Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

That Restless And Turbulent Spirit

David Fitch is continuing the discussion on the politics and ecclesiology of the Reformed tradition, and I have a few thoughts to add. In his post, he explains his general perspective:

As I see it, when Reformed theology was uprooted from its cultural moorings in the Majesterial Reformation and transported to N. America, it lost what it was “reforming.” It’s reason to be – reforming Catholic Europe- was gone. It had to find an integrity in itself. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Christus had to stand alone. Sola Scripture no longer stood as a reforming princple reforming the corrupt traditions of Catholic church structure. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of Scripture’s authority and principle of interpretation unto itself.  Sola Fide no longer stood as a reforming principle against the corrupt sacramental systems that fostered abuse and a works righteousness in Roman Catholic Europe. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of God’s saving operations in the world. And Sola Christus could no longer stand on its own as a reforming principle against a monolithic church structure that made all salvation take place through her structures. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of the church. The developments here, so I suggest, eventually led to an individualization of Christian faith, one that is inherently aligned with modernity and certain democratic capitalist culture systems. (Read C. C. Pecknold’s brilliant and concise narrative of how this all took place in ch.5-8 of Christianity and Politics)

Further, in one of his comments, he adds:

Likewise, Kuyper’s sphere-sovereignty is different/but related to the evangelical’s uncritical friendliness towards capitalism and other social structures. To me, this is a church-culture relation that makes sense out of untied Christendom context, but does not have the critical nexus necessarily to do the work necessary when the powers/structures or spheres have become rebellious…

I have a few thoughts about these comments: (more…)

Driscoll! How Many Divisions Has He Got?

There’s an interesting contrast that was pointed out by Ian Clary (via Trevin Wax) regarding how Mark Driscoll treats theological disagreements:

“There is a conciliatory air between those involved. It seems that the interviewers have already decided on Jakes’ orthodoxy before interviewing him. Driscoll promised us, when the controversy first broke, that he would be hard on Jakes on the Trinity–but Driscoll was much harder on Justin Brierly over complimentarianism than he is on Jakes. While he thankfully asked a number of creed-oriented questions, he didn’t push Jakes on his unclear statements.”

So here we have Driscoll in conversation about the Trinity – a doctrine that describes the very nature of God – and he lobs a few softball questions at Jakes about the matter. Of course Driscoll’s position on this was telegraphed some time ago. We were exhorted to withhold judgment on Jakes’ view of the Trinity until Driscoll had the chance to properly interrogate Jakes’ views. (more…)

Rembrandt’s Calvinistic Art

The Three Crosses

We have recently discussed the issue of Christian art on the blog, especially why it can be so kitsch-y. However, it is also worth considering good Christian art that has been produced, and what kind mentality produced it.

Christopher Joby, in his excellent article “How Does the Work of Rembrandt van Rijn Represent a Calvinist Aesthetic?” (Theology 107:22-29), after discussing how Rembrandt’s art lined up with Calvin’s explicit statements about art (what Joby calls defining Calvinistic aesthetics by applying rules (26)), analyzes how the artist’s productions expressed Calvinistic theology.

He notes the following aspects of Rembrandt’s works: (more…)

Hauerwas On American Protestantism

David Fitch posted today about Mark Driscoll and his (alleged) representation of the entirety of “neo-Reformed” thought. I disagree on a number of levels with his analysis, but I actually wanted to briefly discuss something Fitch mentioned in the comments. Responding to a person who wanted to distinguish neo-Puritans from neo-Calvinists, Fitch replied:

What people like myself are saying is that in Calvin, Kuyper etc. once transferred to American democracy, turns into Neo-Reformed evangelicalism. This point is a good one to wrestle with, why/how did Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide,etc… translate into something totally foreign once removed from the Majesterial Reformation in Europe? But this is not the point of this post.
I forward this piece by Hauerwas for your perusal in the meantime …http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/08/08/2947368.htm

Hauerwas’ article was a bit hard to follow, but I’ll chalk that up to my unintelligence. I do want to note one point about his narrative/argument, however. He writes:

America is the great experiment in Protestant social thought, but the society Protestants created now threatens to make Protestantism unintelligible to itself. Put as directly as I can, I believe we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism, at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America, come to an end. It is dying of its own success.

Protestantism became identified with the republican presumption in liberty as an end in itself. This presumption was then reinforced by an unassailable belief in the commonsense of the individual. As a result, Protestant churches in America lost the ability to maintain those disciplines that are necessary to sustain a truly free people – people who are capable of being a genuine alternative to the rest of the world. [emphasis mine--AF]

What I think needs to be noted here is that the crux of his narrative is that Protestantism “became identified with the republican presumption in liberty as an end in itself.” Whether this is true or not, I will leave for another time and for other people. However, granting that this statement is true, then Hauerwas is tracing the current state of the American church to a point when Protestant principles were rejected in their entirety. The freedom of conscience that the magisterial Reformation upheld was always meant as a means to an end of serving and glorifying God, and was wholly bound by the Word of God (see the speech recorded here). Thus, even on Hauerwas’ terms, there does not seem to be a reason to blame the magisterial Reformation for what happened to America, for the fall of the American church is being explicitly traced to the point where true Protestantism was abandoned for a functional atheism.

Addendum:

Another major problem with Hauerwas’ argument comes out when he says this:

To know or worship that god does not require that a church exist because that god is known through the providential establishment of a free people.

The only thing that could be construed as evidence, in his post, that Americans said something like this, is the statement of the Massachusetts Constitution (that did not establish a church). However, to say that the state not establishing a church is the same thing as a people saying there is no need for a visible church, is equivocation.

Of course, there is some truth to his post. Protestantism does deny that the visible forms of the church should be absolutely equated with the invisible church. But that, again, does not psychologically or logically require the shift to practical atheism or the non-necessity of a visible church.

 

John Frame and Molinism

I was reading an old interview with John Frame from TWOTH, and came across this Q&A which I thought was germane for the post I did on defeater(s) for molinism:

14. What differences do you see in the presentation of the gospel with monergists and synergists?

Both typically present salvation by grace alone, and both call upon people to make decisions for Christ. (By the way, there is nothing in Reformed theology that deprecates the importance of human decisions.) But synergists sometimes compromise salvation by grace by saying that human decision is free in the libertarian sense, not controlled by God. If that is true, then as Vern Poythress has said, my decision for Christ is the one part of salvation for which I don’t need to give thanks to the Lord.

The Church And New Years Resolutions

It’s January 1st. Last night, millions of people made New Years resolutions. Come March, most of those resolutions will be unattained. Come June, most of those resolutions will be forgotten.

This is especially discouraging as many Christians made moral resolutions yesterday. Some will determine to stop cussing. Others will determine to read through their bible in a systematic way. I would venture to guess that their success ratio isn’t any higher than your typical secular person trying to lose 10 pounds. The result of this can be a feeling of hopelessness and the creation of a sub-Christian belief that true change is not really possible. People are what they are and that’s that.

What the church needs is more earthy and practical theology. It’s one thing to determine that the church needs to give more to the poor and another thing to lay out simple steps regarding how people can make changes in their lives to become the type of people who sacrificially give. And no, I don’t want to sit on a couch and talk about mommy and daddy issues, I want real advice from real people that really works.

As an aside, I think this is one of the reasons why so-called ‘biblical’ or nouthetic counseling became so popular (and effective?) in the 1970s and 80s. Contrary to other techniques offered in the church, nouthetic counseling was not only biblical, but rigorously practical.

I’m excited by a recent (for me) web start up called StickK.com. Started by two Yale professors, Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, users sign up to the site and create a ‘commitment contract’ to help them follow through on a goal. After selecting a referee to check up on their progress, users determine to give a large amount of money to an anti-charity (e.g. the American Nazi party) of their choice if they fail to meet their goal. This is all done courtesy of a legally binding contract that you sign so you can’t back out if you fail. The money is automatically deducted from your credit card if you fail. Please note that this is all public, so if users fail to meet their goals, there’s an extra layer of humiliation added to the mix. The thinking behind this concept is that we all need added incentives to meet goals whose completion lies in the distant future.

It turns out that ideas like this work. According to one of the founders, 78% of stickK users who put money on the line and have a referee completed their goals. Only 35% met their goals when they put no money down. And if you’re not willing to believe the founder, hey, one of the Freakonomics guys loves the concept.

What people in the church need are not just exegetical sermons on personal repentance. We know that we need to. We need help; real and practical help.

So consider stickk.com when it comes to meeting your New Years resolutions, whether it’s disciplining yourself to pray everyday or lose those last 15 pounds.

Here are some more web resources for you to peruse:

Two JP Moreland sermons on personal change and New Years resolutions

Dan Ariely on temptation and self control:

Moral Formation And Warfare

Battle of the Milvian Bridge by Giulio Romano, 1520-24

I’ve begun reading Daniel M. Bell Jr.’s Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State, and am impressed by his rigor and insight into this deeply controversial subject. Here Bell writes on the agreement between pacifists and realists on Sherman’s famous phrase, and what is misleading about it:

Although these critics of just war might inhabit different ends of the political spectrum, their criticisms reflect a common ground. Both sets of critics, for different reasons and to different ends, repeat in so many words the saying made famous by William Tecumseh Sherman regarding the US Civil War, “War is hell.” For these folks, war is akin to a natural disaster. It is something that happens to humanity, and try as we might, we cannot alter or change the nature of war. This is not to excuse humans from the role they play and the culpability they share in making war what it is. Rather, it is to acknowledge that humanity is not capable of waging war successfully in a manner that could he called just. Either a war is successful and therefore not just or war is restrained by the just war criteria and much less likely to be successful. (more…)

Under Judgment?

Doug Wilson posted about the recent deaths of Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-Il. His riff on this topic is a sort of apologetic along the lines that without an afterlife, Hitch, Havel and Kim all end the same way,

“We often say, when someone passes away, that they have ‘gone to their reward.’ But given atheism, what is that reward exactly? It is exactly the same for Havel, Hitchens, and Kim Jong Il. All three have now entered into nothingness, which is to say that, given atheism, there are no rewards for anything — good, bad or anywhere in the middle.

Havel was an anti-communist hero, Hitchens was a courageous but infidel journelist, and Kim Jong Il was a murderous and genocidal thug. They all graduated from this class called earth, and they all got exactly the same grade. Is that justice?

[...]

Think of it this way. Every day of his life that passed, Kim Jong Il was one day closer to getting away with everything. In the Christian universe, the day of his death was the day of his final capture and arrest. When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes (Prov. 11:7, ESV). The day comes when his life is required of him (Luke 12:20). But in the atheist universe, the day of his death was the day of his final and irrevocable escape.”

It’s all well and good to appeal to this sort of innate sense that most people possess about justice and how bad people ought to face some kind of reckoning. It’s a rather more complicated matter though when Wilson reflects elsewhere about Hitchens’ fate – it’s clear that Wilson had a great deal of affection for Hitchens and is careful to point out that no one knew Hitchens’ eternal fate at the hour of his death. So while Wilson doesn’t make any exception for Hitchens, he is also careful not to despair about his former sparring partner’s fate.

While Wilson is right to recall the thief on the cross, does this possibility not equally apply to Kim Jong-Il? There are mentions of Christians in Caesar’s household, whose to say that there weren’t any in Kim’s? Could he have heard about Jesus, could he have had some deathbed conversion? If it’s true for Hitch, it’s true for Kim Jong-Il. If one is a good Reformed sola Dei gratia-type then there’s nothing wrong with the idea that God can save Kim Jong-Il but not Christopher Hitchens – no matter who Doug Wilson or me or anyone else would want to save or punish. Here it appears that we’ve nothing to do but to defer to God’s will on the matter.

Does an appeal to some kind of need for an eternal justice enhance the claims of Christians or does it collapse on itself. Because the scenario I describe seems unjust, though I know that the standard apologetic answer would be that God is just by his nature, so whatever he does would be just. Why doesn’t that sit well?

Wurst

The comboxes at City of God have been unusually active the past few days, and I wanted to take this opportunity to plug blogs that will no doubt be of interest to some of our readers:

Former CoG blogger and regular commenter here, Matthew, a while back opened up his excellent new cyber-home, Simply Philosophy. If you like seeing complicated and controversial philosophical, theological, and ethical opinions traced clearly from their most fundamental starting points, his blog will be worth the read.

I also have recently learned that Greg (who has been commenting recently here) has a blog called Tikkun Ecclesia, and given his past and present research (Judaism [I believe] and the metaphysics of classical theism), no doubt he will have many insightful posts to come.

Also worthy of note is the The Bayview Review, a group blog updated by Craig Carter, Eric Crouse, Paul Franks, and Richard Davis, which has already had some thought-provoking contributions put up. It’s general purpose is to defend conservatism.

God’s Mode Of Causation

An implication to be drawn from my previous post is that God’s mode of causation is sui generis. God’s will is the causal means by which creation comes into existence, and God’s will is identical with his being, and as such is not a “will” in the sense we apply it to people, but rather is “something like a will”. Thus, God is the cause of the universe, but how he is so is unique, and in some sense unknown to us.

There are further implications to be drawn from this. In jurisprudence, we consider murderers guilty, even if they don’t kill someone with their bare hands. If you intentionally cause  events that you know would cause the death of someone, then you are responsible, regardless of what those intervening events were. So, if you pull a trigger that shoots a bullet that shatters someone’s skull and brain, you are responsible, because you initiated that sequence.

On the other hand, we do not consider people guilty of murder if they merely influenced someone to go and commit a murder, perhaps through some rash talk. They might be guilty of some kind of moral wrong, but they are not thereby murderers.

This means that we recognize there are different kinds of causes, and the differences between them have real moral relevance as to whether guilt transfers to the cause further back in the causal chain.

In both of these examples, we are using the terms “cause” in their normal sense, as the apply to created realities. We know, based on the kind of cause we are discussing, whether full moral responsibility applies to them. In the case of God, however, we only know that has “something like a will”. The cause of the universe is “something like” what we know created realities to be. We know that it is like a cause in that the will of God explains the existence of the created world. And we know it is not like a cause in that it is identical with other properties we would say could not be causes (i.e., the attribute of being good, in the created world, is causally inert, because it is not a substance but a property). Further, we know it is unlike other causes, in that it is the only example we know of where an agent’s merely willing something causes it to exist. There is no reason, however, to assume that these are the only ways in which God’s mode of causation is unlike created modes of causation. This, in turn, leaves open the possibility that it is crucially unlike created realities in being subject to the transfer of moral responsibility, even while being a sufficient cause for the existence of the universe. And if there is sufficient proof for both the existence a good and almighty God, and for the existence of evil, then we can conclude that this possibility is an actuality.