A while back, I bemoaned the conversion of R. C. Sproul from evolutionist to Creationist (“The necessity of extra-theological norms”). But now I’m happy to see (ht: Chaplain Mike) that Bruce Waltke has come out saying that if evangelicals are not open to evolution, in the face of its unanimous support across the physical sciences, then we will become a cult (see video). I don’t know Dr. Waltke enough to know if this has been his long-held position or not, but it is quite refreshing to see (1) a conservative evangelical, (2) who is thoroughly Reformed, and (3) an influential Old Testament scholar make such a statement. The conservative Reformed world is where these sort of claims are the most contested — entire systems are in danger of collapse! Take away Adam, take away Jesus. That’s the view that I recently engaged on another blog. For what it’s worth, here are some bits of what I said in the comments:

…Israel, as such, did not exist at the beginning of creation (or of man), but they did eventually provide a protology which, probably not historical in large respects (the talking snake, the tree of knowledge, the rib for Eve, etc.), is authoritative for a theological anthropology that comprehends the (historical) place of Israel and her Savior.

…God does not inspire Scripture by over-riding, in this case, Paul’s assumptions about the historicity of Eden. Biblical inspiration can, and does, include the finite material, at hand, of the human authors. Yet, it is still infallible according to His purposes and intentions. Similarly, we don’t believe in a three-tier universe anymore (with heaven literally above the sky), even though several biblical authors were obviously working with this cosmology.

…We need the imputation of Christ’s works and merit because we are sinners, enslaved in sin and unable to make a perfect/eternal atonement, not because Adam’s guilt is imputed to us. Federal categories are not helpful here — this is about ontology — but federal representation is, indeed, helpful and necessary when we turn toward understanding the remedy of this ontology of sin. In other words, a federal soteriology does not require a federal protology. Sin entered the world with Adam (actually, Eve, or whoever the first humans were), and all subsequent generations have been born as sinners (and, therefore, guilty). However, this sin and guilt is fully our own since it constitutes the most fundamental part of ourselves (without which there is no “self”) — our will. It is as impossible to disown our guilt as it is impossible to disown ourselves. Thus, it is impossible to lay the blame elsewhere (Adam or whoever). Hence, federal categories are not helpful here and are actually misleading.

Here is a very fine reflection on Kant from John Baillie’s Our Knowledge of God (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939 / 1959). This dovetails nicely with my previous post (“Kant’s Protestant insight”).

Kant’s great rediscovery was that of the Primacy of the Practical Reason, as he called it. It is not in the realm of sense, he believed, that we are all really in touch with absolute objective reality, and certainly not in the realm of the supersensible objects of scientific and metaphysical speculation, but only in the realm of the practical claim that is made upon our wills by the Good. Ultimate reality meets us, not in the form of an object that invites speculation, but in the form of a demand that is made upon our obedience. We are confronted not with an absolute object of theoretical knowledge but with an absolute obligation. We reach the Unconditional only in an unconditional imperative that reaches us. There is here, as it seems to me, most precious and deeply Christian insight. But where Kant erred, and where his eighteenth-century education was too much for him, was in his analysis of this experience into mere respect for a law. The eighteenth century had its obvious limitations — limitations which could not, in fact, be better exemplified than in this proposal to make law at once the primary fact in the universe and the prime object of our respect. Something of this respect for law we can still conjure up as we stroll through the well-ordered palace and gardens of Versailles, or again as we wander at will through the equally well-ordered couplets of Alexander Pope’s poetry; yet between us and both of these experiences stands that Romantic Revival which, in spite of all its regrettable extravagances, has taught us a delight in fera natura of which we shall never again be able entirely to rid ourselves. The reduction of the spiritual life of mankind to the mere respectful acceptance of a formula was, in fact, the last absurdity of the eighteenth century. It is no mere formula with which the sons of men have ever found themselves faced as they approached life’s most solemn issues, but a Reality of an altogether more intimate and personal kind; and respect or Achtung is hardly an adequate name for all the fear and the holy dread, the love and the passionate self-surrender, with which they have responded to its presence. …Kant’s religion remained to the end a mere legalistic moralism plus a syllogism that allowed him to conceive of an eighteenth-century Legislator behind his eighteenth-century law. ‘Thus’, as — to take only one example — he himself most cogently concluded, ‘the purpose of prayer can only be to induce in us a moral disposition….To wish to converse with God is absurd: we cannot talk to one we cannot intuit; and as we cannot intuit God, but can only believe in him, we cannot converse with him.’ [Lectures on Ethics, trans. L. Infield, p. 99.]

Now it seems to me that it is precisely such a sense of converse with the Living God as Kant thus clearly saw to be excluded by his own system that lies at the root of all our spiritual life.

(pp. 157-159)

I’ve had a long-standing interest in Kant, though you wouldn’t know that judging from this blog. That’s because I’ve been trying to move beyond Kant, by way of dogmatics, for the last few years. But no philosopher, except maybe Plato or Simone Weil, impressed me more than Kant as an undergraduate. It was a real breakthrough, for me, to move beyond apologetics and proofs. It was freeing, strange as that may sound, and Kant played no small role in this new freedom. God is not a conclusion from our observations; he is always there, immediate to our moral framing of the universe, and needs no proof. He has a claim on our lives. To know God apart from this moral claim is to know, at best, a hypothesis — the probability of an object, x, at the beginning of empirical reality. This is not God; this is a theory. God is not a theory.

Kant’s philosophy can free our attention toward the God at our most profound expressions of worth — of responsibility. We know God because we know an “ought” that comes, not from within, but from without, even though it is only known within. The ultimate guarantee that there is a God outside of us can, thus, only come by faith, not by tangible proofs. God cannot be “demonstrated,” whether through sense-based proofs or through a succession of bishops. Kant, then, must turn to the subjective arbiter of truth — the will. This is his Protestant insight, namely, our inability to grasp God apart from the assent of faith, which depends upon the will.

Kant failed, however, to go one step further: the will depends upon God. Kant would not allow this, and thus we are left with a Law and a demand but no grace and no redemption. It was inevitable that Kant’s philosophy could not withstand the problem of sin and evil. Hegel did an even worse job of assimilating this problem, and, finally, Existentialism called a spade a spade.

“I Will Exalt You”

March 22, 2010

For whatever reason, this song has been a blessing for me this past week. Hillsong is hit or miss, lots of miss, but anything with Brooke Fraser is worth hearing. Also, I was thinking that, since all of the lyrics are from Scripture, would this be acceptable for the Reformed “psalms only” (regulative principle) folks, even without the music? Just a thought. 🙂

Psalm 32:7 —

You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble

and surround me with songs of deliverance.

The Church

March 20, 2010

I stumbled upon this video for Placerita Baptist Church — sort of a promotional video. Looks like a great church, with a solid understanding of what the Church is about. Watch it all (it’s only 4 minutes). It will brighten your day.

The music is “Speak, O Lord” by Keith & Kristyn Getty.

Dan Wallace has an intriguing post on “Charismata and the Authority of Personal Experience.” Apparently, there is an increasing number of scholars who are embracing the charismatic movement. My thoughts, heretofore, have been that the opposite is taking place, but let’s grant that there is some sort of increase, at ETS and other venues, of a charismatic intelligentsia. Wallace believes that these scholars have swung the pendulum from one extreme (rationalism) to the other (emotivism). The sum of his argument is that the Enlightenment injected a new emphasis on rational criteria into Evangelical Protestantism which caused a cognitive overload unable to bear the weight of personal (existential) crisis. Wallace has in mind those that come from a rigid fundamentalism, which is cast aside after some deep suffering and exchanged for a Vineyard fellowship (he explicitly names Vineyard). The result is that the (objective) authority of the Bible is exchanged for the (subjective) authority of personal experience, i.e., “an entirely different authority.”

[It should be noted that “charismatic” does not necessarily indicate speaking in tongues or extempore “prophesies,” but, rather, is used more broadly for churches that have a praise & worship service, “practical” preaching, community groups, Bible studies, etc. and an overall emphasis on personal transformation.]

Now, Wallace does, in the last paragraph, make the concession that personal experience is vital and a necessary correlate to the reasons of faith. But, the entire thrust of the article is that the sort of personal experience emphasized by Vineyard et al. are detached from the God of the Bible, thus self-generated and self-serving.  Of course, there is abundant evidence that this does indeed take place. To use everyone’s favorite example, Joel Osteen does not preach the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (nor of Jesus Christ). That much is obvious. But can we really black label the entire Vineyard movement (and, presumably, the larger nondenominational phenomenon) and those scholars that associate with charismatic churches? Such a charge needs to deal with the actual churches in their particular (and typical) form of proclamation and worship. Have these churches abandoned the authority of Scripture — do they no longer proclaim Christ and his work of atonement — in favor of an increase of spiritual euphoria? Or is the euphoria and enthusiasm amidst a context of proclamation of the Word? Can it be said that the worship and preaching are a response to the God who makes all things new? I think, perhaps too optimistically, that we can still say yes, in most cases, to those last two questions. This will require some forgiveness, on our part as critics, for spiritual immaturity among clergy and pew-sitters alike, bearing in mind our own weakness and imbalance — a good reminder for those in the Calvinist camp. (After all, the case can be easily made, as I indicate below, that the “Calvinist resurgence” is working the pendulum back the other direction.)

My Counter-Proposal

One more point I’d like to make — a brief counter-proposal.

It has often been the case in the history of the church that suffering or spiritual crises have been a medium through which God draws us to his Son. In such cases, cognitive assurance can be supported and confirmed by emotional assurance, and, given the proper context of proclamation of the Word, will actually draw the person to a greater dependence on the God of her salvation. Prior to this, the person may have put her trust in reason (proofs) or the Bible (inerrancy abstracted from the God of salvation). The cognitive assurance, as such, was not “wrong” in its belief in the God of Israel and Jesus Christ, but it was wrongly grounded. In this sense, a charismatic church can actually claim a greater objectivity insofar as it relies on God to actualize his truth, and not human constructs (proofs or inerrancy). The church is thus used of God to effect the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing his beloved ones to the Son. This is not to say that proofs or inerrancy are inadmissible — they may be, but that’s not my point — rather, I am saying that they will always fail as epistemic foundations, which is to say, as foundations for faith. “Subjectivity” is not the problem. The problem is either a subjectivity or an objectivity disconnected (a dualism, as T. F. Torrance argues) from each other and made independent authorities. The former is the potential epistemic fallacy of the charismatics; the latter is the potential epistemic fallacy of the Calvinists.

This post continues a review series of Reformed Thought on Freedom (Baker, 2010), e.d. Willem J. van Asselt et al.

See part 1 and part 2.

In the previous post (pt. 2), we left off with the authors making the distinction between the first cause (God) and the second cause (man), where both causes are contingent, not necessary, in-themselves and yet act concurrently to yield one particular result. The most significant point, to my mind, admitted by the authors was that God creates a space “for the causal activity of his creatures.” The full quote is important enough to repeat:

We should be aware that this causal terminology does not imply a manipulative, causal relationship: God as the Creator initiates, sustains, empowers and governs all that exists, while leaving room for the causal activity of his creatures. God does not only stand at the beginning, but is present to every moment of time in providing life, powers, and possibilities for action. (p. 32)

This means that as a free (contingent) act the human person retains the possibilities for choosing among different possibility operators (Md or Me) yet “is guided to choose by itself for d.” So, what is possible — what can be done — is the issue under discussion, and the Reformed answer is that both (or more) are possible while one is actual. God does not coerce or manipulate the will of man in order to effect Md, but God does work within the free space of man’s will in order to influence or empower the will to the particular end as chosen by God.

Within the possibilities intrinsic to a particular number of objects presented to a man’s will, the objects under discernment are all possible — they could or could not be chosen. An object could only be necessary if it were impossible, given the nature of the object and the willing subject, that the effect (the object chosen) could be otherwise. God as the first cause, however, makes the choice of a particular object certain — it could not be otherwise. So, how is it not the case that God’s agency makes man’s agency necessary, not contingent, since it is impossible that it could be otherwise?

Not surprisingly, the answer requires a further distinction where “something can be necessary in one respect, whereas it is simultaneously contingent in another respect” (p. 35). Is this a case of having your cake and eating it too? Perhaps, but it all goes back to the quote I gave above about the non-manipulative agency of God and how that is to be conceived. In the meantime, it is important to recognize that the Reformed believed that any object/event/choice (p) is not necessary “itself”:

…the Reformed made it clear that if God knows p, then the existence of p itself is not necessary; p is only necessary on the supposition of God’s knowing. (p. 37)

Thus, the consequence is necessary, but not the consequent; that is, the result is necessary but not according to the properties intrinsic to the objects themselves (whether the cause or the effect, which are contingent). In itself, p is still contingent (could be otherwise); as an object of God’s knowledge, p is necessary (could not be otherwise).

So it seems to me that the veracity of the Reformed position depends upon the credibility of their belief that God acts in and with the human will such that the human will acts freely among different possibilities. This requires the further distinction about the human will acting spontaneously, not coerced, which will be the subject of the next part in this review series.

[HT: Trevin Wax]

Gerald McDermott (Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Roanoke College) has a new book just released this week, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (IVP). I perused bits of it through Amazon’s “search inside,” and it looks like an excellent guide for those getting into the study of theology. It would be especially good for those, whether evangelical or liberal, who focus on, shall we say, less-than-stellar theologians. 🙂 The list is quite good: Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Schleiermacher, Newman, Barth, and von Balthasar. Each theologian gets a chapter, with some historical-biographical background and a synopsis of their contributions to theology. I’ll agree with Trevin that the absence of Irenaeus is a questionable choice, but the inclusion of Newman is surely appropriate. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Newman’s theory of doctrinal development for Catholic theologians breaking from Scholasticism, whether they be more liberal (Kung and friends) or more conservative (Ratzinger and friends). And I, for one, don’t see how (1) history and (2) Catholic dogmatic commitments can jive jibe without something similar to Newman’s sketch.

From John Oman’s beautiful book, Grace and Personality (3rd ed., Cambridge U. P., 1925):

A conscience merely morally determined only lays down rules, and is too easily satisfied if they are not obviously broken. But the supreme test is not to be conscientious up to the measure of rules of universal application. It is to be continually in search of a more penetrating discernment. As we for ever hunger and thirst after righteousness, and not as we obey a code of accepted moral imperatives, are we truly conscientious.

A quiet sense of possession, with an ever increasing endeavour after an ever enlarging purpose, which gives freedom from every standard of anxious merit, every right moral judgment of life demands, but no rules of a merely moral judgment of life can supply. A measured moral imperative must be changed into the measurelessness of an infinite religious aspiration and assurance, into a hungering and thirsting after righteousness which has its only measure in the infinite love of God, before we can have both ceaseless aspiration and lasting peace.

The practical effect is mercifulness in our judgment of others, whereby our eyes are purified for seeing God.

(pp. 102-104)

This post continues a review series of Reformed Thought on Freedom (Baker, 2010), e.d. Willem J. van Asselt et al.

See part 1 (series introduction).

The first several pages of the first chapter, “Introduction,” which is co-written by the editors, deal with the historical background of both the issue at hand (the problem of free choice) and the recent scholarly turn toward a primary source reading of this issue in the Reformed church of the 16th-18th centuries. So, for example, the work of Dr. Antonie Vos is emphasized for bringing-out the medieval sources of Reformed Scholastic theology, especially John Duns Scotus on contingency. This section is brief but interesting, and it situates the reader to understand the motive behind the present book, which is to further the scholarly work of close attention to semantics and sources. Thus, the authors want the Reformed to be understood on their own terms, and not through the categories provided by their opponents (Arminian, Cartesian, etc.). And, now to the meat of the discussion.

The authors state that the Reformed were utilizing a particular form of logic called “modal logic.” As they state,

A modal term is an expression (like “necessarily” or “possibly”) that is used to qualify the truth of a judgment. Modal logic is, strictly speaking, the study of the deductive behavior of the expressions “it is necessary that” and “it is possible that.” However, the term “modal logic” may be used more broadly for a family of related systems. These include logic for explaining the concept of faith, tense and other temporal expressions, as well as deontic (moral) expressions and the logic of willing. (p. 28)

Or, to borrow from John Henry Newman, they are concerned with detailing a “grammar of assent,” with a focus on the objective (“ontological”) criteria for coming to faith and what must be said concerning the effective agency of both God and man. The importance of recognizing the precise semantic scope of the Reformed formulas is the most important part of the subsequent chapters, which each deal with a particular theologian. And, so, we will frequently visit the technical language involved. The Introduction does an outstanding job of providing an overview of this language so that the reader can then enter the subsequent chapters with a much-needed “heads up.”

The first ontological distinction is between cause and effect and their relation by either “necessity” or “contingency.” In the former case, the effect is determined by a “natural act”; in the latter case, the effect is determined by a “free act.” As the authors state,

A natural cause is determined by its nature to the act; a free cause determines itself by freedom to one of possible acts. Hence, determination refers to the state of a cause: being undetermined means that the (free) cause has not yet directed itself to a certain effect. A determined cause will produce its determined effect, but still the effect can be either contingent (determined by a free act) or necessary (determined by a natural act). (p. 31)

Thus, a natural act has only one “possibility operator” (Nd):

natural cause: Nd –> necessary effect (d)

While the free act is not limited to a single possibility operator (for example, Md and Me):

free cause: Md or Me –> contingent effect (d/e)

The importance of this distinction is seen when the claim is made that both God and man act concurrently as free acts. As the authors state,

In terms of the relation between God and man, both were held to be free causes. God as the First Cause (prima causa) and creatures as secondary causes (secundae causae) concur together in their acting to produce a contingent effect. We should be aware that this causal terminology does not imply a manipulative, causal relationship: God as the Creator initiates, sustains, empowers and governs all that exists, while leaving room for the causal activity of his creatures. God does not only stand at the beginning, but is present to every moment of time in providing life, powers, and possibilities for action. It should further be noticed that in this relationship God is independent of his creatures, while these are dependent on God. The secondary causes are contingent themselves, so they are dependent in their existence on him. (p. 32)

Or, to put this in a modal formula:

[(God) First cause: Md or Me / (man) second cause: Md or Me] –> [contingent effect (d/e)]

Obviously, we have come to the tricky part, where the most objections arise. Can the secondary cause really be claimed to have a freedom of choice where d and e are possibility operators? “Does the second cause keep a real freedom between different acts (both d and e), or does the determinate state of the effect leave only the option of d open?” (p. 32). The authors answer: “the divine choice for d is realized by the free choice of the second cause for it. So, the second cause keeps both possibilities, but is guided to choose by itself for d.” (p. 33)

Case closed! I’m glad that’s settled. 🙂 Just kidding…we’ll continue in part 3 with a closer look at this important claim to be able to freely choose (“by itself”) yet determinate to one particular end.