Every page from Tozer contains a passage worth quoting, so I’ve exhibited great restraint since this is only my second post on Tozer.

Now what are the factors that you will find present in worship? Let me give you a few of them as I go along. First there is boundless confidence. You cannot worship a Being you cannot trust. Confidence is necessary to respect, and respect is necessary to worship. …

Then there is admiration — that is, appreciation of the excellency of God. Man is better qualified to appreciate God than any other creature because he was made in His image and is the only creature who was. This admiration for God grows and grows until it fills the heart with wonder and delight. “In our astonished reverence we confess Thine uncreated loveliness,” said the hymn writer.

[A. W. Tozer, “Worship: The Normal Employment of Moral Beings,” from The Best of A. W. Tozer / Book One, pp. 218, 220.]

He goes on to describe other factors in worship (such as “fascination” and “adoration”), but I am most impressed by his grasp of the importance of confidence. I’ve been reading Paul Tillich again lately, which is always enlightening, but I’m convinced that Tillich’s conception of faith as “including doubt”* was/is a toxic seeped into the mainline churches, slowly poisoning their ability to worship. “You cannot worship a Being you cannot trust. Confidence is necessary to respect, and respect is necessary to worship.” You cannot have confidence in a God whose existence and attributes are uncertain, nor are you likely to worship, with awe and reverence, an uncertainty.

*In Tillich’s estimation, the more doubt, the greater the faith. Such doubt reveals a greater concern for faith’s object. Moreover, doubt is virtuous because it requires the casting aside of idols (finite projections) which were once considered God. For Tillich, the quality of one’s “ultimate concern” is at the center of theological reflection, instead of the perfections of God displayed in classical constructions based on divine revelation.

Charles Laughton

September 7, 2010

Here’s a break from theology.

Hulu is streaming the classic courtroom drama Witness for the Prosecution (1957), starring Charles Laughton with lots of wit and humor. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for this performance. Unfortunately for Laughton, Witness was released the same year as Bridge on the River Kwai, starring Alec Guinness, who would win both the Oscar and the Globe for best actor.  Bridge also beat Witness for best picture at both events. Laughton, though, already had an Oscar for his performance several years earlier as Henry VIII.

Two more reasons why Witness is so good: it was based on a short story by Agatha Christie and was directed by Billy Wilder.

The Great Debate

September 2, 2010

Henri de Lubac

Without doubt, the great debate of the 20th century and continuing today has been the relationship between nature and grace. Alan P. F. Sell, author of numerous interesting books, once wrote a book called, The Great Debate, a historical-theological survey of the disputes between Calvinists and Arminians. That debate continues, especially in American evangelical circles, but the great debate in recent history, occupying the attention of every leading theologian, has concerned nature and grace. For the young student of theology, it’s a daunting subject, made especially difficult since it requires an understanding of both the Protestant participants and the Catholic participants.

Their concerns overlap, but differ in regard to historical readings and appropriation of key figures in the respective traditions. So, the Protestants have been concerned with a certain reading of the Reformers over-against their successors, the Lutheran and Reformed scholastics. Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance, et al. agreed that the scholastics, as opposed to the Reformers, were working with a more heightened view of the province of philosophy and the epistemic situation of natural man. Similarly, the Catholics have been concerned with a certain reading of Thomas Aquinas over-against his successors. Etienne Gilson, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, et al. agreed that the Thomist commentators (Cajetan, et al.), and the later manual tradition influencing (and influenced by) the First Vatican Council, posited a strict delineation between the gains of philosophy and the dogmas of faith; whereas Thomas himself blurred the lines. Thus, both the Protestants and the Catholics believed that a certain rationalism had crept into the successor traditions of, respectively, Reformational and Thomist theology.

In more recent decades, these historical readings have been vigorously challenged. Paul Helm, Richard Muller, and numerous others have argued for an essential continuity between the Reformers and the scholastics; and, likewise, Romanus Cessario, Lawrence Feingold, and numerous others have argued for a greater continuity between Thomas and his Thomist successors. For various reasons, I lean toward the first group discussed above: the loosely-labeled “neo-orthodox” or “neo-reformational,” on the Protestant side, and la nouvelle théologie of the resourcement movement, on the Catholic side. Though, I’m willing to concede some of the historical points to the new crop of scholars.

That’s a very brief sketch. If you would like to read a great presentation of this debate on the Catholic side, I highly recommend Nicholas Healy’s article, “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace,” from Communio 35:4. Healy gives an overview of the controversy from de Lubac’s perspective, the recent criticisms of de Lubac, and where these criticisms fall short.

Worship, old and new

September 1, 2010

Not surprisingly — as a member of the small minority of theo-bloggers who actually appreciates a lot of contemporary praise and worship — I really liked this “rant” by Jeremy Pierce. I tried once, in a combox, to make the same arguments against Scott Clark and his psalms-only, strict version of the RPW. Despite the obvious non sequitur at the heart of the psalms-only regulation, I was not successful in winning Dr. Clark over to my side.