians to address the pressing intellectual problems which kept the Christian faith from even gaining a hearing in modern academic circles. It can hardly be doubted that he had in mind the problem of history and historical evidence; and a 1912 book review revealed his characteristic emphasis on the logical priority of historical evidence over Christian experience in establishing the truthfulness of the Christian faith. (188)

We see Machen's method and understanding in virtually every work of exegesis produced by conservative Protestant biblical scholars today.

And yet, Hahn, in his typical bloated fashion, is presenting this struggle (by Benedict) as if it were just now coming into focus, and Benedict was the great hero of this struggle. But in reality, Rome is only digging itself out of a hole of its own making.

(Just a note on this; whereas Machen as an exegete could understand Scripture within the context of its grammatical and historical setting, Roman biblical "exegetes" still must try to squeeze the Scriptures into the container called "Tradition," which Rome also views as a form of "Revelation" on par with Scripture. My hope and prayer is that their "Tradition" just simply crashes and burns as seeks to interact with the true Word of God.)
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