To set the context for this post, one of my professors at Knox College spoke glowingly of Pagels’ work on original sin. I’ve been reading some reviews over the past few days and have added some summaries of them to my notes, which I am posting here. I haven’t read Pagels yet, nor am I planning to in the near future, largely out of a fear that lightning may strike me.
Writing in Touchstone magazine, Leon Podles believes Elaine Pagels’ Adam, Eve, and Original Sin to be a foil for polemics about modern problems, namely feminism.
In Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Pagels challenges the ‘orthdox’ doctrine of original sin. She claims that for the church fathers, there were a variety of opinions about human freedom after the fall, but the ‘orthodox’ view always said that man was free after the fall. For Pagels, it was the Gnostic heretics who denied the freedom of fallen man. In Pagels mind, this is what made ‘orthodox’ Christianity so appealing. The common man (and woman) could be freed form the tyranny of nature and society. (more…)
After copiously describing the various ways Neo-Kantian theologians divided the realms of science and religion, Bavinck summarizes his judgment:
if Christianity is indeed a religion of redemption, then the revelation from which it has sprung also includes the communication of truth, the discovery and liberation from falsehood. Then word and fact, prophecy and miracle, illumination and regeneration also combine to support that truth. Also, subjectively, cognition and trust (fiducia) are always united in that faith. Objective religion, then, is not the product of subjective religion but given in divine revelation that we should walk in it. And dogma is not merely a symbolic interpretation of the spiritual life but an expression, be it a human one, of the truth God has given in his Word. All our religious knowledge is certainly nonexhaustive, anthropomorphic, analogical. By confusing this reality with the “symbolical,” Sabatier is thereby doing an injustice to the history of dogma. For that matter, when he himself again calls certain symbolic representations–such as that of the unity of God, the kingdom of God–permanent symbols, it is clear that he considers symbolic only the dogmas with which he himself no longer agrees. And that indeed is how the issue stands: dogma is either a pure expression of our faith or that is no longer so. In the latter case, we must abandon or revise it, but it can no longer be rescued by means of the term “symbolic.” (Reformed Dogmatics, 1:559)
All one can add to this is that, perhaps, Bavinck was overly pessimistic regarding what modern theologians “can” still do, however wrong their project might be in terms of honest history.
Deservedly or not, many evangelicals have directed ire and criticism towards NT Wright for his exegesis of Romans and Galatians, not least because of his position on the meaning of “the righteousness of God”. Often commentators on Wright will explain he teaches that this phrase represents God’s “covenant faithfulness”, and this is not false. However, what I don’t see mentioned often is that Wright teaches part of God’s covenant faithfulness is his punishing sin. Below are some excerpts from his Romans commentary that bear this out. (It is also clear, despite the negative comments that Wright made about a penal substitutionary theory of the atonement in the Steve Chalke fracas, that he believes Paul teaches this doctrine in Romans 3.): (more…)
Another way in which human beings can create wealth is through trade. That is, if people split up among the members of society the tasks that must be performed for them to flourish, and trade the products of their divided labour, more can be done than if each of the individuals tried to live self-sufficiently. Robert Murphy, in his Lessons for the Young Economist (pdf), gives five reasons why the division of labour makes individual labour more than the sum of its parts (see pages 115-117 for more detail): (more…)
A friend once said to me that modern evangelicalism basically consists of people intoning to themselves that “Jesus is my hamster“. It seems that Bavinck knew better; he knew the deep reality of struggle and doubt in the Christian life:
A Christian believes, not because everything in life reveals the love of God, but rather despite everything that raises doubt. In Scripture too there is much that raises doubt. All believers know from experience that this is true. Those who engage in biblical criticism frequently talk as if the simple church people know nothing about the objections that are advanced against Scripture and are insensitive to the difficult of continuing to believe in Scripture. But that is a false picture. Certainly, simple Christians do not know all the obstacles that science raises to belief in Scripture. But they do to a greater or lesser degree know the hard struggle fought both in head and heart against Scripture. There is not a single Christian who has not in his or her own way learned to know the antithesis between the “wisdom of the world” and “the foolishness of God.” It is one and the same battle, an ever-continuing battle, which has to be waged by all Christians, learned or unlearned, to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Here on earth no one ever rises above that battle. Throughout the whole domain of faith, there remain “crosses” (cruces) that have to be overcome. There is no faith without struggle. To believe is to struggle, to struggle against the appearance of things. As long as people still believe in anything, their belief is challenged from all directions. No modern believer is spared from this either. Concessions weaken believers but do not liberate them. Thus for those who in childlike faith subject themselves to Scripture, there still remain more than enough objections. These need not be disguised. (Reformed Dogmatics, 1:441-442)
A recent study suggests that, after all, it is people who admit to this reality and work their way through it that remain Christian; conversely, then, people who ignore it presumably do not survive. Go figure.
An important insight of modern economics is that wealth can be created. In other words, wealth is not fixed in quantity. More can be made. How is this possible? One of the most basic ways is through what we might call “innovation” (the word itself meaning “making new”). Innovation in economic activity is finding ways to maintain or increase the amount of profit people take in by reducing the costs they have to pay to meet their ends. This is done by the creativity of people in conceiving of new possibilities of resources already possessed. For example, the first person to develop the simple lever found a way to drastically reduce the energy and time it cost to move heavy objects. This freed up this energy and time for additional tasks, which were simply not available until that innovation was achieved. Over the centuries, the innovations involved have multiplied in number and complexity (now we are able to turn oil, sand and metal into an iPhone), and so have the benefits.
The idea that human beings can create wealth should not be surprising for Christians, who believe that people were made in the image of a creative God. And, indeed, if rationality (including the ability to abstract universals from concrete objects, and conceive of different ways forms could be manifested in matter) is one of, if not the, defining characteristic of human beings, then this ability to create wealth is one of the activities that best expresses our true nature.
One basic implication of this principle will suffice for the moment: if wealth can be created, one cannot deduce that someone has been stolen from just because another has become wealthier. It is indeed possible for everyone to become simultaneously wealthier. I will explore more how this can be in future posts.
The second matter I want to address is one of the most fundamental on the human side of the issue. That is, the fundamental motive of human action. Ludwig von Mises explained his magnum opus of the same name:
We call contentment or satisfaction the state of a human being which does not and cannot result in any action. Acting man is eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory. His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care. 
This is not an insight unique to Austrian economics. Aquinas wrote centuries before that (more…)
Look closely for the finite, pale blue dot we call Earth.
After some recent discussions with friends about the interface between Christianity and economics, and some reading on the subject, I’ve decided to do a series of posts (of indefinite number) on my view about the matter. I’m not quite sure how best to structure it, so I’m probably going to go with the least daunting: focus on one issue per post. Just to ruin the surprise: my current view is that the ideal system for the current world is a mixed economy. To libertarians and anarcho-capitalists I’ll probably look like a socialist, and to actual socialists I’ll no doubt look like a laissez-faire nut. But so be it. This is the same position historic conservatism finds itself in. Hopefully the discussion will help sharpen my own thinking, if nothing else. (more…)
Consistent with his defense of the Reformation view of the nature/grace relation, Bavinck argues that miracles are actually not unnatural:
Revelation and creation are not opposed to each other, for creation itself is a revelation. Revelation was present before the fall. Even now revelation is present still in all the works of God’s hand in nature and history; his external power and deity are perceived and understood from his creatures. And even supernatural revelation as such is so far from being in conflict with nature that every human in the core of his or her being is a supernaturalist and believes in a direct operative presence of God in this world. The inspiration of heroes and artists, the marvelous powers that are sometimes observed, though certainly not identical with the facts of revelation reported in Scripture, do nevertheless point back to another and higher order of things than that which holds sway in the mechanical causality of the natural phenomena perceptible by the senses. Belief in a special revelation is universal in the religions [of the world], and the phenomena of divination and magic, though a caricature, still bear resemblance to, and therefore serve as indirect confirmations of, the true prophecy and real miracles that Scripture discloses to us. [361-362]
Supernatural revelation is entirely compatible with such a worldview. In it, after all, nature does not for a moment exist independently of God but lives and moves in him. Every force that asserts itself in it originates from him and works according to the law he has put in it. God does not stand outside of nature and is not excluded from it by a hedge of laws but is present in it and sustains it by the word of his power. He works from within and can generate new forces, which in nature and operation are distinct from the existing ones… . Miracles do not bring about a change in the forces inherent in nature nor in the laws according to which they operate. The only thing that happens in a miracle is that the operation of the forces of nature is suspended at a given point as the result of the appearance of another force which works according to a law of its own and produces an effect of its own. [370-371]
This, of course, has application to the political dispute between Roman Catholicism and the Magisterial Reformation, and to the philosophical between materialism and Christianity on scientific matters.