In the latest issue of the Evangelical Quarterly, Nigel Wright has a fascinating article on the early theology of Jürgen Moltmann. Through an appraisal of his early (untranslated) works, Wright reveals the great extent to which Moltmann was self-consciously working within the Reformed tradition, beginning as a historical theologian covering the 16th century and as a student of Otto Weber. Regardless of whether you think Moltmann was too Hegelian and perhaps too Lutheran, you should be stimulated by his interpretation of varying Reformed trajectories, as either rationalistic or empirical-historical. These sort of categories tend to be too neat and easily controverted, but helpful all the same. Here is a snippet from Wright’s article, summarizing Moltmann’s interpretation of Beza and Ramus:

A conflict emerges therefore between the influential high Calvinism of the Beza school and the more historicist Ramist school generally opposed to it. The essence of the Ramist position was to take with a new seriousness a less abstract, less syllogistic, more empirical and practically engaged philosophy of history in the humanist tradition. This was seen in some Calvinist circles as a carrying through of the Protestant reformation into the realm of philosophy, the triumph of historical revelation over deductive philosophy. Over against Beza’s a priori, deductive approach to dogma, Ramus was positing a new a posteriori position which accented salvation history. In turn this was foundational for the growth of federal theology (foedus = covenant) which was rooted in the history of the biblical covenants.

Calvin by contrast [to the Beza school] was no speculative metaphysician but biblically speaking a rational empiricist, a dialectical positivist and a psychologist, patiently tracing the acts and works of God as revealed in salvation history and seeking to hold conflicting statements dialectically in tension. Ramism, and its effects upon later Calvinist recoveries of Calvin from the distorting impact of Beza’s approach, represented a legacy that was to form the basis of subsequent Calvinistic humanism, empiricism and pietism. It also contributed an impulse that would in time issue in the Enlightenment’s concern with history. For Moltmann, Petrus Ramus supports a recovery of the doctrine of predestination from its systematisation as a series of decrees and places it within the workings of the Triune God in history in intimate association with the purposes of God achieved through the covenants of God with humanity, with Israel and in Christ.

[Nigel Wright, “Predestination and perseverance in the early theology of Jürgen Moltmann,” Evangelical Quarterly 83.4 (2011), 336-337. The article is available as a pdf on EBSCOhost, assuming you have access through a college or seminary account.]

I tend to see these two approaches (rationalistic and empirical-historical) as complementary and not necessarily opposed as Moltmann has it. Moltmann’s reading is likely skewed a bit by his disdain for double predestination. He has to see this doctrine as a rationalistic slip in Calvin’s otherwise historical and practical orientation, whereas I would see it as evidence for my own position that the categories are complementary (with Calvin being a model of this).

Steve Holmes, British Baptist minister and lecturer at St. Andrews, has an excellent blog post, parsing the insufficient categories of “complementarian” and “egalitarian.” Not all egalitarianism is founded upon androgyny, and not all complementarianism is founded upon biblicism. His own position, I would describe as “complementarian egalitarianism” — recognizing the complementarity of the distinct genders as precisely a key benefit of mixed gender ministry. Moreover, there are other in-between positions, such as those making distinctions between teaching and authority, etc.

I’m not too optimistic that one of these in-between positions will actually triumph, not in my lifetime, but maybe they will serve to lessen the tension in the evangelical community at large.

Or, more fundamentalist?

That may sound like a silly question. Surely the opposite — evangelicals becoming more liberal — is actually what’s happening. Look at Rob Bell! Isn’t he symptomatic of what’s going on in our midst?

No, I’m not convinced. Bell is an anomaly — a fringe figure, with an enthusiastic fan base but still on the fringe. Who, then, truly represents far greater swaths of the evangelical landscape? Names like Al Mohler and John Piper, bloggers like Justin Taylor and Tim Challies, conferences like Desiring God and Ligonier, ministries like Sovereign Grace and Crossway Publishers, and parachurch organizations like The Gospel Coalition, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and the CBMW. Despite this variety of networks and leaders, there is remarkable cohesion and a monolithic vision. This is where seminarians are being fed, and truly there is a lot of good (spiritual) meat to be found. I even attended last year’s Desiring God conference and largely praised it. At RTS, these ministries are where the students find sustenance, and I’m sure the same can be said for non-Reformed seminaries: TEDS, Southwestern, Gordon-Conwell are full of energetic young men with their ESV Study Bibles, a string of Crossway books on the shelf, and John Piper sermons on their laptop. Once again, there are far worse trends that could beset evangelicalism, so my criticism has to be tempered. In fact, I would say this is a mostly positive trend, as I’ve touched upon before.

Yet, I cannot help but compare this group of leaders and networks to the great leaders and networks of the past, when evangelicalism was forged anew through the likes of J. I. Packer, John Stott, Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga, Christianity Today, and so on. Plus, I’m thinking of the influential Reformed scholars of this time, such as Meredith Kline and Roger Nicole. How would these men fair today? Not too well I’m afraid.

  • Most of them accommodated evolutionary science, to some degree or another.
  • Most of them were inclusivists. This includes, most famously, Billy Graham.
  • Many of them supported women’s ordination. This includes Roger Nicole at RTS and, with some qualifications, J. I. Packer and John Stott.

I could list more examples, but these are particularly volatile issues among The Gospel Coalition crowd. The Gospel is at stake; the authority of the Bible is at stake — yet, if this is so, how did evangelicalism of yesterday not think so? The answer is, briefly, that the evangelicalism of Graham and Stott grasped the essentials of our faith better. Among our new crop of leaders, this has been lost.

Sierra Hull

November 15, 2011

Pure bliss:

“Chasin’ Skies” by Sierra Hull. She’s only twenty years old. Here’s another great video of her (singing this time): “Tell Me Tomorrow,” also from her second album, Daybreak.


Alight, I can’t put this topic to rest. It’s not my fault; Dr. Mohler really enjoys discussing this, with “urgency,” and I can’t help responding. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, hosts a panel discussion at said seminary on the historicity of Adam (which I don’t deny necessarily, so that’s not my concern). My concern, once more, is his articulation of how knowledge works. Here we go again:

…Scientists by their very nature, by the very nature of their work, are doing the best they can with the data that’s accessible to them. They’re not looking to the Scriptures for that data; they’re looking at the natural data coming from the world. But what does Scripture tell us? Scripture tells us that that world is not going to tell us the truth. I mean, Genesis 3 tells us that that world is showing all the effects of the Fall. That world is showing all the effects of the flood. That world is showing all the effects of the ravages of human sin and God’s judgment upon that sin.

[emphasis mine; 43 minute mark in the video]

He continues with the qualification that the scientists are not lying to us, because the scientists are just following “as best they can” what nature is telling them. Yet, the scientists cannot be believed. Why? Nature itself is not trustworthy; we really can’t believe the empirical data…because of the Fall.

What does this amount to? It’s an overthrow of the whole scientific process — a fundamental dissolution of the basic epistemic foundation required to do empirical research. What is that basic epistemic foundation? That the natural world is not lying to us. We can actually trust our senses. We have access to the real world. I don’t exist in a dream state. I’m not subservient to mental representations of a reality I can’t know. Oddly enough, Mohler is more extreme than Kant.

Until I find the time to actually do a substantive post, I will just continue pointing-out stuff like this:

CBD has a great deal on Living Beyond the Word: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition, ed. Paul Corby Finney (Eerdmans, 1998). It’s currently only $9.99. It’s a very nice volume, with a variety of essays and great illustrations throughout, similar to a coffee table book. For those interested in the topic of Reformed aesthetics, I really enjoyed William Dyrness’ Reformed Theology and Visual Culture. For theological aesthetics in general, you obviously must go to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Glory of the Lord.

If you are buying from CBD, you should also check-out Lesslie Newbigin’s Signs amid the Rubble at only $2.99. I’ve never read it, but it’s Newbigin — he’s only ever amazing.