November 27, 2008
Here is a nice video of Psalms praising the Lord. Have a great Thanksgiving.
Turn your ear
To heaven and hear
The noise inside
The sound of angels’ awe
The sound of angels’ songs
And all this for a King
We could join and sing
All to Christ the King!
How constant, how divine
This song of ours will rise
O, how constant, how divine
This love of ours will rise
O praise Him!
O praise Him!
He is Holy!
He is Holy!
Turn your gaze
To heaven and raise
A joyous noise
The sound of salvation come
The sound of rescued ones
And all this for a King
Angels join to sing
All for Christ our King!
How infinite and sweet
This love so rescuing
O, how infinitely sweet
This great love that has redeemed
As one we sing!
He is Holy!
He is Holy!
“O Praise Him (All This for a King)”
David Crowder Band, Illuminate (2003)
November 25, 2008
From The Theology of Karl Barth by Hans Urs von Balthasar, pp. 218-219:
Critics of Thomas Aquinas have often accused him of being at heart an Aristotelian philosopher who would recast revelation in this mold, thereby constricting it. Nor have critics been slow to accuse Barth of the same thing: taking a fully formed picture of the world — this time, that of German Idealism — and making it the standard for shaping and containing the biblical message.
But this comparison with Thomas Aquinas should give us pause, especially at this most critical juncture of our investigation. Barth himself after all accused Thomas of philosophism, clearly, then, something he wanted to avoid. For at least one fact about Barth is indisputable: Barth has always wanted to be a theologian and nothing else. He has always been aware, increasingly so, of this objection raised against him. He has taken it into account, confronted it: in this respect he is anything but naive.
He knows, and he has repeated it often, that every theologian has no choice but to work with human concepts and thought forms. And if he uses those concepts in which he first learned to think theologically, then he does so in clear awareness of the consequences and because he can find no better. He has made use of them, not as a philosophy per se, but as a helpmate for theological work, transposing them and submitting them to a necessary critique, sterilizing the instruments before using them in his theological operations.
He has made use of them the way Thomas did the Aristotelian categories, which to philosophy would seem illegitimate or at lest “supererogatory.” Fundamentally, we cannot object to such a transposition of categories. Revelation has never revealed that it has been predestined to be expressed in one, single human thought form (this is not to say anything against the content of a “perennial philosophy”). The Old Testament itself thinks and expresses itself in Babylonian and Iranian thought forms. Paul and John use Hellenistic, Platonic and perhaps even Philonic schemata and concepts. Was Platonism not a form of Idealism and is Schleiermacher not a Platonist? And has not Joseph Maréchal proven that certain basic intuitions of modern speculative philosophy are in complete agreement with those of Scholasticism, that the ontological and the transcendental modes do not finally contradict but complement each other?
November 25, 2008
The early months of 1738 were a decisive period in the spiritual (and theological) development of John Wesley. Coming off of an unsuccessful mission to the colony of Georgia, Wesley turned inward in a mighty struggle against the flesh — fighting doubt and temptation — and trying to understand the theological reasons for this struggle. I’ve provided below some of the more critical (and interesting) recordings of Wesley from his journal during this period. It demonstrates a widely-read and discerning man, with a sincerity for truth and integrity before God that is paralleled by few in the Church’s history. Of particular interest is his attitude toward the Protestant understanding of justification alone by Christ’s atonement, which Wesley dismisses as too forensic, but, nonetheless, eventually forms the basis of his coming to peace, after numerous attempts at a righteousness of his own, through the law.
Excerpts from John Wesley’s Journal, January 24, 1738
I went to America to convert the Indians but, oh, who shall convert me? Who, what, is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief?
I think, verily, if the Gospel be true, I am safe, for I not only have given and do give all my goods to feed the poor; I not only give my body to be burned, drowned, or whatever God shall appoint for me, but I follow after charity (though not as I ought, yet as I can) if haply I may attain it. I now believe the Gospel is true. I show my faith by my works by staking my all upon it. …But in a storm I think, “What if the Gospel be not true?….”
For many years I have been tossed by various winds of doctrine. I asked long ago, “What must I do to be saved”?
But before God’s time was come, I fell among some Lutheran and Calvinist authors, whose confused and indigested accounts magnified faith to such an amazing size that it quite hid all the rest of the commandments. I did not then see that this was the natural effect of their overgrown fear of popery, being so terrified with the cry of merit and good works that they plunged at once in the other extreme. In this labyrinth I was utterly lost, not being able to find out what the error was, nor yet to reconcile this uncouth hypothesis either with scripture or common sense. The English writers, such as Bishop Beveridge, Bishop Taylor, and Mr. Nelson, a little relived me from these well-meaning, wrong-headed Germans.
Excerpts from John Wesley’s Journal, May 24, 1738
[After reading the spiritual writings of Thomas à Kempis and William Law:] The light flowed in so mightily upon my soul that everything appeared in a new view. I cried to God for help and resolved not to prolong the time of obeying him, as I had never done before. And by my continued endeavor to keep his whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power, I was persuaded that I should be accepted of him and that I was even then in a state of salvation. In 1730 I began visiting the prisons, assisting the poor and sick in town, and doing what other good I could by my presence or my little fortune to the bodies and souls of all men. …Yet when, after continuing some years in this course, I apprehended myself to be near death, I could not find that all this gave me any comfort or any assurance of acceptance with God.
[After turning to a mystic who emphasized inner transformation through prayer and contemplation:] Now these were, in truth, as much my own works as visiting the sick or clothing the naked: and the “union with God” thus pursued was as really my own righteousness as any I had before pursued under another name.
[After quoting Paul in Romans 7:] In this state I was indeed fighting continually, but not conquering. …I fell and rose again. …During this whole struggle between nature and grace which had now continued above ten years, I had many remarkable returns to prayer, especially when I was in trouble. I had many sensible comforts, which are indeed no other than short anticipations of the life of faith. But I was still under the law, not under grace (the state most who are called Christians are content to live and die in), for I was only striving with, not freed from, sin. Neither had I the witness of the Spirit with my spirit, and indeed could not, for I sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.
In my return to England, January 1738 [journal entry above], being in imminent danger of death and very uneasy on that account, I was strongly convinced that the cause of that uneasiness was unbelief and that the gaining a true, living faith was the one thing needful for me. But still I fixed not this faith on its right object: I meant only faith in God, not faith in or through Christ. Again, I knew not that I was wholly void of this faith but only thought I had not enough of it. So that when Peter Bohler, whom God prepared for me as soon as I came to London, affirmed of true faith in Christ (which is but one) that it had those two fruits inseparably attending it, “dominion over sin, and constant peace from a sense of forgiveness,” I was quite amazed and looked upon it as a new Gospel. If this was so, it was clear I had not faith. But I was not willing to be convinced of this.
In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
November 19, 2008
I just read a highly interesting article by José Granados, “Through Mary’s Memory to Jesus’ Mystery” (Communio 33:1, Spring 2006). Granados basically argues that the post-Resurrection apostolic memory of Christ must necessarily include that of Mary, the only witness to Christ’s divine origin in a virginal conception, a “memory” of necessity immaculate if the Church is to have a true comprehension of the Son’s full deity in the Father and full humanity from his mother — building off her faithful “pondering in her heart.” Okay, that little synopsis does little justice to Granados’ arguments, so you’ll have to read it.
It was interesting to read this after reading some of Matthias Scheeben’s Mariology (volume 1 and volume 2). While Scheeben’s work contains some fine moments, he is still working with traditional proof text arguments, so, e.g., Luke 1:34 “proves” that Mary took a vow of virginity. A lot is built off of this. Similarly, in volume 2, chapter 4 (“Proof of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception from Sacred Scripture”), Genesis 3:15 requires that Mary be immaculate from her conception (otherwise, there would have been enmity between her and Satan). I don’t think too many Catholic theologians today are quite as confident to utilize scripture in this way. Certainly such texts can be used more along the lines of corroborative evidence, but more fundamental and more systematic reasons must be given — and this is the sort of work that Granados is doing well, and similar to the marian work, little that I’ve read, of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Granados’ presentation, while necessarily limited in scope, is far more plausible to a Protestant than that of Scheeben. It is rooted in history and the Church (and the Church’s gospel), as with von B’s ecclesially-centered marian arguments, and as such gives the Protestant reader a plausible path to the high mariology in the Church’s history.
November 18, 2008
November 18, 2008
First, what does the Southern Baptist Convention get? Evangelism. Baptists understand far better than other Protestant traditions that the Protestant faith is a pietistic and revivalistic faith. As much as doctrine may be inscribed in confessions, as much as church order and discipline may be practiced, as much as the sacraments may be emphasized — Protestantism is not capable of sustaining these emphases without the balance of personal conversion in a new birth (yes, I mean, “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”). Otherwise, the result is a Catholic rationalism without the Catholic Christ and Catholic conversion-to-Christ required by the Catholic dogmatic structure. Lacking the “Catholic,” Protestantism without evangelicalism becomes rationalism, of the sort abundantly exhibited by the mainline churches and taking various synergistic forms. While there’s much more to be said, I just wanted to register the point that Protestantism requires the sort of characteristics popular to evangelicalism, rightly finding their origins in both the Reformation and the revivals of Whitefield, Edwards, Wesley, and Graham.
This emphasis on evangelism is what grew the Baptist movement with an almost shocking success, especially on the fertile soil of the Southern states. I say, “fertile,” because the South was far less attached to or dependent upon established societal structures, such as the state church in England or the mainline churches of the North. This autonomy and individualism in the South is very congenial to the tenets of Baptist faith, with its most recognizable tenet being the rejection of infant baptism for undercutting the requirement of personal conversion to be a Christian. So, the Baptists grew and grew, and alongside the Baptists, various independent “Bible churches” and “nondenominational” churches grew as well, sharing the same Baptist beliefs. Today, the SBC, the largest cooperative program of Baptists, is the largest Protestant denomination in America. But, now they are not growing (for the first time in the SBC’s existence), and the leadership of the convention has been incessantly pushing for a “Great Commission Resurgence” (yes, with capital letters and all). The GCR has been a popular topic on SBC blogs and magazines, including the latest issue of SBC Life, and the popular mantra has basically been that the problem is “you,” i.e., the Baptist in the pew who is not evangelizing (or “soul-winning,” as it was called in my church growing-up).
Surely they are right. The problem is that people are not evangelizing. Or, at least, this is the surface-level main problem. And the SBC should at least be applauded for recognizing this problem (as anyone who has spent time in a mainline church can attest, many churches are utterly oblivious to the basic need to witness to Christ, with both words and deeds). But, Southern Baptists have heard of the need to evangelize all their lives. After all, they are Baptists and this is what Baptists do. Baptists may not do much in the way of art (like the Anglicans), or great systems of theology (like the Presbyterians), or profound ethical and societal philosophies (like the Catholics), but they can at least do evangelism — that is where all the money goes (the domestic and international mission boards). There have been programs and resolutions for increased evangelization long before the official decline in baptisms of late. So, now there is a new acronym (the GCR), but nothing else is new.
That’s the problem. Nothing else is new. Telling Baptists that they need to evangelize is not enough. This is not really the problem; it’s a result of the problem. The problem is that far too many Southern Baptists could not evangelize even if they wanted to. They do not have the intellectual and social resources to evangelize to our current society. This is not to go off on a postmodern rant. The solution is not capitulation to current modes of thought (a mix of rationalism and relativism). The problem is that (most) Southern Baptists are aloof to this mix of rationalism and relativism, and they have no idea how to proclaim the Gospel to those with little to no Christian presuppositions. Much is made of how evangelicals have capitulated to society (in a sort of American-style Constantinian complex), which may be true to some extent, but the greater problem is a continuing fundamentalist and sectarian influence on Southern Baptist thought. In other words, they are not secular enough. If you believe drinking alcohol and subscribing to evolution are anathema for a proper “Christian” life, then you are not going to get very far with the average “non-churched” person. Until a holism is achieved in Southern Baptist life and thought, an intractable barrier will continue to exist between the faithful in the pew and their co-workers at the office. How exactly I would suggest this holism is to be achieved would take a whole series of posts, and I certainly do not wish to devalue the importance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin and other dogmatic matters. I simply question whether Southern Baptists, and similar evangelical bodies, have thought sufficiently whether their congregants have a depth of understanding about those issues which sustain the particular intellectual vision of their fellow men outside the church.
November 14, 2008
Between the Times (a blog by profs at Southeastern Baptist) alerts us to the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society next week, where some professors will be arguing for a new doctrinal statement, encompassing more than a couple sentences on inerrancy and the Trinity — you know, something about the Gospel of our salvation would be nice. Here’s the confession as it stands (which originally only included the inerrancy statement):
“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”
Denny Burke and Ray Van Neste (at amendETS.com) want the ETS to adopt the doctrinal confession of Tyndale House, Cambridge, which follows the confession of the UCCF Christian Unions (the UK equivalent of Inter-Varsity or Campus Crusade for Christ):
a. There is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
b. God is sovereign in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgement.
c. The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.
d. Since the fall, the whole of humankind is sinful and guilty, so that everyone is subject to God’s wrath and condemnation.
e. The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, is fully God; he was born of a virgin; his humanity is real and sinless; he died on the cross, was raised bodily from death and is now reigning over heaven and earth.
f. Sinful human beings are redeemed from the guilt, penalty and power of sin only through the sacrificial death once and for all time of their representative and substitute, Jesus Christ, the only mediator between them and God.
g. Those who believe in Christ are pardoned all their sins and accepted in God’s sight only because of the righteousness of Christ credited to them; this justification is God’s act of undeserved mercy, received solely by trust in him and not by their own efforts.
h. The Holy Spirit alone makes the work of Christ effective to individual sinners, enabling them to turn to God from their sin and to trust in Jesus Christ.
i. The Holy Spirit lives in all those he has regenerated. He makes them increasingly Christlike in character and behaviour and gives them power for their witness in the world.
j. The one holy universal church is the Body of Christ, to which all true believers belong.
k. The Lord Jesus Christ will return in person, to judge everyone, to execute God’s just condemnation on those who have not repented and to receive the redeemed to eternal glory.
The statement does several things well. First and foremost, it manages to delineate evangelical fundamentals, while leaving room for particular ecclesial differences within the broad evangelical constituency. It requires no particular confession on baptism or the Lord’s Supper, which should indicate that the confession is not intended to replace the individual confessions of the churches (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.) but, rather, serve as a document of uniformity and collegiality in a common witness to Christ. Among the evangelical fundamentals include brief expressions in support of Nicaean Trinitarianism, Chalcedonian Christology, and Reformation soteriology, especially those aspects emphasized by evangelicals (e.g., “representative and substitute”). There are certainly more elegant evangelical confessions out there. The Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed) is one well-known and much beloved example, especially the first question:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Among contemporary evangelical churches, the Vineyard Statement of Faith expresses many things well, for example:
“WE BELIEVE that God’s kingdom is everlasting. From His throne, through His Son, His eternal Word, God created, upholds and governs all that exists: the heavenly places, the angelic hosts, the universe, the earth, every living thing and mankind. God created all things very good.”
Or this from the Southern Baptist Faith & Message (2000), which excludes Open Theism:
“There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
However, if the ETS wants a more succinct expression, then that of the UCCF may very well be a good one to adopt, and it would unite them in one confession with British evangelicals in universities and colleges.
November 12, 2008
November 8, 2008
Is the Protestant principle of sola scriptura illogical? Does it violate any formal rules of logic, namely committing the fallacy of circular argumentation (e.g., “The reason I believe in the authority of scripture is because scripture claims authority from God”) which, of course, entails begging the question? Dave Armstrong believes it does, and I think it’s fair to say that this is the general consensus of the Catholic apologetics world (which should be distinguished from academic Catholic scholarship). Apart from considerations of other doctrines, even soteriology, Protestant Christianity must be rejected for at least violating inscrutible laws of ratiocination in its authority principle. This post by Armstrong is a good example of this belief, where “inexorable, unarguable reasoning” requires us to reject sola scriptura.
The insurmountable problem facing the Protestant position, according to Armstrong, is the fact that scripture itself does not testify to its own exclusive authority. Combine that with scripture’s own lack of a table of contents (canon) and you have an inability for the Protestant to extra ecclesiam know what is scripture, in precise limits. And, thirdly, once the Protestant claims a certain set of texts as scripture, he still knows of his fallibility; thus, how can the fallible individual claim to know his canon of scripture is indeed scripture? The solution to these problems is the Church, according to Armstrong et al. The Church defines what is scripture, the Church tells us that this scripture is not solely authoritative for doctrine (at least not formally sufficient), and since the Church is infallible in this regard, the individual Christian can know both what is scripture and matters of faith not defined therein. The locus of the assent of faith is, then, the Church and, by extension, everything the Church binds de fide. So, for sake of clarity at the cost of redundancy, here is what this Catholic principle accomplishes:
1. Defining all that the Christian must believe as revelation from God.
2. Defining what is scripture — what texts are inspired witness to God’s revelation.
3. Defining with infallibility number 1 (and, thus, number 2).
This is, of course, a perfectly defensible and sensible position. The problem is believing that the Protestant principle is illogical and believing that the Catholic principle escapes the circularity which, supposedly, voids the Protestant position. A second problem is believing that either or both are (strictly) circular arguments. But, we cannot get to these problems without first understanding how both the Protestant and the Catholic determine what is revelation and, thus, infallible in its witness to God’s own self-revelation and a continuing part in this revealing of God to his elect until the parousia.
A real question for the Protestant is determining what is revelation from God, but this is equally a real question for the Catholic. The Catholic has determined that the Church is the vehicle of God’s revelation and, as such, requires the assent of faith. The Protestant has not determined any Church to have such authority, but he has determined that certain texts (scripture) proclaim God’s revelation and, as such, requires the assent of faith — but the Church does not therein play an inessential role. The use of the term, “determination,” should perhaps be replaced with “recognition,” since the Christian, in union with the Church, does not ascribe authority to scripture but, rather, acquieces to it, as he comes to faith by the Holy Spirit — a Spirit at movement with his fellow believers in the Church. The Protestant does not come to a collection of writings and then set about determining which are to be held as sacred. The Protestant becomes a Protestant, which is to say, becomes a Christian, in the Church, and it is with the Church that the Protestant joins in recognizing scripture. He would not even know the gospel if it were not for the Church, but the Church herself would not know the gospel if it were not for God’s election of Israel and Jesus Christ, which is also the election of the Church (the new Isreal). This covenantal revelation is recorded by the body of believers, Israel-Church, in writings which are then held as authoritative as they are the bearers of this revelation directly from God. We do not turn to Augustine, Thomas, or Barth in order to determine what God has revealed of Himself; rather, we turn (with Augustine, Thomas, and Barth) to the scriptures and confess accordingly. In the first centuries of the Church, it was her task to confess scripture, which includes confessing what should be included as scripture. The Christian joins with the Church in this confession, not with the understanding that the Church is infallible in its declarations here or elsewhere but with the understanding that this Church is the elect of God, given God himself in the Holy Spirit with a redeemed vision of His Word. Thus, the Church can err, but it is the Church which is given the commission to proclaim the gospel. The Church varied in multiple ways in what she considered scripture during the early centuries, and even in the Church of Rome of the 16th century there were disputes over the OT deuterocanon, with faithful cardinals taking the Jewish-Protestant position. But this did not put the Church of the 16th century in any more of an “illogical” position than the Church of the 4th century. The Protestant does not see the variations here and obvious indeterminancy as a threat to the holy mission of the Church, which nonetheless must include a confession of scripture. All of this, of course, leaves open the possibility that a Protestant may reject a certain writing as non-scriptural, just as the Church has collectively and variously, but not without due and weighty reference to the collective wisdom (under the Spirit’s tutelage) of the Church. It’s not to be taken lightly, to say the least; which is why a healthy pragmatism and understanding of God’s providence over all things makes the revision of the canon an unnecessary consideration for most Protestants.
Now, the question of circularity seems rather an odd charge. The Catholic believes in the divine authority of the Church, not because the Catholic Church simply “says so,” but because a comprehensive consideration of God’s revelation, in scripture and Church, reveals this charism of the Church. The Catholic can be wrong here just as much as the Protestant can in his determination of authoritative revelation. Hopefully these observations will lead to both sides moderating their claims, especially the charges of logical fallacy.
Recommended Further Reading
John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch
P. T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority
November 7, 2008
Today is Billy Graham’s 90th birthday. The BGEA has been celebrating with a campaign to get testimonies across the globe related to Graham’s ministry. His health has been deteriorating, not surprisingly, over the last few years, but at present there is nothing critical in his health condition. His beloved wife, Ruth, married for 63 years, died last year.
Here are a couple posts I have done on Rev. Graham:
For those not familiar with Billy Graham, especially his work within evangelicalism against fundamentalism and intellectual sectarianism, then you should read The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Baker Academic 2008) by Garth Rosell, Professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Rev. Ockenga helped establish Fuller Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Seminary, the National Association of Evangelicals, and (with Graham) Christianity Today.