Why do I spend time talking to people like JMW?

JMW had posted some material about icons, saying that the veneration of icons is exactly identical to the worship of idols. I disagreed. While I don't think that the veneration of icons is required of anyone, it is certainly not idolatry. We went back and forth at his blog arguing about it, including questions of historical councils, Anglican authority, and--my main point--hermeneutics.

In any case, James, a reader of this blog posted this question in the comment thread to a post:

Abu Daoud:

Just read your exchanges with JMW. I have to ask, why bother arguing with him? The man is obviously hyper-Protestant (Calvinist maybe?) and is not going to be convinced. From a quick reading he appears to be citing some things out of context and trying to get other quotes to mean things that they clearly do not. He also appears to have found the only Latin Iconoclast there was to quote from.

They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand (Isaiah 44:18). Appropriate description and particularly ironic since Isaiah was condemning idolatry. You are correct that JMW does not understand the distinction between adoration/worship and dulia/veneration; and he does not want to learn. His eyes are shut.

James G


Here is my response to James, I thought it was helpful enough to post it as its own entry:

James: normally Christians who will appeal to something beyond their own individual opinion [like JMW] should be engaged in conversation. I mean, if we can appeal to, say, tradition when we are asking questions about how to interpret the Bible, then that is a good starting place.

I thought I could do that with JMW. After all, we are both Anglicans and neither of is a flaky liberal, which I thought would give us a good point of departure.

Eventually it got to the point where I simply did have to say that he was engaged in private interpretation, or what we might call the heresy of Americanism, where you just choose what [doctrines] you like and reject what you don't like.

He has chosen some pretty exotic examples from tradition, I have chosen examples that are much stronger and I thought he would entertain my position. He didn't.

I think ultimately it is clear that, at least hermeneutically, he is a fundamentalist, which is not always bad mind you. But here it is. It all ended when he said that the meaning [of the passages about not bowing before images] was clear and did not need to be taken in context. There is no text without a context. Direct contact with the meaning of a text which is not mediated is, at the end of the day, Romanticism. Which might work at the opera or in poetry, but does not work in theology or religion.


Of course Don, another reader, had a much more succinct answer which brought a smile (ibtisaam--it's a girl's name in Arabic) to my face:

...In his line of mission work, the first thing you learn is to dialogue with people who might kill you. After you have passed that threshold, people like JMW are a snap.

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