Recent Books

I have just come through quite a busy season with conference speaking, dissertation chapter submission, and a full course taught overseas, so my silence on the blog hopefully has some justification! Why not break the silence with some shameless self-promotion?

This past November I had the privilege of presenting to Michael Haykin a Festschrift in his honour. My co-editor, Steve Weaver, and I worked on this book for over two years. It was incredibly rewarding to see it completed, and for Dr. Haykin to receive it with utter shock and amazement. The book, The Pure Flame of Devotion, is a history of Christian spirituality and covers the span of church history. We have over twenty contributors, including Carl Trueman, Dennis Ngien, Crawford Gribben, David Hogg, Mark Jones and others, who write on subjects dealing with the patristic, medieval, Reformation, and modern periods. We are hoping that the book will function as a textbook for bible college and seminary courses. You can read about the night here.

Also, I just learned that a book that I contributed to is now available. As 2014 commemorates the centenary of the First World War, Gord Heath of McMaster Divinity College has edited a book studying Canadian religious responses to it. It is called Canadian Churches and the First World War and is published by Pickwick. Michael Haykin and I co-wrote a chapter on the Canadian Baptist response. It was quite an eye-opening study, seeing as Baptists were typically political liberals and eschewed war, but after it was declared they supported it with gusto. I was, I must say, honoured to have a part in the book.

Is The Stable Two-Parent Family Now A Luxury Good?

When someone speaks of the lifestyles of the wealthy a number of images may come to mind involving luxury cars or big houses, but what about a traditional, stable two-parent family? Wait, what? Consider this article (by a self-described feminist) about how feminism has been co-opted as a wage-suppression tool – the labour pool is larger if both parents work and at the same time, if the expectation is that both parents in a family are in the workplace, then why should one person’s wage be large enough to support a family anyway? Then there’s Japan where young people are giving up on having families in part because the expectation of the husband to be a breadwinner is intense and, for many, unfeasible in an economy that has been stagnant for a couple decades now. It has been observed that those in the upper classes are more likely to marry and stay married, have children later and, by doing all of this, pass their opportunities on to their children.

Why are the working classes not following the same patterns? Charles Murray thought that this could solved by a stern lecture and the example of their betters, but David Frum thoroughly debunked Murray’s finding that not much else is needed. The reality is that our economic system privileges flexibility in production of goods and services, and family life makes flexibility difficult. Try making a parent-teacher interview working two jobs, or even shift-work. What if the better jobs are elsewhere? If one spouse is unemployed but the other is not, should they move? Should one spouse go where the work is and the other stay and effectively become a single parent? I do not know if anyone in our readership has considered that no-fault divorce has this sort of benefit of improving labour market liquidity, but it surely does.

It is natural for a Christian  to point out that they know a family from their own church perhaps who have stuck together in spite of economic challenges. The reality is it is possible to make such a thing happen, just like it is possible for someone of modest means to make other luxury purchases by scrounging and cutting back in other areas. By such means one can find working class car collectors, watch collectors, world travellers and so on. What we need to ask is whether it is wise or beneficial to be living in a society where people come to view these types of life choices as luxuries.

Should We Make Curriculum More Relevant?

From Roger Ebert’s glowing review of the timeless Mr. Holland’s Opus:

Watching this film, falling into its rhythm, appreciating its sweep, I could not help but remember my own high school teachers. Sitting here at the keyboard, I began a list of their names, only to realize that you have your own list. Amazing, how clearly I remember their excellence, and their patience. One anecdote will do. Stanley Hynes, who taught us Shakespeare, always addressed us as “Mr.” and “Miss,” as a college teacher would do, and somehow that brought a greater seriousness to “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar,” which were uncharted new worlds for us. Modifying the curriculum to make it more “contemporary” and “relevant” is doing an injustice to students, whose lives will become relevant to the exact degree that high school encourages them to outgrow themselves, and escape from the contemporary into the timeless. Mr. Hynes knew that. So does “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Why Doug Groothuis Is Not A Continental Philosopher

From Dr. Groothuis’ blog:

First, unlike CP’s, I’ll define terms. An analytic philosopher (AP) emphasize the following philosophical principles:

1. Define terms carefully.
2. Obscurity is not profundity
3. Logical operations are primary for philosophy, such as the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions, types and tokens, necessary and contingent, and, of course, the basic arguments forms–deductive, inductive, and abductive. One should not have to guess about these points; they should be clearly stated.

Second, the orgins of analytical philosophy probably trace to Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. It is a neutral method and is not committed, a priori, to any one worldview. Russell was an atheist; Alvin Plantinga is a Christian. Both are analytic philosophers.

Third, many claims to the contrary, the method of AP does not rule out large-scale philosophical questions about God, meaning, philosophy of culture (I do that!) or even aesthetics. CPs often make this erroneous claim.

Fourth, while some APs de-emphasize the important of the history of philosophy, there is nothing in the approach of AP that necessitates this; that is, it is not part of the definition of AP. The history of a philosophical concept, such as substance, is very significant in making any sense of it rationally.

Fifth, philosophers who are pre-analytic, such as Pascal, are subject to analytical criticism and reconstruction. I did so in my book, On Pascal. It has even been done with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard (see the work of C. Stephen Evans)!

CPs typically do not define terms or types of arguments carefully and revel in obscurity and false dichotomies, such as “those analytic apologists like J.P. Moreland, Bill Craig, and Doug Groothuis emphasize logic, but not love and community” (Myron Penner). Bull$^&#.

Sausage

SAUSAGE

Some helpful links to roll over a new year:

For John MacArthur fans: How to wear a suit.

Ta-Nehisi Coates praises Newt Gingrich for being one of those conservatives who didn’t wait until Mandela’s death to support him.

Carl Trueman praises high-Anglican liturgy.

What’s going on with Francis Chan?

The Magic of a Kind Word

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

-Proverbs 15:1

Much has been said about Pope Francis’ statements on atheism or homosexuality, the sorts of things that have earned him the nod from Time as Person of the Year for 2013. What’s remarkable is that nothing that he’s said really contradicts what either of his two most recent predecessors have said. What he has really changed is more a matter of tone. There is nothing in the substance of Francis’ statement about how he can’t judge a gay man who seeks God that contradicts Benedict’s assertion that all gays are “objectively disordered.” There is a world of difference however in the tone of such remarks. Benedict was successful at capturing very conservative church people from Evangelical denominations, Francis is capturing the attention (and the imagination) of pretty much everyone else. And yet for all those who either laud or damn him as a crypto-Marxist, nothing he has said seems to fall outside of conventional Catholic teaching.

Revisiting Euthyphro

socrates

Socrates famously posed the dilemma: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Later, this dilemma forced itself upon monotheistic religion, in the form of “Are things moral because God commands them, or does God command them because they are good?”

Taking the first horn of the dilemma commits one to a divine command theory of ethics, the latter to something more like a natural law position. Problems appear on both horns for the Christian, because the first approach seems to imply moral absurdities (like saying that child-rape would be good if God commanded it) and the second metaphysical ones (leaving morality as a kind of unexplained surd, existing independently of the putative First Cause).

For this reason Christian thinkers have tried to resolve the dilemma. One common approach is to say that the moral standard is God’s own nature, which he then commands that creatures reflect. I think this answer is partly right, but incomplete. By virtue of divine simplicity, it is true that Goodness is identical with God, since God is the source of good, and must be good, and being identical with his nature, must be goodness itself. Yet this answer is incomplete, for it’s not clear how divine goodness relates to what is good for human beings, which is what the dilemma was originally talking about.

Christians want to affirm that human goodness somehow finds its source in God (again, he is supposed to be the ultimate explanation for all things), but nevertheless want to avoid the problems that seem to come with a crude divine command theory of ethics. How can this be done? It seems to me that a kind of Thomistic metaphysics is the only good answer. One could try to avoid this route by taking a more voluntaristic and nominalistic metaphysics, but such an approach seems to entail the same moral problems that the crude divine command theory does. But then how can one avoid the other problem, of making morality an ontologically ungrounded surd?

The way around this problem comes in recognizing that what is good for human beings is determined by their nature, but that that nature is created by God. So while it is true that morality as such is not essentially a divine positive law backed up by threats of force, nevertheless it is derived ultimately from God as Creator. And further, since God’s nature is the law for his own actions, his creative activity partakes of the goodness of his own nature.

Thus one can avoid both horns of the dilemma and provide an intelligible connection between the goodness of God and morality if one takes the path of Thomistic natural law.

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Craft-Brew Blog

Craft_Brewery

Who are we, City of God, in 2014? One helpful clue comes from Carl Trueman who, in the wake of the Driscoll plagiarism scandal praised the essential role of what he called “craft” blogs (at about 8:10 in the podcast). By this he meant those sites that are not the online arms of Christian publishing, or denominations, parachurch ministries, those that “owe nothing” in Carl’s words. He likens them to craft-breweries (hence the title of this post). We are at a weird sort of juncture, where blogging isn’t what it was in, say 2004 when I first started experimenting with the medium, many of the biggest names in blogging have been scooped up by a handful of websites and are now all but indistinguishable from columnists or journalists, many of the rest of us are using Twitter or Facebook the way we once blogged. That said, it’s easier sometimes to put together one’s thoughts on this kind of medium where there are not inflicted on your family or coworkers and they can be longer than 140 characters. What’s more, it’s nice to have a greater degree of ownership over the platform where, say, some Facebook admin can’t decide that one’s content is somehow beyond the pale. So here we are, please enjoy our craft-brew selections.

Paul Tillich’s Definition Of Sin Is Beyond The Pale

I’m not that well versed in the theology of Paul Tillich, but I know people who are and who adore him. From what I’ve heard explained and from what I’ve read, I don’t get it. Two courses from John Frame at Reformed Theological Seminary didn’t help my opinion of the man and what I just read from Bill Craig has sealed the deal. Next time I hear the man’s name mentioned in a positive light I’m going to start braying at the heavens a la Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf II.

Similarly in the 20th century, a very prominent 20th century theologian was Paul Tillich. Tillich really could not even be called a theist, I don’t think. He didn’t really believe there is a personal mind or being distinct from the world who has created the world. Tillich referred to God as “the ground of being.” He is the sort of ultimate reality that is the foundation or the ground of everything else, and everything else is simply a manifestation of this fundamental reality which is difficult to characterize called “the ground of all being.” So for Tillich sin is alienation from the ground of being. Rather than recognizing your unity with the world and with the ground of being you are estranged from it. You don’t recognize that and so you are alienated from the ground of being. So Tillich reinterpreted the traditional characteristics of sin in line with this philosophy. For example, what was unbelief for Tillich? Unbelief is the failure to recognize your unity with God. You really are one with God. God is the ground of your being and you are one with God but unbelief is a failure to recognize that oneness with God. So you need to get rid of that alienation and estrangement by recognizing your fundamental unity with God. What is pride? Pride is self-exaltation. Rather than being oriented toward God, you are oriented toward yourself and exalt yourself. It is a refusal to recognize yourself as finite. You are just a finite creature that is ultimately doomed to perish and pass away and pride is thinking of yourself as somehow more significant than you really are; failing to recognize your finitude in face of the ground of being. Concupiscence he interprets to be, again, just self-seeking – seeking your own goods and interests. Again, for Tillich I think you can see, as with Schleiermacher, you have this same tendency to obscure the moral aspects of sin. We don’t hear anything here about guilt or punishment or the need for redemption. It is just a sort of failure of human consciousness to realize its oneness with God or dependency upon God.

Craig speaks more to this in the Q&A:

Question: It seems as though the modern position here is nothing more than a repackaged form of Pelagianism. Is that correct?

Answer: I think it is worse than that because – we’ll talk about Pelagianism when we get to original sin – but Pelagius did think that we need redemption, we need forgiveness, even if he thought that we have the ability to come to God and the ability to live a sinless life on our own in virtue of God’s gifts that he has given us. But it still is a moral failing on Pelagius’ view. So I think this is much worse than that. To me this is more like pantheism really. It is more like Buddhism, I think, in a sense. If you think of the ground of being as just being Brahman or The All or The Absolute, it seems to me that this is very alien to a monotheistic conception of God and sin.

In Case You Haven’t Had Your Phil

Uncle Si

Here’s Phil’s Brother, Si

A popular celebrity personality said some things that some people did not like. His employer, fearing that this was damaging to its reputation (and therefore its bottom line) suspended the celebrity personality from his on-air duties. Other people did not like this, so the employer worried that this would also damage their bottom line, so the celebrity was reinstated and the employer promised to run ads touting the fact that they didn’t agree with their lucrative celebrity’s opinions. Status quo ante bellum. Next…