I imagine that most people who read this blog also have Scott Clark’s blog on their blog readers, but if you haven’t seen it Clark has posted a link to a fascinating lecture by Richard Muller at TEDS. Muller’s thesis is that Edwards’ treatise on Freedom of the Will used Enlightenment philosophical determinism, instead of the Thomist-Aristotelian compatibilism of Reformed scholasticism. So, whereas the Reformed scholastic categories allowed for a non-coerced freedom of will, while entirely circumscribed by the divine will, Edwards’ categories yielded a determinism proved by rationalist logic. This thesis is building off of the work found in Reformed Thought on Freedom: The Concept of Free Choice in Early Reformed Theology, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I love Edwards, but I’ve never liked his treatise on the will; so, it’s highly interesting to re-think Edwards’ argument in the light of the prior Reformed tradition and developments in philosophy.

By the way, although Barth is not happy with either Enlightenment or Aristotelian methods, his own defense of omni-causality (and attack on Molinism) is rather congruent with Muller, van Asselt, et al.‘s defense of the Reformed scholastic allotment for free choice.

From a fan of the blog

January 27, 2011

Once in a while you get an entertaining comment like this one, from my review of Robert Letham’s book on the Westminster Assembly:

This Torrancian drivel is pathetic. Get over Torrance and his second-rate, second-hand neo-neo-orthodoxy. Union with Christ is a modern Centraldogma used to judge the WA according to the standards of a small number of vaguely Barthian Scots who can’t distinguish history from theology. If you want to take on Muller, man up, read some Latin, and publish something besides these whiney, self-congratulating blogs. Pathetic! Moreover, scholastic in this context means academic, with all the positive, negative, and neutral connotations of today’s term. Get a life, neo-Amyraldians.

Bobby, I know you loved that one!

The evangelical Bonhoeffer?

January 18, 2011

I have not read all of Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but I did compare a few sections with Bethge’s standard biography. Without doubt, Bethge has a stronger grasp of both the socio-political currents and the theological currents. I watched an hour-long speech by Metaxas on Bonhoeffer and was not impressed. I loved his biography of Wilberforce, and he is a gifted writer. But you can’t understand as complex a topic as Bonhoeffer with a few years of study. You need to be schooled in both the European political scene and the developments in German philosophy and theology, including the fact that “liberal” or “orthodox” are scarcely adequate categories for understanding Bonhoeffer (and a large number of theologians at the time, like Brunner and Barth or even Bultmann and Tillich). Thus, I greatly appreciate (conservative Reformed blogger) Tim Challies’ recent post gathering some of the critical reactions to Metaxas’ biography.

Atlantic City

January 15, 2011

Here’s a nice cover of my favorite Springsteen song. Of course, nothing beats the original.

“Atlantic City,” performed by Kyle Morton of Typhoon and Danielle Sullivan of Wild Ones.

My last post on Dr. Mohler’s article on evolution needs further clarification. Thanks for the feedback on that post. Mohler’s framework should be roundly rejected, and here’s why:

Dr. Mohler wants to frame the issue as a matter of naturalistic presuppositions in a systematic worldview: “The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions.” This is one of the most careless — and surely one of the most harmful — statements I’ve ever read on this issue. When geneticists discovered the cell degeneration in cancer victims, did they do this on “naturalistic assumptions”? Of course. When physicists discovered the speed of light and applied it in astronomy to gauge the distance of galaxies, did they do this on naturalistic assumptions? Of course. So, when these same geneticists measure the variations in the genetic code and determine enough variables that point toward hominid origins of millions of years past, are they working on naturalistic assumptions? Of course. When the astronomers measure the time it takes for light to reach us from distant stars (billions of years), are they using naturalistic assumptions? Of course. When geologists measure the substrata of the earth and create models (billions of years) to account for the accumulation, are they using naturalistic assumptions? YES!

I trust that you see where I’m going with this. Mohler discredits evolution because evolutionary conclusions arise from naturalistic assumptions, but Mohler would have to discredit all of natural science. The work of the scientist always follows upon naturalistic assumptions: that’s the whole point of what they’re doing — discerning properties and effects in nature. This has absolutely nothing to do with a belief in the reality of supernatural occurrences or divine governance: some scientists believe, some don’t. Whether they believe or not has nothing to do with their calculations as geneticists, astronomers, and geologists. Every example I provided in the previous paragraph stands regardless of whether you believe in supernatural agency.

Mohler’s epistemology of science is the quintessence of what we call “fundamentalist,” “sectarian,” or “anti-intellectual.” It is deeply harmful to the church. It creates suspicious and closed minds in the pews, and it forces any congregant, who wishes to pursue the great calling of being a scientist, to reject his or her faith. More importantly, the lordship of Christ in our lives does not require an Ancient Near-Eastern cosmology, nor does a modern cosmology harm our witness to his mighty works in Israel and the Church.

Yes, evolution, again.

January 11, 2011

I keep on promising myself that I’ll just let this topic go, but Al Mohler keeps on stupefying me. There is so much wrong with this paragraph from his latest article attacking Biologos:

As I have stated repeatedly, I accept without hesitation the fact that the world indeed looks old. Armed with naturalistic assumptions, I would almost assuredly come to the same conclusions as BioLogos and the evolutionary establishment, or I would at least find evolutionary arguments credible. But the most basic issue is, and has always been, that of worldview and basic presuppositions. The entire intellectual enterprise of evolution is based on naturalistic assumptions, and I do not share those presuppositions. Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions. There is absolutely no reason that a Christian theologian should accept the uniformitarian assumptions of evolution. In fact, given a plain reading of Scripture, there is every reason that Christians should reject a uniformitarian presupposition. The Bible itself offers a very different understanding of natural phenomena, with explanations that should be compelling to believers. In sum, there is every reason for Christians to view the appearance of the cosmos as graphic evidence of the ravages of sin and the catastrophic nature of God’s judgment upon sin.

Oh my! He really thinks the issue is as neat and tidy as choosing “supernaturalism” or “naturalism.” In case you missed it, here’s the thesis statement: “Indeed, the entire enterprise of Christianity is based on supernaturalistic, rather than merely naturalistic, assumptions.”

No, Christianity is not “based upon” the flow or suspension of physical properties and laws. Christianity is based upon the love of God in Jesus Christ. This love was revealed in covenants and promise-keeping which involved a new creation. I don’t deny that God’s self-revelation from Abraham to Pentecost, before and after, involves a series of supernatural occurrences. But, this hardly requires some “supernatural” criteria for understanding biblical cosmology as normative for revelation and, thereby, for dogmatics. That’s an assumption which Mohler never proves and can’t prove. It’s an all-or-nothing “worldview” game for Mohler, requiring massive intellectual blinders.

Also, what the heck does the last sentence mean? “In sum, there is every reason for Christians to view the appearance of the cosmos as graphic evidence of the ravages of sin and the catastrophic nature of God’s judgment upon sin.” That’s how Mohler accounts for the incontrovertible evidence for an old earth? Really? How on earth does the “ravages of sin” have anything to do with the light-year span of distant galaxies or the decay of radioactive uranium?

You gotta love the opening sentences in this history of Presbyterians in North Carolina, written in 1886. As a proud North Carolinian, I always knew that we were awesome.

North Carolina was settled by men “of gentle tempers, of serene minds, enemies to violence and bloodshed.” These noble pioneers were the freest of the free, some of them doubtless escaping severe restraints and unholy brutalities; and in their new homes of balmy airs and virgin beauty, they diffused gentle charities as richly as the flowers on their smiling savannahs, while they grew strong and sang in the manly vigor of a muscular and benevolent independence.