Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration and Dr. Robert P. George

Henry,

Christ is Born! First, thanks for reading the blog, offering comments and asking questions. Second, here is my response which might be much more than the answer you're looking for here but this is a good opportunity to explain the (il)logic behind my posts on this topic.

As I'm sure that you've noticed that was my fifth post on the Manhattan Declaration. This is my sixth post. Refer to all the articles or links referenced here (first, second, third & fourth), but especially those in the first post.

Allow me to back up and explain a little bit of my background and the conversation I'm trying to generate with these posts. Back in 2001-2002 I developed a friendship with a Catholic convert from Dutch Calvinism. He introduced me to the thought of Abraham Kuyper and Francis Schaeffer. Since then I have studied Calvinism off and on reading various classic Calvinist thinkers from John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and contemporary ones such as J.G. Machen, John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, R.J. Rushdoony, Greg Banhsen, Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, D.G. Hart, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, John Piper, Keith Mathison, etc. Here is the one-stop shop for everything Calvinist and here is their best magazine.

During my year-long deployment to Iraq I developed a close friendship with a Military Chaplain who was Presbyterian. Every Friday night we had theological discussions which over the year ran the whole gambit from Predestination to Justification, Sanctification to Glorification, Baptism to the Real Presence, Primacy of Peter to the Apostolic Fathers, Sola Scriptura to Sacred Tradition, the first 6 Ecumenical Council to Mary, T.U.L.I.P. to Double Predestination, etc. He threw all the classic anti-Catholic arguments and authors against me from William Webster to James White but he relied most heavily on R.C. Sproul. In my experience all the anti-Catholics are Calvinists, either Reformed Baptist or Presbyterian. I appreciate the orthodox Calvinists for they are Protestants who know what they believe and why the believe it. As my friend and Scripture says, "Iron sharpens iron."

Recently I eat dinner with him and our topic of discussion was the Manhattan Declaration. He doesn't support it, following R.C. Sproul's lead. (Refer to link on my first post for Sproul's explanation of non-support.) My initial reaction was one of disgust. I felt Sproul, Horton and others were being polemical for polemics sake. This is not strictly a theological document, but what one can say for sure it is especially not on the topic of justification or soteriology. It's a moral or ethical document on life, traditional marriage and religious freedom. R.C. Sproul's arguments don't fly with me. The best Protestant critique that I have found is that of Phil Johnson's. M.D. is not rooted on nor depends upon Scripture. The best Eastern Orthodox critique that I have found is the one referenced by Rod Dreher on his post about M.D.

Now here's a little background information on Phil Johnson if you're not familiar with him. His website, Pyromaniacs, is a major Reformed website with great graphics. He's a pastor at Dr. John MacArthur's mega-church (mega-ministry) in north L.A. It's a Reformed Baptist and Dispensionalist, which is a weird combination. Most Reformed are either Postmillenial or Amillenial. Dispensionalists are notoriously anti-Catholic. Refer to Old Scofield Reference Bible, the Left Behind series, etc. MacArthur is on the major Reformed speaking circuit with Sproul and Piper. They give talks at each others conferences.

So that's why I referenced to Phil Johnson's post. And yes I'm aware that he links to Dr. James White and many other anti-Catholics. As Dr. Peter Kreeft says... Catholicism can and does answer all the critics.

I'm much better at asking questions than answering them therefore here are some that I've been chewing on and I hope you do so as well:

1. Do you support the Manhattan Declaration? If so why? And have you signed it?

2. What critique(s) of the Manhattan Declaration do you feel is/are valid and if so why?

3. Are you aware of any Catholic critiques of it? If not what could one or many be?

4. Are you aware of the significant differences between traditional (Thomistic) natural law tradition versus the New Natural Law tradition? Which one do you support and why? Is there a flaw in following the New Natural Law which becomes visible in the M.D. and/or in Dr. George's larger agenda? (Refer to the NYTIMES Magazine article on George.)

5. Can one approach life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom without seriously engaging Revelation (both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition)? Can it be done by "reason" alone or initially and primarily through reason which seems to me is what Dr. George is attempting to do here. Is this method or tradition consistent with Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic thought?

6. Do you support Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) ~ the legacy of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Chuck Colson? Why or why not?

I'm going to do a separate post on the New Natural Law tradition. I need to review my notes and paper on it from grad school though before doing so. My UD professor, Dr. Mark Lowery, of Moral Theology and Social Ethics was a traditional Thomist regarding natural law and was critical of John Finnis, Germain Grisez, William May, etc.

In the mean-time I'm going to ask some friends of mine who are much smarter than I am on these topics to lean in on these questions and give their position regarding the M.D., traditional natural law vs. new natural law, and Dr. George's larger agenda. In fact I have forwarded this post out to them and I hope they respond with brilliant and profound thoughts much greater than anything I will ever write.

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