Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thesis One. 'The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship.'


*The following represents Thesis #1 from our book: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. There are a total of 15 Theses in this particular chapter (which happens to be chapter 15 in the book); and they have been co-written by Dr. Myk Habets and myself — some of them represent more of one us (as author) than the other, and some reflect more of a good blend between the both of us. To read more about how I am going to unfold some of these here at the blog, click here. The formatting in the post has all the markings required by the publisher for their type-setting process; I am too lazy to remove those for the blog. We look forward to your feedback!

[A]Thesis One
The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship.
Athanasius was fond of saying that it is better to “signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate.”[1] And he was right. The triune God is known exclusively through the Son of the Father by the Spirit. In Jesus Christ is revealed very God of very God. God is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing Word and saving Act toward us. Through Christ and the Spirit we are given access to God as he is in himself. This access to God is, in part, in the form of knowledge of God as he is in himself, in his internal relations as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The epistemological strength of the homoousios works here with full force for it represents the consubstantial relation between Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and God himself. As the image of God, identical with his reality, knowledge of the Incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit has a unique and controlling finality in knowledge of God.

[ext]To know this God, who both condescends to share all that we are and makes us share in all that he is in Jesus Christ, is to be lifted up in his Spirit to share in God’s own self-knowing and self-loving until we are enabled to apprehend him in some real measure in himself beyond anything that we are capable of in ourselves. It is to be lifted out of ourselves, as it were, into God, until we know him and love him and enjoy him in his eternal Reality as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in such a way that the Trinity enters into the fundamental fabric of our thinking of him and constitutes the basic grammar of our worship and knowledge of the One God.[/ext][2]

In order to further explicate such a Trinitarian theology the recent proposal of Thomas Weinandy proves useful. Without denying a biblical sense of the Father’s monarchy, Weinandy argues that a proper understanding of the Trinity can only be attained if all three Persons, logically and ontologically, spring forth in one simultaneous, nonsequential, eternal act in which each person of the Trinity subsistently defines, and equally is subsistently defined, by the other persons.[3] This drives Weinandy to present a thesis that, “may seem subtle, yet [is] one that I believe radically transforms and revolutionizes the Christian understanding of the Trinity.”[4] His thesis is simply that:  

[EXT]The Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit. The Son is begotten by the Father in the Spirit and thus the Spirit simultaneously proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten. The Son, being begotten in the Spirit, simultaneously loves the Father in the same Spirit by which he himself is begotten (is Loved).[5][/EXT]

This trinitarian construct highlights the Father’s monarchy without any subordinationist tendencies. To do this a mutual coinherence or perichoresis of action within the Trinity must take place whereby the Persons are who they are because of the action of all three. While the Son and the Holy Spirit come forth from the Father this is not some prior ontological action but rather in the coming forth all three persons are who they are, and they are so precisely in reciprocally interacting upon one another, simultaneously fashioning one another as themselves.[6]

It is this God whom we seek to speak of. “In and through the presence of the Holy Spirit supervening upon the revealing and saving events of his incarnate Son, God really does impart himself to us and actually makes himself known to us within the conditions of our creaturely forms of thought and speech, but without any compromise of his sheer Godness or any diminution of the Mystery of his transcendent Being.”[7]

The purpose of life is a transforming relationship with God in which the Spirit calls and enables us to become children of God in and alongside the Son and to join in his self-surrender to the Father. As Clark Pinnock writes, “God has not left us outside the circle of his life. We are invited inside the Trinity as joint heirs together with Christ. By the Spirit we cry ‘Abba’ together with the Son, as we are drawn into the divine filial relationship and begin to participate in God’s life.”[8] McLeod Campbell beautifully describes adoption as “orphans who have found their lost father.”[9] The logic is that believers participate in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, and so participate in that filial relationship in the Son (John 8:19). It is the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son which is communicated to humanity through the Spirit of the Son (Rom 8:29). It is in this sense that we may define salvation as “sonship.”

Worship then must be defined as epiclesis and paraclesis, the invocation of the Paraclete Spirit and his coming to help us. In our worship the Holy Spirit comes from God, uniting us to the response, obedience, faith/fullness, and worship of Jesus Christ (also our Paraclete), and returns to God, raising us up in Jesus to participate in the worship of heaven and in the eternal communion of the Holy Trinity.[10] As James Torrance explains:

[ext]When we see that the worship and mission of the church are the gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father to the world, that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Heb 3:1), then the doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the ministry of the Spirit, Church and sacraments, our understanding of the kingdom, our anthropology and eschatology, all unfold from that center.[11] [/ext]  

Such is the trinitarian vision we have for theology generally, and for the contents of this little book specifically.

To echo the sentiments of many before us, in thinking and speaking of the Trinity we cannot but clap our hands upon our mouth and fall down before the Lord God in worship. The Holy Trinity is infinitely more to be adored than expressed, so that appropriate and faithful thought and speech about it cannot but break off in sheer wonder, reverence, thanksgiving, and praise.[12]

[1] Athanasius, Contra Arianos, 1.34, cited in Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 49, and often elsewhere.
[2] Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology, 155.
[3] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 15. Note the affinities with Calvin’s formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. See Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” 187–284; Torrance, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” 41–76; and Letham, The Holy Trinity, 252–268.
[4] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 17.
[5] Ibid.
[6] See further in Habets, “Filioque? Nein. A Proposal for Coherent Coinherence,” 161–202.
[7] Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God,” 151.
[8] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 153. Pinnock’s entire chapter on “Spirit and Union” (149-183) shows an obvious but unreferenced reliance upon T.F. Torrance’s theology.
[9] Cited in Kettler, “The Vicarious Repentance of Christ,” 540.
[10] Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, 250.
[11] J.B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 9.
[12] Charles Partee and Gannon Murphy develop a number of these themes in their respective essays earlier in this volume.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Is My Blog Writing too "Deep" for Blogging?

 Addendum: I appreciate any and all feedback, especially when it is constructive (as all of the comments, thus far have been). But, let me be clear about something; while I write a post like this, it is more out of curiosity (and this is not in reference to any of the comments thus far, it is just something I want to be clear about). I have learned in the past not to open myself up too much (which this post borders on) when it comes to getting people's opinions about my style of blogging and/or writing; as Matt below notes, blogging is what it is, and ultimately it is quite a "selfish" thing sometimes. I don't blog for notoriety, and I actually don't blog to do "formal" writing; I blog and write as a blogger in a bloggy way. If anyone wants to read how I write in a non-bloggy way, then get our book; or I can send you my Master's thesis or something. But I am not really interested in getting critiqued about my grammar, punctuation, or particular conventions I use when doing "bloggy" writing; that is what it is, and blogging, for me, is usually done in a hurry (w/o having to worry about such constraints ... even though I try to be as accurate as possible). I just want to be clear, thanks. And, peace.

Are my posts too "weighty" for the blog venue? I mean, do they get too nuanced, and "deep" (as far as the material I am trying to cover) for the blog medium? I am asking for at least a couple of reasons.

  1. My blog is currently dying on the vine. My stats (hits at the blog) have exponentially been shriveling over the last couple of months.
  2. I have been looking around at other blogs in the theo-blogosphere---and except for some rarer exceptions---most of the posting I see going on is more pop-cultured, and/or, at least, less academically oriented than what my posts seem to be driven by (which is usually---and selfishly at points) whatever I happen to be reading on at the moment (since I blog to learn).
Anyway, your feedback would be helpful.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thomas Torrance's view of scripture as 'Human'

Have you eve wondered what Thomas Forsyth Torrance's doctrine and ontology of scripture is, and even more; how his view implicates his hermeneutical approach (maybe you were unable to get to sleep last night because this wonderment so preoccupied you)? Well, you're in luck; Christian Kettler, who wrote his PhD dissertation on Torrance's doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ (which is what I will be writing my PhD dissertation on as well ... if I ever actually am able to start that thing) provides development and answer to your longing wonderment on this very issue. Here is how Kettler develops this for us:

The apostolic authority of the New Testament has its basis for Torrance in its correlation with the saving humanity of Christ. The apostolate is the place where revelation, based on the Incarnation, is "earthed." One wonders whether Torrance is stating it too strongly when he says that the apostolate was "the human expression of his [God's] Word." Should not such strong language be reserved for the Incarnation alone? However, he does stress that Scripture, the writings based on the apostles' teaching, like the apostolate, stands with sinners under the judgment and redemption of the cross. Torrance is quick to point out that this "creaturely correspondence of the Holy Scriptures to God's Word" is "a human expression based on the Humanity of Jesus Christ." Thus, since it is related to the historical humanity of Christ, Scripture must have the character of "learned obedience to the Father." "Just as we speak of his [Jesus'] life in terms of obedience, so we must speak of the Bible as obedience to the Divine self-revelation." Therefore, the doctrine of verbal inspiration should not mean the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible in a literary or historical sense. "It means that the errant and fallible human word is, as such, used by God and has to be received and heard in spite of its human expression then must point beyond itself "to what it is not in itself, but to what God marvelously makes it to be in the adoption of his grace." If revelation [and, therefore, inspiration of Scripture] takes place in the midst of fallen humanity, we must allow the "fallenness" of the humanity of the Scriptures to have its proper place if it is to be regarded as truly human. It is on the basis of such a consideration of atonement as taking place within the realm of fallen humanity that has caused Torrance to call for a serious interrelationship between revelation, Scripture, and "a doctrine of atoning mediation between the Word of God and the word of man." Our doctrine of the human written Word must be seen in correlation, but not to be identified with, the human living Word.

Torrance finds crucial hermeneutical implications in such a view of Scripture. The real text of which we are to be concerned with, according to Torrance, is not the letter of Scripture but the humanity of Christ "as the actual objectification of the Word of God for us within our human mode of existence in space and time. It is to this which the Scriptures refer." The "this-worldly reality," the human aspect of hermeneutics is inherent in the genre of Scripture itself. This is best seen in the parables of Jesus. As they relate their humanness to the humanity of Christ, they point to Christ as the real text of Scripture. "He is God's exclusive language to us and He alone must be our language to God." It is a mark of the New Testament authors, according to Torrance, that

Far from obtruding themselves and their own spirituality upon us, the New Testament writers serve the gospel by directing us back to the representative and vicarious humanity of Christ as the creative ground and normative pattern for actualization of every response to God on our part. It is in fact the humanity of Jesus Christ himself which is the real text underlying the New Testament Scriptures; it is his humanity to which they refer and in terms of which they are to be interpreted. [Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation, (Euguene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010), 135-36]

By the way, I have taken this quote from the above bibliographic information; and this is a review copy sent to me by James Stock (of Wipf and Stock), of which I am rereading (currently)---since I failed to do the review after I finished reading it the last time, and thus need to refresh myself in order to do a proper review---anyway, you can purchase this book (and you should) by clicking here.

So, there is a lot in this quote. And I would imagine for the typical Evangelical or Reformed person that what is communicated about Torrance's approach on all of this won't go down too smoothly. But, understand that Torrance's view is not "amening" the higher critical method which seeks to undercut the "authority" and centrality of Scripture as God's Word to humanity. Just the opposite! Torrance (and Barth) are seeking to articulate a doctrine and ontology for scripture that sees it in its rightful dogmatic place relative to Jesus Christ's Self-revelation as God's first and last Word for us. We, in America, especially, are obsessed (still!) with scripture meeting some kind of external and public mode of criteria for verifying whether or not it can be trusted or not (as God's Word). But rest assured, scripture is God's Word not because we say so, but because God has said so through his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. God's Word, as it finds its groove and grip in its rootedness in God's triune speech to us, has the capacity to contradict all of our thoughts (including verification models for adjudicating whether or not scripture can be trusted), 'all the way down'.

In effect, when we ask whether or not Barth, Torrance & co. believed that the Bible was "errant," we need to ask these questions cognizant that Barth, Torrance & co. were not antagonistic toward scripture (as is the case of most of the critics who are usually, and modernistically, trying to punch holes in scripture); instead they were highly driven by their devotion to the God of scripture's giving. Just bear this in mind.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Conclusion to my personal chapter from our book: 'Either through Christ, or through Nature'

Here is the conclusion to my personal chapter (4) from mine and Myk's recently released book (my chapter is entitled: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either through Christ or through Nature):

The contention of this chapter has been to provide insight into the inner workings of Evangelical Calvinist prolegomenon. The procedure has been to introduce the specific way that Evangelical Calvinism understands the triune nature of God as Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit. All such thinking is diametrically opposed to the Thomistic way of construing God; namely, by use of the analogia entis. These two ways were then illustrated by means of several of the significant Reformed Confessions and a Catechism.
Evangelical Calvinism is committed to the tradition of dogmatic reflection known as the analogia fidei; that is, our grounding in the "analogy of faith" means that our epistemic root is centered in our union with Christ, and that out of this fertile ground we have a knowledge of God that necessarily understands him in terms of being eternally Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit; and then finally, we see ourselves standing within the confessional shape of the Reformed tradition as evinced by our resonance with both The Scots Confession of Faith, 1560 and The Heidelberg Catechism. [taken from: Myk Habets & Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 111]

What you should expect when reading my chapter is not an original proposal, or ground breaking work into the ongoing constructive work on the theological method known as the 'analogy of faith'. But instead, you should expect a general compare and contrast between Thomas Aquinas' and Thomas Torrance's disparate approaches to theological method (e.g. the 'analogy of being' V. the 'analogy of faith'); and then (I think) a creative application of this comparison (and its results) to the theology presupposed in Westminster Confession of Faith & The Belgic Confession of Faith V. The Scots Confession & The Heidelberg Catechism. The basic contention of my personal chapter is that, as the title suggests, we either, methodologically (theologically) approach God and knowledge of God through the ordained means by which he has freely chosen to provide for that (in his Self-revelation, Jesus Christ); or we seek to approach God (with good intentions and everything) through a preconstructed concept of what it means to be God, and then distill God into that packaging. Certainly, we can get highly technical about this whole project. But my chapter is intended to be a bit more basic than that (although I think that it requires some technical background, to some degree, to understand exactly where I am coming from in the chapter). So, it is either through Christ, or through Nature ...

Was Karl Barth really a Neo-Orthodox Theologian?, AGAIN

I was reminded, by my friend, Travis, of what prompted me to even think of the question of my last post in the first place. This question (which is really quite technical, and not totally of lasting import, except for the fact that pressing definitional precision on this might result in bearing fruit toward a deeper understanding of who the theologian and man, Barth, were) has been percolating ever since; ever since, Travis mentioned, in what I am going to share from him below, that Barth might have out-paced what it actually means to be neo-Orthodox. Here is what Travis wrote (in this regard), oh so long ago:

Karl Barth
[...] The language of ‘neo-Orthodoxy’ is often used but little understood. My personal take on it is that it most properly refers to the North American appropriation of European dialectical theology. The early Barth was a member of this dialectical theology movement, but he was certainly not the only member. Emil Brunner is perhaps the next best well known of this group and – in fact – his work had a much wider impact on North American theology in the first half of the 20th century than did Barth’s. As to its theological fingerprint, neo-Orthodoxy was concerned with finding a way to reclaim the patristic and Reformation creeds and confessions for their own time. There certainly was a period when this was also Barth’s program, but it is also true that Barth’s work grew, evolved, and took on other aims and emphases. Finally, neo-Orthodoxy can tend to be more existentialist than Barth finally was. In all these ways, the neo-Orthodox movement must be considered sub-‘Barthian’ in the sense employed by Myers. With reference to Torrance, the only way that he can – in my opinion – be classed as neo-Orthodox is with reference to the point concerning the reclamation of patristic and Reformational orthodoxy. Like Barth, however, Torrance finally did not go about this in a simplistic or flatfooted way. [Original posting here, from Travis McMaken, 2008]

Do such questions really matter? Like I said above, if they produce movement that causes us to ask more penetrating questions about Barth's theology---which then ultimately ought to cause us to ask more penetrating questions about Jesus Christ (the material and formal reality of Barth's theological focus)---then yes, seeking to understand Barth's placement within the history of ideas and theological movements can bear fruit (just ask Bruce McCormack if he thinks questions like this matter ... he wrote his PhD dissertation on Barth entitled Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development 1909-1936, engaging in the kind of historical/theological work that seeks to place Barth's theology on a continuum of a period's theological movement).

I realize, in the grand scheme of things, thinking about this kind of stuff might not matter to some; but then, it is probably thinking about this kind of stuff that differentiates someone from being a formal V. informal theologian (take those designations however you like, in a dialectical sense). Or it is thinking about this kind of stuff that differentiates someone from being a geek V. normal ;-).

[So for Travis, being neo-Orthodox means to place the emphasis on Orthodox; and of course the method of being Orthodox in the Neo mode---which is what makes it 'Neo' relative to its "perioded" context---is to reclaim Patristic and Reformed categories and emphases through a Continental/Dialectical & Modern set of expectations. And I agree with this definition.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Was Karl Barth really a Neo-Orthodox Theologian?

Was Karl Barth Neo-Orthodox, and not just Neo-Orthodox; but as many insinuate, was Karl Barth The Neo-Orthodox? As I mentioned in a previous post (in passing), I was in conversation with a guy who is a missionary in Germany; and Karl Barth came up as a result of that conversation. My interlocutor asserted that Barth, as he understood him (as do so many American Evangelicals), was The Neo-Orthodox theologian par excellence. And yet, by way of intonation, body language, and understood implication; what my interlocutor intended was to immediately shut down conversation by appealing to a caricature view of Barth by appealing to a caricature conception of what it means to be Neo-Orthodox. My retort to my interlocutor is that there is debate amongst Barth scholars whether or not Barth was actually Neo-Orthodox. Of course the underlying nagging question in all of this, is; what in fact does it mean to be Neo-Orthodox? Does it mean, simply, that this kind of theologian is a 'Liberal' demon, who denigrates a "high view" of scripture (read 'innerant'), and who probably isn't really even a Christian (if so, just barely)? Or should understanding Neo-Orthodox, definitionally, place more of an emphasis on Orthodox; such that being Orthodox then becomes implicating of the Neo (and in Barth's case, his doctrine of 'Election' stands out here!)?

Emil Brunner & Karl Barth

I have understood someone like Emil Brunner (a contemporary and interlocutor of Barth's) to be truly Neo-Orthodox, and Barth not really. My reasoning on this has been that Brunner left a place (anthropologically) for a so called 'Natural Theology' (and thus a place for a 'classical theistic' mode in his theology, and thus truly repetitive of the inherited 'Protestant Orthodox' mantle, theologically) in his prolegemona to his doing of theology; whereas Barth did not. And thus based upon this (and some other prolegemonological principle, such as Barth's dialecticism etc.), I have concluded, if in fact my thinking on definition for Neo-Orthodox is stout, that Barth really isn't Neo-Orthodox after all; because he rejects a place for Natural Theology in his theological methodology.

For any of you, my Barthian readers, let me know what you think of my thinking on this ...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Barthian & Calvinian Devotional Moment

This is the kind of stuff every Christian should appreciate Karl Barth for:

Lecture V

(Art. 203)

The Way Of Man

2. By revealing Himself to man in Jesus Christ, God brings against man the accusation that his own way is the way of ingratitude towards God's grace. Man, unfaithful to his calling, which is to serve God's glory, makes himself the lord of his life, as if he were God. What he does thereby, he would have to be, without prospect of deliverance, if God withdrew His hand from him, viz. deprived of his own glory, i.e. a prisoner to the contradiction of his own nature, lost in a world which has ceased to have a lord and therefore ceased to have a meaning for him and subject to vanity. Man's own way is the way of sin, i.e. of offence against God, which only God can make amends for. [Karl Barth, The Knowledge of God and the Service of God According to the Teaching of the Reformation: Recalling the Scottish Confession of 1560, The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Aberdeen in 1937 and 1938, p. 7 (Nook edition)]

And follow this with John Calvin:

Book One

The Knowledge of God the Creator

Chapter 1
The Knowledge of God and That of Ourselves are Connected. How Are They Interrelated

I. Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God
Nearly all the wisdom of we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he "lives and moves" [Acts 17:28]. For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself. Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God. The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward. Thus, not only will we, in fasting and hungering, seek thence what we lack; but, in being aroused by fear, we shall learn humility. For, as a veritable world of miseries is to be found in mankind, and we are thereby despoiled of divine raiment, our shameful nakedness exposes a teeming horde of infamies. Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and---what is more---depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is---what man does not remain as he is---so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.

2. Without knowledge of God there is knowledge of self
Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.... [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion V. 1, edited by John T. McNeil, 35-7]

We could reflect on the methodological disparities that inhere between Barth and Calvin reflected in the varied ways that they discuss the same issue; i.e. knowledge of self, only through knowledge of God in Christ. But let's not. Instead I want to do more of a devotional reflection at the behest of these two teachers of the Church of Christ.

Humanity lives in a state of contradiction, constantly! We see the fall out of humanity living out the 'contradiction of their own nature' everyday. Of course, what's the problem? I mean the world can recognize, with utmost fealty to their own natures that they alone are the master's of their universe; even if that results in the hellish and deleterious havoc we see played out in the world over and again. At least they are master's of their universe, at least that's what they think.

So what's the answer to this sorry state of affairs? Jesus. And yet having knowledge of ourselves is not enough, which is what both Barth and Calvin know; that stops short, if we stop there. The answer isn't to have knowledge of ourselves, full stop; the answer is to have knowledge of ourselves in the face of Jesus Christ. Because what comes loaded in this knowledge is a recreation of ourselves in an through the humanity of Jesus Christ; through his resurrection.

Anyway, I don't have anything more profound to offer than what I just did. But I think the two quotes from Barth and Calvin are worthy of our prayerful and thoughtful reflection, this day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bobby's Developing Bible Study: "Jesus is the Key"

I have been seeking a hermeneutic, or a way beyond the impasse created by my move to what Gibson and Muller have called a principial & intensive method of biblical interpretation  (in reference to Barth on their part, no less). I have become disenchanted, over the past few years, with the hermeneutical framework (but not all of the ways) that I was trained in through both Bible College and Seminary; that is, the Literal, Grammatical, Historical method. Certainly, though, I cannot, nor do I want to fully abandon the Grammatical, Historical, and Canonical realities that make up the shaping of what we call the Bible. So in other words, I have been in some personal conflict when it comes to my theory of hermeneutic; wanting to affirm a methodologically and principled way of reading scripture, in Christ. And on the other hand, not also wanting to reject the historical and canonical aspects of scripture that repose in it its Christic shape; so I want to continue to use the grammar, the syntax, the lexical, and the canonical markers of scripture that serve instrumentally to point beyond themselves to the deep reality they signify, in Christ.

The 'Young', Martin Luther
In this seeking of mine, I have been reading Jens Zimmerman’s Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation. And unlike T. F. Torrance’s book Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (which I thoroughly benefited from, of course, especially in serving the purpose in providing a general theory of hermeneutics that, indeed seeks to present a truly principled christocentric hermeneutic); Zimmerman’s book, and brief development of Luther (thus far in my reading of his chapter on Luther’s hermeneutic) has help to affirm the way that I want to proceed by being principially Christic in my biblical exegesis, and at the same time understanding that within this theoretical hermeneutical framework; that there is a viable way to employ all of the philological tools that one ought to employ when engaging the text of scripture, which is special literature.

The following two quotes from Zimmerman on Luther’s approach to biblical interpretation are the ones thus far that I have benefited from the most in my pursuit to provide some denouement to my, as of late, hermeneutical angst.

[I]t follows that the subject matter of the Bible, the good news of God’s love for humanity shown in the incarnation, cannot be understood through historical research alone. Nor in contrast to the historical school of the nineteenth century is historical distance a problem. The historical distance is nullified (not bridged) by the Word, which first created history and then was spoken into history. Luther concludes that it is the role of the Holy Spirit to make the incarnate Word present to the reader. Thus for Luther; a hermeneutics adequate to interpret the subject matter of the Bible is based on the unity of “Christ, Word, and Spirit” (EE, 365). Luther’s theory differed from a theory of verbal inspiration, for he insisted on a word behind the word that requires from the reader constant revisions in interpreting the written letter. . . . [59]
 In light of this, it is no surprise that someone like my friend, Matt, a Lutheran, is also a Barthian; for the above sketch of Luther’s hermeneutic sounds very much so like Barth’s (and T.F. Torrance’s, no less) approach to understanding the written word as it continually, and ever anew proximate the Living Word in whom the written and proclaimed word find their reality and orientation. As Karl Barth (I believe in his CD I/1) describes this, there is both the ‘outer-logic’ and ‘inner-logic’ of Scripture (playing off the Reformer’s perspicuity ‘outer/inner’ clarity dialectic); such that the written letter (outer logic) remains stable, our understanding of that is provisional and ever changing as we understand more and more the One, the Word, to whom this written word points (this is the ‘inner-logic’ according to Barth … and the reason that ‘theological exegesis’ should be understood as the norm for biblical interpretation).

The, Karl Barth
Here is the second quote that again helps assuage and also confirm me in my own movement forward as a theological/Christological exegete of Holy Scripture; Zimmerman summarizes:

To sum up, for Luther, “the Word of God in the cosmic sense was the eternal Christ, and as the Word of God in the New Testament was essentially the historical Christ. Given his doctrine of the Word, it was logical for Luther to see Christ and the cross as the central theme of God’s redemptive word”…. Luther’s systematic Christological hermeneutic principle does not mean, however, that he simply read his opinion into the text; the assiduous use of all philological aids available at his time in his sermon and lecture preparation demonstrates Luther’s desire to develop theology from the text. That is not to say, of course, that sometimes his vivid imagination saw Christ in the text where modern scholarship does not. However, respected strands of contemporary scholarship have come to agree in principle with Luther’s reading of Paul and the plausibility of the Pauline assertion that Jesus the Christ is the fulfillment of Torah and the messianic promises in Isaiah pertain to his redemption and vindication of humanity … [Jens Zimmerman, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics, 59-60]

 As Zimmerman developed in an earlier iteration of his chapter on Luther; for Luther there is no understanding the historical word of scripture without the Word of Faith breathing life into the history as it is conjoined in Christ as he is the point and purpose of creation and creation’s history unfolded toward and in Christ. If this is the case, the words of scripture cannot have meaning or signification if they are abstracted from their reason for being as they are taken up in Christ. And yet, more constructively, this is exactly how higher-critical and historist approaches to biblical interpretation (some of which I have been discussing in previous posts, whether on the ‘Liberal’ side or the ‘Fundamentalist/Evangelical’ side) have colluded in their adumbration of the text of scripture (adumbrated because these ‘critics’ have place scripture into a pretext of their own construction, one that doesn’t have eyes to see and ears to hear, because if it did, these critics would understand that they can’t understand the text without understanding that it’s all about Jesus).

And so, since this post is now just over the reported attention span of blog readers (which is a 1,000 words, max.); I will close this post. Maybe you can appreciate a little better, then, where I am at in my own development; and maybe you can see why I have jettisoned my beloved LGH and even Dispensational hermeneutical theory.

PS. I am, at the end of the day, really quite pragmatic when it comes to all of this stuff; meaning that I have one principle that guides the way I proceed: "Jesus is the Key". So, if it is Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, John Calvin, my child-hood Sunday school teacher, or whoever else; if anyone or anyway serves my principle that 'Jesus is the key,' then I am willing to at least listen and test whether what one particular or another teacher communicates actually contributes to this principle or, instead, whether they quench this principle. Luther, and Zimmerman's constructive reading of Luther is helpful towards my principle. That said, the only way we can really know if someone is helpful towards affirming my principle is to truly understand what said teachers really taught and thought; for this is the only way we can potentially benefit from their stated christocentrism. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

"You Are Just Too Smart ... You Don't Think Biblically"

I just came across this quote from a Systematic Theology written by R. D. Culver (who apparently was American Biblical Theologian, Walter Kaiser's doktorvater)..

Notice the sentiment being articulated by Culver in what he here writes:

Thomas Aquinas, The Heir of 'Biblical Theology'
A diversion into recent theories of language analysis and of hermeneutics at this point would show how skepticism [sic], denial that anything anyone speaks or writes is true in any important sense, has imported Pilate’s skeptical question wholesale to the academy. Recently these theories have invaded all university departments except the hard sciences. The public has been made aware of this disastrous development as ‘deconstructionism’.

Deconstruction uses figures, tropes, neologisms, irony and philosophy to sever any connection between an author’s true self and what he has written. The motives of these literary dogmatists apparently are chiefly to create an elite of critics who have their own club. The strength of this syndrome is an informal connection of ambitious professors and their admirers, supported by tenure rules that deliver the star performers from necessity of constructive labour.[Culver, R. D. (2005). Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (100). Ross-shire, UK: Mentor.] (ht)

The irony of this quote is the apparent suspicion attendant to it. Culver is really, as I read this quote without further context, reinforcing an anti-intellectualism by caricaturing anyone who might be theologically oriented in their speech and thought; anyone who might be academic by training; or anyone who thinks that Scripture itself thinks theologically instead of biblically (which of course is itself a false dichotomy, but so goes the thinking---I surmise).

My tentative reading of this quote is only reinforced given the context in which it was originally used; and for the audience for whom it was lifted up with somewhat adulation (see the ht). I don't highlight this particular quote because I want to harp on the place I took this quote from (online); instead, I simply take notice of this because it saddens me (in the theme of my recent post on "I Don't Think,Theologically") . Certainly, if I were an elitist I would simply consider the thinking reflected in this quote as simpleton rubbish; something I could simply relegate to the dust-bin of Fundamentalist naïvete. But I am not an elitist.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A "Return" to American Evangelical Hermeneutics

For anyone who has read me for any length of time at all, it should by now be eminently clear that I have somewhat removed myself from the usual Evangelical-Fundamentalist method of biblical interpretation (not because I think I am better than, or because I no longer self-identify as an American Evangelical; because I do); or from what is known as the historical-critical or Literal, Grammatical, Historical (LGH) reading of the scriptures. It is, in fact, this method of biblical interpretation that has given rise to an idiosyncratic (and I mean this in the sense that this method is peculiar, by and large, to a certain and even large swath of American Evangelicals) expression of this kind of interpretive work; which as I have been surveying in a couple of posts (here & here) prior, is known as dispensationalism. 

I have often, again for anyone who has been reading me for any length of time, referenced how this situation, for American Evangelicals, has come to be. That is, how it is that many American Evangelicals have embraced this mode of biblical interpretation for themselves; it is really a quite ironic (and unfortunate) move, since it is this kind of rationalist, positivistic, and historist approach to biblical interpretation that these same American Evangelicals (originally known as Fundamentalists---I realize they are not the same exact thing, socio-culturally, but Evangelicalism still operates, linguistically and doctrinally from the same historical moorings that their parents, the Fundamentalists taught them) were decrying. They were fighting against the penetration of historical-criticism into the halls of what used to be 'Conservative' American Christianity (like that represented at Princeton, with B.B. Warfield & co.); and yet they chose to fight fire with fire instead of using water to put the fire out [I'd like to try fighting this historical-critical fire and its penetration into American Evangelicalism with the fresh and everlasting water of Jesus Christ ... the kind that once a person gets a drink of she/he never want anything else again]. Jens Zimmerman provides a good sketch, and helpful substantiation of my oft assertions in this very regard; Zimmerman writes,

Modernist interpretation emphasized historical-critical reading of the scriptures that modified or denied the Bible's own claim to be divine revelation and largely abandoned the biblical text as a unity. As a result, other texts gained more importance, and hermeneutics came to be conceived more broadly, comprising secular literature as well. Historical criticism is, of course, enormously important for any textual work. The historical-critical school, with its application of scientific method and positivistic approach to the biblical text, however, forces texts into the Procrustean [sic] bed of an Enlightement framework and rationalist standards, lopping off offending and bothersome textual elements and unenlightened statements with almost Puritan zeal.

Modern fundamentalists [and Evangelicals] who react against this so-called liberal theology unfortunately proceed from the same assumption as the "enemy," namely, that a text can have only one normative meaning but many possible applications, which can never become normative. Premodern interpreters by contrast possessed superior interpretive concepts, such as progressive revelation and typology, and were more keenly aware of the multiple layers of textual meanings. Their view of God's word as a vehicle of typological exegesis, the idea of sensus plenior [fuller meaning], and the analogy of faith renders fundamentalist notions of stable, unitary meanings highly problematic. Yet fundamentalist interpreters cheerfully continue to use modernist principles in their defense of theology, a highly unhelpful strategy of entrenchment, the zeal of whose practitioners does little to conceal the increasing irrelevance of their effort. [brackets our mine] [Jens Zimmerman, Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 22-3.]

If this is juxtaposed with my last post on dispensationalism, it becomes clear how dispensational hermeneutics came to be; they are simply a re-telling of an centuries old American interpretive schema (with German origins) that has been employed over and over again within American biblical exegesis and exposition. Such that, the capacity for folk who have sat under the sway of this sometimes bellicose system of interpretation have become incapacitated to critically make a distinction between their system of biblical interpretation and the actual biblical narrative and its primary meaning.

Again, this post only really gestures towards the more 'Christ-conditioned' approach that I want to advocate for. Adam Nigh, an contributing author to our book has offered good development on how I would like to move forward in understanding a doctrine of scripture, an ontology of scripture (its place relative to God's own Self-testimony and speech for us); and how these two realities implicate a system of interpretation (hermeneutics) that finds its orientation intensively in its reality, Jesus Christ. Adam's chapter is entitled The Depth Dimension of Scripture: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Calvinism [Chapter 3]. Adam sometimes ;-) blogs over at Out of Bounds.

Anyway, as usual, there is more to be said; and I will try to say more as this living thing known as my blog continues to give expression to more of my flowering thoughts on such things and more (of course).   

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why such the emphasis on Israel ...? Dispensationalism Revisted

I am continuing to respond to a good brother from our church congregation; I am responding to his queries about Dispensationalism, and eventually attempting to engage some of the broader contours related to this whole topic of discussion (e.g. eschatological and hermeneutical frameworks, and their relationship---which will ultimately lead us back to a doctrine of God, but that will be later ... this post is more specific to a certain set of questions). My brother from church asked me the following (on Facebook):

Reading your post over again, I am really curious about the two views on the nation of Israel and its position in God's plan for salvation (i.e. as the subject of the sentence or as one with Gentiles in Christ Jesus).

Perhaps both views hold to this idea or neither do, but I have always been under the understanding that God chose Israel, set them apart, and gave them the Law to be a light to the world in order draw the world to Himself. Obviously because of their disobedience this did not work as it should have so Christ came into to history to redeem humanity (something I assume He would have had to do anyway since even if we attempt to fully obey the Law, we will always be sinful in our current state and animal blood only points to Christ not actually covering our sins... right?). Wouldn't this mean that while God's promises for Israel will still be upheld, that salvation was always for all humanity (Jew and Gentile) and not just focused on Israel (which is what CD sounds like to me)? Why such the emphasis on Israel?

My response:

Orthodox Jews
The two views my friend is referencing (for those who are late to following this discussion) are the variances between a so called classic Dispensationalist view of Israel and the Church; and a so called Amillennial view of Israel and the Church (by the way, Postmillennialists, Historic Premillennialists, and Progressive Dispensationalists would all affirm the Amillennialist's view of Israel and the Church, in general ... of course where they go from there, at least the Progressive Dispensationalists, will vary from the Postmil, Historic Premil, and Amil understanding). And so to answering this question, we turn---I will be simply focusing on the classic Dispensational understanding in this post, since this is mostly what my friend's question is after (thus far).

Why is there such a focus on the Nation of Israel in Dispensational thought? The answer is really quite straightforward, it comes down to their asserted method of biblical interpretation; that is, they follow what they call a Literal method of interpretation. Here is how one of the most famed Dispensationalists, Charles Ryrie, states the classic and/or revised Dispensational approach to biblical interpretation:

Literal Hermeneutics. Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation. This means interpretation gives to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether employed in writing, speaking, or thinking. It is sometimes called the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations. The principle might also be called normal interpretation since the literal meaning of words is the normal approach to their understanding in all languages. It might also be designated plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech. Symbols, figures of speech, and types are all interpreted plainly in this method, and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures often make the meaning plainer, but it is the literal, normal, or plain meaning that they convey to the reader. [Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and Expanded, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 80-1]

So when confronted with a passage of Scripture like this:

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you. ” ~Genesis 12:1-3 [The 'Abrahamic Covenant']

37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know. ”Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. ’” ~Ezekiel 37:1-6 [The Dry Bones (or 'Nation' of Israel) Vision]
Or especially a passage like this:

 35 This is what the Lord says,
he who appoints the sun
    to shine by day,
who decrees the moon and stars
    to shine by night,
who stirs up the sea
    so that its waves roar —
    the Lord Almighty is his name:
36 “Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,”
    declares the Lord,
“will Israel ever cease
    being a nation before me.”
37 This is what the Lord says:
“Only if the heavens above can be measured
    and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
    because of all they have done,”
declares the Lord. ~Jeremiah 31:35-37 [This is right after the famous New Covenant passage, which Dispensationalists believe is only properly understood as applicable to the nation of Israel.]
 If we are employing a literal method interpretation, as Ryrie describes it; then how else can (must) we take passages like these from the Old Testament? It must be understood as referencing the Nation of Israel as God's prescribed plan for human history; that is, it must be that God has an all encompassing plan for human history that is solely oriented around the Nation of Israel. When you couple this kind of literalist method of interpretation with a Progressive Revelation reading of Scripture (meaning that we start in the Old Testament, and read that into the New Testament); then the natural outcome will be to see the Nation of Israel at the center of prophetic and biblical history. 

What is lost in this approach, is an emphasis on Jesus as the the point of Israel's vocation; they were to mediate Yahweh's salvation to the Nations, and it was always understood that the 'Seed' that they carried would be the One to accomplish that purpose for all of humanity (including the Nation of Israel). At least that is what the Apostle Paul thought when he was writing Galatians 3. And yet, I jump ahead of myself; I will touch upon the contrary approach to the Dispensational approach later (and soon).

If I was committed to the philosophy of history, the philosophical assumptions (Scottish Sense Realism), that governs the Dispensational mode of life; then it does make internal sense (relative to their system of interpretation, etc.) that they end up where they do. So the question isn't if Dispensational hermeneutical theory (what informs the way they conceive of doing biblical interpretation) is coherent and self-referentially consistent (within their system); the question is whether or not their system actually best proximates the actual intention of Scripture's message, and salvation history's purpose? I will seek to answer these questions some time soon. 

So, do the promises made to the Nation of Israel still stand? I would say yes (again I am jumping ahead of myself, but only to gesture towards answering your questions to me, I will develop my views more later). But qualified in a way that sees Jesus as the ground and fulfillment of what it means to be Israel. The Nation of Israel has the same purpose, in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11ff) as every other nation. The promises made to Israel are indeed irrevocable (cf. Rom. 11:29), but Israel was always intended to be understood through her ground and purpose and fulfillment, 'in Christ'. This is the key, that is, Christ is the key to sourcing an understanding of a properly constructed 'literal' method of biblical interpretation. The New Testament authors thought so, and thus; so should we. I have left us with quite a few assertions, but this is where I will finally get to as we continue to work through Dispensationalism V. a 'Christ-Conditioned' hermeneutic; for this is where this whole debate really dwells. That is, how it is that we conceive of our philosophies of biblical interpretation? Until next time, brother ...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"I Don't Think, Theologically ..."

I was at a church gathering yesterday that brought me into contact with a couple of brothers, and a brief and interesting exchange in regards to theology, and thinking theologically. I was discussing with one of the brothers, in ear-shot of the other, about theology; and in particular, German theology (since the brother I was talking to is a missionary in Germany). Who else but Karl Barth came up. And so the one brother I was talking to (who teaches at one of our current church's denomination's Bible Colleges) mentioned straightaway, that he had studied with a guy who had studied Barth for years; this particular brother I was talking with mentioned that he had studied Barth, amongst other "German theologians," and that (reading between the lines) he had come to the conclusion that Barth was simply a Neo-Orthodox theologian (which is akin to calling someone a semi-Pelagian, or it is really a negative caricature used to marginalize someone like Barth as a 'Liberal', just as using semi-Pelagian is used to marginalize someone, say, who is Arminian in orientation). Anyway, I develop the setting a bit, in this way, just to set up what, in conversation, happened next with the other brother in ear-shot of my current mini-discussion (by the way, I questioned whether placing Barth in the Neo-Orthodox camp was legitimate, which the brother I was speaking with seemed to disagree with me on). Somehow, in the midst of all of this, it came up that I had a book that just came out; and that I was a theologian (which was news to the brother I was talking with). Well, the other brother, in ear-shot, asserted something that I want to make the topic of the rest of this post. He said, "he doesn't do theology, and that this is his solution to having to think about such things" (like Karl Barth, etc.). I really didn't respond to this brother's comment in that context, it wasn't fitting at that moment.

Nevertheless, I bring this up, because this represents something else that I would like to address further at the blog here; in the days to come, that is. I want to evaluate, deconstruct and then constructively engage the ethos & pathos, church-culturally, that could prompt a statement like my brother made; i.e. that he basically avoids theology. I am an American Evangelical, and I live smack dab in the middle of American Evangelicalism sub-culturally. The sentiment voiced by my brother is ubiquitous and pervasive within this sub-culture; an anti-intellectual (but what I will be calling an 'anti-theo-logical') perspective. I want to deal with the socio-cultural and theological factors that have led American Evangelicals to this rather blighted state. I mean I have already started down that road with that post I once wrote entitled A Critique of the What Would Jesus Do? Society. But I would like to take a longer look at this problem, because it is one that plagues my own theological existence and Christian walk on a day to day basis, really.

I will hopefully be digging a bit further into American Pietism, American Christian Fundamentalism, and also looking at some forms of Medieval Mysticism. And trying to do some landscaping that will help give a better lay of the land in a way that would help explain why a brother of mine at church (representative of thousands and thousands of American Evangelicals) would voice his perception about theology in the way that he did. There is a radical anti-theo-logicalism at work in the higher rankings of leadership in the denomination we are a part of, and this, unfortunately has bled down into their schools of education (ironically), thus affecting many folk's own perception of "doing theology" in our current denominational affiliation (a perception given voice towards me by my brother from church).

So where does this perception of theology come from? The one that would motivate my brother's voice towards it? It comes from, I think, in general, a perception that experience with God involves an unmediated encounter; such that spirituality is contingent upon mystical encounter with a God who is solely apophatic in orientation. It comes from the simple belief that theology, in general, attempts to sequester God, and contain God in human ways; that in the process we lose God, and thus genuine experience of God, and instead replace worship of God with worship of men (like my picture of Calvin here at the blog might suggest to some). The irony of this, though, is that this perception fails to recognize (because even the recognition itself would require the kind of sequestering self-critical postulating that this perception believes is cutting real encounter with God off in the first place) that God has already accommodated himself in gracious movement towards us (which is commonly known as Grace), with the result that God has actually contained and sequestered humanity in himself, for himself, in Christ. So encounter with God is highly kataphatic, highly concrete, and highly particularized (and demystified, by the way) as we move through the mediating humanity of Jesus Christ to God. This is obviously the kind of theology that I advocate for, that we advocate for as Evangelical Calvinists; that is, a 'Christ-conditioned' Trinitarian theology. Encounter with God is what we should all be seeking, but encounter with God cannot be manufactured out of thin-air-experiences; instead they must be grounded in the encounter that God has already freely chosen for himself to have with us in the humanity of Christ.

In the end. There are only two alternatives. Either we try to do 'good theology', or we don't try, and we end up doing bad theology (worse, we end up worshiping ourselves, and the projections of ourselves overlaid onto an un-revealed revelation of God that we think is Jesus Christ pace Feuerbach). At this point, I am afraid that my brother is only doing bad theology, if he has chosen not do theology at all.

PS. A few quick responses to the quip that "one has chosen not to do or think theology" might be:

  1. Do you read your Bible, believing that God speaks there? Then, you are affirming a theological tradition that asserts the belief that God speaks in and through the witness of Scripture.
  2. Do you affirm or believe in the doctrine of the Trinity? Then, you are affirming theological grammar (that is 'extra-biblical') that was developed post Apostolic Witness. So you 'do theology then'.
  3. Do you affirm the full humanity and full deity in the person of Jesus Christ? Then ...
The moral: As a Christian, you either do good or bad theology; so try to do good theology.

PPS. I want my tone on this to be understood; it is one of concern, and not one of holier-than-thou or smarter-than-thou thinking. I think the LORD has so much for us, and that we can only stop and participate in this (him) as we self-consciously and intentionally stop and think and speak about him in honoring, critical, reflective, and devotional ways. I also think that 'right-doctrine' leads to 'right-practice' (and vice-versa).

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thesis 8, "Evangelical Calvinism endorses a supralapsarian Christology which emphasizes the doctrine of the primacy of Christ

Here is Thesis 8, Evangelical Calvinism endorses a supralapsarian Christology which emphasizes the doctrine of the primacy of Christ. [this version is absent the footnotes---this thesis is getting at the doctrine of pre-destination] [I am pretty busy today, so hopefully I will be able to get all of you guys that link to my paypal account so you can order the book through me ... I have a feeling that won't be until tomorrow now] [Myk and I co-wrote the chapter this is taken from, which is 15 in the book]

Evangelical Calvinism endorses a supralapsarian Christology which emphasizes the doctrine of the primacy of Christ. As a direct result of thesis 5 and its concomitant doctrine of God, Evangelical Calvinists subscribe to a broadly conceived supralapsarian Christology along the lines of that famously propounded by John Duns Scotus. That is to say that, Evangelical Calvinists embrace the idea that who God is for us in Christ is grounded in the pre-temporal reality of his choice to be for us apart from and prior to the “Fall” or even the creation itself. This, theo-logically coheres with the Evangelical Calvinist conception of God’s life being shaped by who he is as love, and thus both chron-ologically and logically places his love and his self-determining freedom as the primary mode of God’s life; and thus the basis from which he acts, even in wrath. As such an Evangelical Calvinist may confidently assert that: “There is no wrath of God that is not first experienced as the love of God for you.”

As one of us has argued elsewhere: “The sine qua non of the Scotistic thesis is that the predestination of Christ took place in an instant which was logically prior to the prevision of sin as absolutum futurum. That is, the existence of Christ was not contingent on the fall as foreseen through the scientia visionis.” It is through this matrix that Evangelical Calvinists can be said to hold to a “supralapsarian Christology,” that is that we believe in God’s primacy over all of creation; and thus his choice to be for us is in Christ is not contingent upon sin, but instead it is the result of the overflow of who he is as the God for the other—God is Love!

The election of the eternal Son for us that occurs pre-temporally becomes temporally externalized in the Incarnation of Christ, and ultimately finds its resounding crescendo in being actualized through the cross-work of Christ, exemplifying that God’s life of over-flowing love is in fact cruciform in shape as it is revealed within the conditions of a post-lapsarian world.

In salvation God accomplishes multiple things but perhaps four may be pointed out here: 1) God’s glory is revealed; 2) God’s salvation is accomplished, 3) God’s judgment is made manifest, and 4) God’s damnation of the sinner outside of Christ is realized. All four of these components find their extrinsic locus in the person of Christ as the primary exemplar and mediator of God’s life for humanity. Each of these—God’s glory, salvation, judgment, and damnation—take on significance as Jesus’ God-shaped humanity brings God and humans together in himself.

The Father is glorified through the Son’s loving submission as the scapegoat, sacrifice, and representative for fallen humanity; and through this ultimate act of the obedient love of the Son, the Father brings reconciliation (salvation) to humanity as Christ enters into the wilderness of humanity’s sin, bears the weight of that sin in his “being” for us; and thus suffers the tragic damnation that rightfully belonged to sinful humanity. Through this mediation of life for life (substitution), Christ not only pays the penalty for sin; but as a corollary with who he is as love, he reconciles humanity’s non-being with his resurrected being of life and thus brought God and humanity together in a spiritual union such that reconciled and adopted sinners may now experience the love of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ as our Abba, our Father, and our worship, by the Holy Spirit, may be acceptable to God.

Supralapsarian Christology, correctly understood, does not reflect an Amyraldian, or a hypothetical universalism; but rather an actualized universal atonement which recreates humanity through Christ’s humanity, and provides salvation for all who will believe through Spirit generated, Christic formed faith. A purview that genuinely can claim to be “Christ-conditioned.” [Myk Habets and Bobby Grow eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 438-39.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Day Has Come: Our Evangelical Calvinism Book Is Released!

The book is finally here! This represents the collaboration of many contributors spanning from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States; an international effort. Myk Habets originally conceived of this project, and graciously asked me to join him in the editing and authoring of this most awesome volume (if I must say so myself)! Our book presents a mood of Calvinism, that at least for Myk and I can be said to be an mood given birth After Torrance (and then After Calvin, After Barth, so an so forth); and a mood that we hope is catching. The hope is, at least/at most, that Jesus Christ the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit will be magnified through the effort exerted through the process of birthing this book. He will be most magnified if the readers of our book are pointed beyond themselves to the eternal Word, Jesus Christ! Our book, is not primarily a polemical work against classic Calvinism; but it does implicitly (and at points explicitly) offer a critique of the usual mode of Calvinism, and it does so constructively, by simply reminding her cousin that she indeed has a cousin. Evangelical Calvinism is rooted, methodologically, in Trinitarian Theology through a so called 'Christ-conditioned' shape. And so, by definition, EC emphasizes God as Love in life, and Grace in action. Unlike its classic cousin, EC believes the logic of grace that undergirds her articulation require that ALL humanity is represented (universally) in Jesus Christ; thus we limit the atonement to Jesus' humanity for us (the us being all of humanity who have ever lived). It is this that we think makes 'our' Calvinism, Evangelical or 'Good News'. If you are interested in reading more about Evangelical Calvinism, and how it is fleshed out through the personalities of Myk, myself and our authors; then you need to pick our just released book up and read it ... you will not be disappointed. Here are the ordering details (if you are interested in purchasing the book message me, and I can get you a discount 50% off of the retail price, not the web---I am only making this offer available to friends of the blog, Facebook friends, and of course close family and friends, my email is:

Evangelical Calvinism 
Essays  Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.
Edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

(click on the above title to go to the publishers website to order)
(or email me, and we can set up an order at a discounted price for friends of the blog). 

I wanted to especially, and publically, thank Myk Habets for his leadership on this project; and for allowing me to be a part of it, what a blessing! I also wanted to publically thank each and everyone of our authors, and endorsers; you all made this book what it is.

[I also want to say thank you to all of you who have pressed me here at the blog, your challenges and encouragement have all made their way into the book ;-) ... so thank you all.]

Here is the blurb from the back jacket of the book, and then the table of contents:

Blurb: In this exciting volume new and emerging voices join senior Reformed scholars in presenting a coherent and impassioned articulation of Calvinism for today’s world. Evangelical Calvinism represents a mood within current Reformed theology. The various contributors are in different ways articulating that mood, of which their very diversity is a significant element. In attempting to outline features of an Evangelical Calvinism a number of the contributors compare and contrast this approach with that of the Federal Calvinism that is currently dominant in North American Reformed theology, challenging the assumption that Federal Calvinism is the only possible expression of orthodox Reformed theology. This book does not, however, represent the arrival of a “new-Calvinism” or even a “neo-Calvinism,” if by those terms are meant a novel reading of the Reformed faith. An Evangelical Calvinism highlights a Calvinistic tradition that has developed particularly within Scotland, but is not unique to the Scots. The editors have picked up the baton passed on by John Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and others, in order to offer the family of Reformed theologies a reinvigorated theological and spiritual ethos. This volume promises to set the agenda for Reformed-Calvinist discussion for some time to come.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeier


1: Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda. Towards a Definition of Evangelical Calvinism. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Part 1: Prolegomena – Historical Theology

2: The Phylogeny of Calvin’s Progeny: A Prolusion. Charles Partee

3: The Depth Dimension of Scripture: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Calvinism. Adam Nigh

4: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature. Bobby Grow

5: The Christology of Vicarious Agency in the Scots Confession According to Karl Barth. Andrew Purves

Part 2: Systematic Theology

6: Pietas, Religio, and the God Who Is. Gannon Murphy

7: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ:” Christologically Conditioned Election. Myk Habets

8: A Way Forward on the Question of the Transmission of Original Sin. Marcus Johnson

9: “The Highest Degree of Importance”: Union with Christ and Soteriology. Marcus Johnson

10: “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry. Jason Goroncy

11: “Suffer the little children to come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Infant Salvation and the Destiny of the Severely Mentally Disabled. Myk Habets

Part 3: Applied Theology

12: Living as God’s Children: Calvin’s Institutes as Primer for Spiritual Formation. Julie Canlis

13: Idolaters at Providential Prayer: Calvin’s Praying Through the Divine Governance. John C McDowell

14: Worshiping like a Calvinist: Cruciform Existence. Scott Kirkland

Part 4

15: Theses on a Theme. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Epilogue: Post Reformation Lament. Myk Habets



Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria!