Aseity and Fullness of Life

September 30, 2009

I just finished reading John Webster’s essay, “Rector et iudex super omnia genera doctrinarum?: The Place of the Doctrine of Justification,” in the recently published volume, What Is Justification About?: Reformed Contributions to an Ecumenical Theme (Eerdmans, 2009). You can read the essay for free by clicking here. It was an exciting read…well, if you’re a theology nerd.

For those who have read Holiness or listened to his Kantzer Lectures at TEDS, a lot of the material will be familiar territory but still well worth reading for another fine-tuning of how the being and works of God are necessarily related. Of particular interest, Webster sketches how a doctrine of justification will look if presented in a movement from God’s inner “fullness of life” to his salvation of sinners by “interposing” himself between the creature and his falleness, restoring the “righteous fellowship” for which God created man. The final pages of the essay — a six step outline of this movement — has much fruit for thought (p. 50 ff).

Reason in Faith

September 25, 2009

This could have been taken straight out of Newman’s Grammar of Assent, with its proper nuance of reason’s role in the apprehension of the truths of our faith. These distinctions not only guard against fideism broadly (unhelpfully) construed, but against the “radical” characterization of faith as wholly alien, subversive, yada yada. The italics are mine.

“‘Tis rational to suppose, that it should be beyond a man’s power to obtain this knowledge, and light, by the mere strength of natural reason; for ’tis not a thing that belongs to reason, to see the beauty and loveliness of spiritual things; it is not a speculative thing, but depends on the sense of the heart. Reason indeed is necessary in order to it, as ’tis by reason only that we are become the subjects of the means of it; which means I have already shown to be necessary in order to it, though they have no proper causal influence in the affair. ‘Tis by reason, that we become possessed of a notion of those doctrines that are the subject matter of this divine light; and reason may many ways be indirectly, and remotely an advantage to it. And reason has also to do in the acts that are immediately, and remotely an advantage to it. And reason has also to do in the acts that are immediately consequent on this discovery: a seeing the truth of religion from hence, is by reason; though it be but by one step, and the inference be immediate. So reason has to do in that accepting of, and trusting in Christ, that is consequent on it. But if we take reason strictly, not for the faculty of mental perception in general, but for ratiocination, or a power of inferring by arguments; I say if we take reason thus, the perceiving of spiritual beauty and excellency no more belongs to reason, that it belongs to the sense of feeling to perceive colors, or to the power of seeing to perceive the sweetness of food. It is out of reason’s province to perceive the beauty or loveliness of anything: such a perception don’t belong to that faculty. Reason’s work is to perceive truth, and not excellency. ‘Tis not ratiocination that gives men the perception of the beauty and amiableness of a countenance; though it may be many ways indirectly an advantage to it; yet ’tis no more reason that immediately perceives it, that it is reason that perceives the sweetness of honey: it depends on the sense of the heart. Reason may determine that a countenance is beautiful to others, it may determine that honey is sweet to others; but it will never give me a perception of its sweetness.”

Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” in A Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale, 1995), pp. 121-122.

Oh, Happiness

September 23, 2009

Below is track #15 from Church Music. It’s one of their quirkier songs, which they do on every album.

“Oh, Happiness” by David Crowder Band

By the way, the album is fantastic! But, I’ve only listened through it once, so I’ll still wait to review it.

Church Music

September 22, 2009

DCB_Church Music

The unarguably greatest worship band, David Crowder Band, is releasing their fifth major studio album, Church Music, today! I expect nothing less than Bach-like genius. I’ll post a review of the album later in the week, after I’ve given it several listens.

Also, Needtobreathe released their third album, The Outsiders, a few weeks ago. Time will tell whether I am as obsessed with this album as with their last album, but so far I love it. In particular, “Girl Named Tennessee” and “Something Beautiful” are some of their best stuff. Click here to see one of their music videos that I posted last year.

Needtobreathe_Outsiders

bavinck_v4

Over the last few months, I’ve been reading through several defenses of infant baptism from Reformed systematicians. Prior to this, I have already read the best of the credobaptist defenses: Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament, Paul Jewett’s Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace, and Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.4. I have also read some of the most relevant sections from Everett Ferguson’s recent release, Baptism in the Early Church. These cannot all be labeled “Baptist,” strictly speaking, since Barth held that infant baptism was not wholly defective and should be recognized as a valid baptism. Thus, Barth did not receive baptism as an adult, even after his strong advocacy for the elimination of infant baptism in the church. And, Everett Ferguson is a member of the Churches of Christ, a restorationist denomination, which rejects infant baptism but accepts some form of baptism’s sacramental efficacy and requirement for salvation (a.k.a. baptismal regeneration or “regeneration in baptism” as Ferguson prefers). Barth’s rejection of “rebaptism” and Ferguson’s sacramentalism would put them outside of the dominant Baptist tradition. So, “credobaptist” is a more appropriate term.

So, I am coming at the Reformed paedobaptist defenses with all of these credobaptist arguments in mind, and it has allowed me to better discern the good from the bad. The doctrine of baptism is a far more difficult topic than many realize. It requires a comprehensive knowledge of the major dogmatic systems and the ability to keep all of the contingencies at the fore of the mind. A good systematician will move with ease among the contingencies and make all of the consequences apparent. Of course, formal precision is not the only necessary feature; the material content — a knowledge of both testaments — is fundamental.

Herman Bavinck’s treatment of baptism, including a fairly extensive defense of infant baptism, is the epitome of what I was looking for in my study of Reformed paedobaptist doctrine. It combines a profound dogmatic-historical knowledge — the major systems (Thomist, Lutheran, Reformed, and credobaptist) and the history (biblical and patristic) — with the necessary systematic skills. Bavinck’s fourth volume of his Reformed Dogmatics contains the best presentation of paedobaptism that I’ve studied. I also benefited from Calvin’s presentation in his Institutes and Shedd’s arguments in his Dogmatic Theology. The least helpful defenses of paedobaptism were Charles Hodge’s and Robert Reymond’s, in their respective systematic theologies. I actually read these first, which did not endear me at all to the Reformed capacity to offer a persuasive defense of infant baptism. With Hodge and Reymond, there is an overestimation of the historical-exegetical grounds, which are easily dismantled by Beasley-Murray and Ferguson. With Bavinck and Shedd, however, there is a greater infusion of dogmatic material, exegetically-derived of course, but without the naive historical claims of Hodge and Reymond or a facile collapsing of the NT into the OT.

I know I haven’t presented any of the arguments, one way or the other, which is not my intention in this post and which would require a book in-itself to do justice. I just wanted to point others to some of the material that I have most benefited from in my recent studies. But, I will make the following observation/conclusion:

As compelling as the credobaptist arguments are, it is extremely difficult to regard infant baptism as wholly defective and invalid. There will invariably be an asymmetry between infant and believer’s baptism, but the former still retains, if “in reserve,” what the latter manifests. Thus, a believer should not regard his infant baptism as meaningless and should regard the need for “rebaptism” as unnecessary. Otherwise, we may be impugning the agency of a God who governed the church for several centuries with prescriptive paedobaptism.

J. H. Newman

Adrienne von Speyr relates the following account of Newman’s prayer-life and personality in one of her numerous visions, dictated to her friend and co-worker, Hans Urs von Balthasar. These accounts are collected in The Book of All Saints (Ignatius, 2008), which includes a wide variety of persons, mostly canonized saints but also a few surprises (e.g., Joseph Haydn, Kierkegaard). Her description of Newman is, thankfully, far more kind and sympathetic than her less-than-flattering estimation of Thomas Aquinas. I thought this was a wonderful account of Newman.

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I see him in prayer. He prays so carefully, with a fastidious, good love, a love that has no patience for anything that is not entirely pure and entirely righteous [rechtschaffen]. He brings everything that is troubling and occupying him into prayer with him. At first, it is all unsorted; he sorts it out in prayer. And in prayer, he receives a certainty concerning whether what he brought is really worthwhile, whether God can use it, whether God can bless it. If God blesses it, he contemplates it once again in prayer and looks to see whether God’s light is now reflecting from it. His thoughts, his concerns, his recommendations are like diamonds that were not initially polished, stones he was not entirely sure were in fact really diamonds. Then the expert, that is, God, inspects them and gives them a true polish, and in the end Newman also sees that they were in fact precious stones. But one would have to say that almost everything he brings to God is really a diamond and that he already made the selection in a holy way.

(And his work?) He loves it. He loves it, because it is God’s work. …It is often the case that he writes, as it were, with his blood and attains to insights with the last of his strength. There is much that is demanded of him personally. In fact, he stands in relation to his work the way a founder of an Order stands in relation to that which he founds.

(And people?) He loves them. It is a bit odd. He sees them as God’s creatures, but in a way that somewhat resembles an entomologist who loves his insects. He often has difficulty making the first human contact. He receives it first through the translation of God.

Adrienne von Speyr, The Book of All Saints (Ignatius, 2008), pp. 261-262.

Halden has recently questioned, rightly so, the typical “voluntarism” charges against credobaptists (here and here) — voluntarism understood, of course, as a very bad thing. It just so happens that I was recently reading Barth’s critique of infant baptism in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. Here’s an excerpt:

“The real reason for the persistent adherence to infant baptism is quite simply the fact that without it the church would suddenly be in a remarkably embarrassing position. Every individual would then have to decide whether he wanted to be a Christian. But how many Christians would there be in that case? The whole concept of a national church (or national religion) would be shaken. That must not happen; and so one proposes argument upon argument for infant baptism and yet cannot speak convincingly because fundamentally he has a bad conscience. The introduction of adult baptism in itself would of course not reform the church which needs reforming. The adherence to infant baptism is only one — a very important one — of many symptoms that the church is not alive and bold, that it is afraid to walk on the water like Peter to meet the Lord, that it therefore does not seek a sure foundation but only deceptive props.”

“Die christliche Lehre nach dem Heidelberger Katechismus,” Lectures given at the University of Bonn, Summer Semester, 1947.

The Heidelberg Catechism for Today, trans. Shirley Guthrie (John Knox Press, 1964), p. 104.

Greetings

September 9, 2009

I’m been sick off-and-on for the last two weeks because God hates me chastises the ones he loves with summer allergies. So, while I’m enduring my ride up the spiritual ladder, blogging will be on hold.

For my recent birthday I got this awesome set of Handel’s Concerti Grossi and Water Music. Highly recommended.

Of course, we also need to rock n roll:

Warning:  screaming commences at 1:03