Thursday, May 31, 2012

Back to the Text! Amerbach's Augustine, and the Protestant Reading-Textual Ethic

I once wrote a post entitled A Brief Introduction to Christian Humanism: As the Social Impetus for the Protestant Reformation. In that same mood, this post briefly considers the textual culture that helped foster, even more directly, a fresh reading of Augustine by Martin Luther. At the end of this post I will offer a quick reflection on the impact ad fontes or to the sources continues to have on the Protestant reading and textual ethic.

If you read that other post of mine first (the one I link to above on 'Christian Humanism') you will appreciate the climate which someone like Martin Luther found himself situated. It was an atmosphere filled with the excitement and 'modern' freedom of going beyond the received ecclesio and hermeneutical tradition; going beyond the 'authority' and 'magesterial' reading and interpretation of both the scriptures and so called 'Church Fathers', of whom Augustine was prime. Luther, amongst his other contemporaries had access to the actual Augustine because of the work of a printer named Johann Amerbach. Amberbach's edition and compilation of Augustine's writings allowed people like Luther (an Augustinian monk) a door into the world of Augustine like never before; and thus a door that would only corroborate Luther's fresh reading of the New Testament (again something given impetus for Luther because of the Humanist movement of back to the sources V. back to the Roman Catholic Church as 'the' authoritative interpreter), a corroboration that made Luther believe that Christianity, even amongst one of the most revered Church Fathers---Augustine---was much different than he had been lead to believe by his Augustinian tutors. Here is how Arnoud Visser sketches the impact that Amberbach's edition of Augustine's writings had on the one who would be the lightening rod of the soon to be Protestant Reformation:

[...] Luther's reading of Augustine, for one, was transformed after he gained access to the Amerbach edition, around 1515. In 1516, for example, while still an Augustinian Hermit and Professor of Biblical Theology on behalf of his Order, Luther wrote to his humanist friend Georg Spalatin: "I defend Augustine not because I am an Augustinian; before I began to deal with his writings, he did not mean anything to me." Luther's words flatly contradict his earlier statements, dating from 1509, made in the margins of his copy of a selection of Augustine's works. Here, Luther in fact criticized Wimpfeling's claim about Augustine's lay status, defending the claims of his Order. Clearly in this period, when he was studying theology at Erfurt, Luther still read Augustine as an Augustinian. Once he could access the entire set of the church father's collected works, however, he started to see another Augustine, namely the author of the anti-Pelagian works. [Arnoud S. Q. Visser, Reading Augustine in the Reformation: The Flexibility of Intellectual Authority in Europe, 1500-1620, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 25].
[In the quote, Wimpfeling was a scholar in the Roman Catholic Church who challenged the authority of the Church by suggesting that Augustine was not a monk, but a lay theologian who finally of course became one of the great Bishops. This did not sit well with the RCC, because it challenged a fundamental conception about one of their fundamental teachers, Augustine; thus challenging a dearly held paradigm about being a 'monk' and devotee to the Church.]

It is interesting, at least to me, to see the impact that printed texts and words can have. There is an ethic illustrated by Amberbach as the printer, and Luther as the reader; I would suggest a Protestant one. One that desires to 'go to the sources'; one that seeks to get beyond the muddle of mediation (insofar as this is possible), and subordinate all of our thinking to the 'source'. For the Protestant this ends in sola scriptura, and listening to the 'Church Father's and the ecumenical councils convened under their watchful eyes (at least this is the historical 'end' of what it meant to go back to the sources). It is going back to the sources that we can engage in semper reformanda (always reforming); subordinating our creeds and confessions to the authoritative Word in Scripture, Jesus Christ. It is this Protestant move and reading-texutal ethic which finally leads us to the logical conclusion of the 'Text'; that is, the Text points beyond itself, even, and finally finding its full orientation in God's, Word, Jesus Christ. And yet without this Protestant (Christian-Humanist) turn to the text of scripture and her progeny (the Patristics, for example); the Text (Jesus) behind the text would remain clouted in the layers of tradition and popery which would leave our lives awash in the mire of textual abuse---because the text (scripture) would be cut off from her meaningful Text (Jesus) and replaced by a vicar who really is no vicar at all!

In the end, there is a Protestant reading-text ethic; one that gives rise to a mood of 'always reforming', and thus one that has given rise to what Myk Habets and I (and our authors) are trying to do in our soon to be released book: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. 

Thomas Torrance's Objection to Federal Theology

**Here is a rerepost. My next post will give a fuller description of 'Federal Theology' for those not in the know.

Here Paul Molnar gives a good summary overview of some of the reasons that T.F. Torrance objected to ‘Federal’ or ‘Westminster’ Calvinism:

Torrance’s objections to aspects of the “Westminster theology” should be seen together with his objection to “Federal Theology”. His main objection to Federal theology is to the ideas that Christ died only for the elect and not for the whole human race and that salvation is conditional on our observance of the law. The ultimate difficulty here that one could “trace the ultimate ground of belief back to eternal divine decrees behind the back of the Incarnation of God’s beloved Son, as in a federal concept of pre-destination, [and this] tended to foster a hidden Nestorian dualism between the divine and human natures in the on Person of Jesus Christ, and thus even to provide ground for a dangerous form of Arian and Socinian heresy in which the atoning work of Christ regarded as an organ of God’s activity was separated from the intrinsic nature and character of God as Love” (Scottish Theology, p. 133). This then allowed people to read back into “God’s saving purpose” the idea that “in the end some people will not actually be saved”, thus limiting the scope of God’s grace (p. 134). And Torrance believed they reached their conclusions precisely because they allowed the law rather than the Gospel to shape their thinking about our covenant relations with God fulfilled in Christ’s atonement. Torrance noted that the framework of Westminster theology “derived from seventeenth-century federal theology formulated in sharp contrast to the highly rationalised conception of a sacramental universe of Roman theology, but combined with a similar way of thinking in terms of primary and secondary causes (reached through various stages of grace leading to union with Christ), which reversed the teaching of Calvin that it is through union with Christ first that we participate in all his benefits” (Scottish Theology, p. 128). This gave the Westminster Confession and Catechisms “a very legalistic and constitutional character in which theological statements were formalised at times with ‘almost frigidly logical definiton’” (pp. 128-9). Torrance’s main objection to the federal view of the covenant was that it allowed its theology to be dictated on grounds other than the grace of God attested in Scripture and was then allowed to dictate in a legalistic way God’s actions in his Word and Spirit, thus undermining ultimately the freedom of grace and the assurance of salvation that could only be had by seeing that our regenerated lives were hidden with Christ in God. Torrance thought of the Federal theologians as embracing a kind of “biblical nominalism” because “biblical sentences tend to be adduced out of their context and to be interpreted arbitrarily and singly in detachment from the spiritual ground and theological intention and content” (p. 129). Most importantly, they tended to give biblical statements, understood in this way, priority over “fundamental doctrines of the Gospel” with the result that “Westminster theology treats biblical statements as definitive propositions from which deductions are to be made, so that in their expression doctrines thus logically derived are given a categorical or canonical character” (p. 129). For Torrance, these statements should have been treated, as in the Scots Confession, in an “open-structured” way, “pointing away from themselves to divine truth which by its nature cannot be contained in finite forms of speech and thought, although it may be mediated through them” (pp. 129-30). Among other things, Torrance believed that the Westminster approach led them to weaken the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity because their concept of God fored without reference to who God is in revelation led them ultimately to a different God than the God of classical Nicene theology (p. 131). For Barth’s assessment of Federal theology, which is quite similar to Torrance’s in a number of ways, see CD IV/1, pp. 54-66. (Paul D. Molnar, “Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity,” 181-2 [fn. 165])

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Flesh is Irreparable

Maybe you can relate; there is nothing about the flesh, the sinful man, the sinful nature, this body of death that is repairable! I have been walking with Jesus (by his grace) for years and years and years, now; one would think that the further in we get, the easier fighting sin would get. But that was the whole point of this:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, ..." ~Romans 8:3 (ESV)

The flesh remains ugly, deceptive, and gross (don't kid yourselves!); we need to do this,

11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness...." Romans 6:11-13 (ESV)
Sorry, I often am writing to myself with my posts; if this happens to encourage you, then that is even more of a blessing! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Following Calvin and the "Five Points"

Calvinism is a variegated thing, but in its American instantiation, it has come to be most 'popularly' identifiable by its unbreakable relationship with that ubiquitous acronym, TULIP, or the Five points. Not just that, but there has always been a question related to how far Calvinists, today, proximate the actual teaching of their name-sake, John Calvin. Indeed, to the surprise of many an American Calvinist, there are many more layers and strands that make up Calvinism in general; indeed, one of those strands is what we are calling 'Evangelical Calvinism,' a strand that presses and develops one of Calvin's most endearing themes; his teaching on union with Christ, and double grace theology. Nevertheless, the Five points of Calvinism continue to retain the most glaring meaning for what it means to be a Calvinist; at least in America. Yet, as so many Calvinists want folk to know, the Five points ought not be understood as what it means to be Calvinist, in toto. Instead, as many a Calvinist are prone to press; they would rather be defined by what they call 'The Doctrines of Grace' shaped by God's unrelenting Sovereignty. It is this reality that is well articulated by Dewey Wallace:

The 'Young Calvin' painted by Theologian, Oliver Crisp
[T]he extent to which later Calvinists were faithful to Calvin has been a matter of considerable argument. Calvin wrote his theology in the context of the excitement of the striking insights of the early Reformation, and a later Reformed scholasticism developed that was methodologically at some remove from Calvin and sometimes less flexible in its formulations. Nonetheless, Reformed theology was a living tradition and not just the theology of Calvin, so that development, both as the unpacking of the implications of the early Reformed theologians, including Calvin, and as the need to adapt the Reformed outlook to new conditions and challenges, was inevitable. Thus Calvinism came to stand  for a position that emphasized the doctrinal points enshrined confessionally in the most international of the Reformed statements of faith, the Canons and Decrees of the Synod of Dort of 1618. And while the decrees of Dort as a definer of Calvinism can be exaggerated, insofar as there were many strands of Reformed theology, this doctrinal statement articulated what came to be known as the "five points" of Calvinism: unconditional election (predestination), total depravity, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints, that is the indefectibility of the elect---what some later Calvinists called "once saved, always saved." But these points were a kind of carapace surrounding and protecting the softer body of Reformed religiosity and teaching, which consisted of an overwhelming sense of divine sovereignty and of the pure gratuitousness of the saving grace of God, both of which were soteriological in focus. [Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., Shapers of English Calvinism 1660-1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 12-13]

As Dewey notes, for one thing, there are more strands that make up the Reformed Faith, and/or Calvinism, than many people think (which is where you can insert 'Evangelical Calvinism' or 'Scottish Theology'). But, it is also a reality (esp. in America), that "five point" Calvinism is the most dominate and recognizable and apparently self evident of the Calvinist expressions around today. Something that Dewey highlights, that I think is very significant, is taken up in his last clauses, when he writes; 'which consisted of an overwhelming sense of divine sovereignty and of the pure gratuitousness of the saving grace of God, both of which were soteriological in focus.' This is where the contours of Evangelical Calvinism (the kind we advocate in our book and here at the blog) touch in common with all the varied strands of the Calvinist tradition. Yet, as Evangelical Calvinists, we see God's sovereignty and saving grace shaped by who he is as Triune Love. We have a unique way of articulating and emphasizing this; such that God is seen in a very intimate personal way, wherein the decrees and any such talk are all reduced and collapsed into the person of Jesus Christ. This subtle, but profound difference in shaping the way we understand God's sovereignty and grace makes our approach primarily christological in focus V. the soteriological (that Dewey notes) focus of the "five point" variety of Calvinism.

Anyway, just trying to draw continued attention to how Evangelical Calvinism works a bit differently than its "five point" cousin. We take many of our cues from Calvin, just as much, if not more so than our "five point" brethren---of course this is a contentious assertion ;-).

Friday, May 25, 2012

What Bobby is Reading

I just picked up three new books to read, here they are:

Shapers of English Calvinism 1660-1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation by Dewey D. Wallace, Jr. 
I am particularly excited about this book because he has a whole chapter entitled: Evangelical Calvinism. Wallace in particular is looking at the Evangelical Calvinism of Joseph Alleine, whom I've never heard of before; so this chapter (and book) should be interesting. I doubt that this 'Evangelical Calvinism' will align with the kind we are articulating through our forthcoming book (but we'll see).

Reading Augustine in the Reformation: The Flexibility of Intellectual Authority in Europe, 1500-1620 by Arnoud S. Q. Visser

Here is how Diarmaid N. J. MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford describes Visser's book:
Augustine of Hippo is the most influential theologian that Western or Latin Christianity has produced and, in sixteenth-century terms, he was the posthumous champion of Reformation and Counter-Reformation alike. If anyone thinks that this was just a debate among scholars, let them listen to Arnoud Visser as he recalls a sermon by the Catholic Simon Vigor that quoted Augustine to urge the assassination of the Huguenot leader Admiral Coligny. With admirable clarity and adroit deployment of absorbing detail, Visser takes us on a voyage round Augustine, touring throughout Europe and across confessional divides. [back jacket of book]

Recovering Theological Hermeneutics: An Incarnational-Trinitarian Theory of Interpretation by Jens Zimmermann

Here is Kevin Vanhoozer's description:
In a way that simultaneously builds on yet subverts the contemporary consensus that hermeneutics is ultimately a matter of self-understanding, Zimmermann argues that 'there is no understanding of self without understanding of God.' This is an important proposal for the recovery of theological hermeneutics, in both senses of the term: It is a proposal for regaining control of hermeneutics (by reclaiming its original grounding in an incarnational ontology that defines 'being' by the reality of Jesus Christ and the relation of Father, Son, and Spirit), and it is a proposal for returning theology to hermeneutical health (by resisting the temptation to reduce understanding to a matter of following exegetical rules). In so doing, Zimmermann shows that there is more light yet to come not only from Scripture but also from the premodern hermeneutics of the Reformation. [back jacket of book]

Sometimes I start books, and once I start them I realize they aren't what I thought they might be so I don't always finish what I start when it comes to the books I read (I am pretty pragmatic because of my time limits). Hopefully I will be able to finish all three of these with no problems :-).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Happened to 'All the men' in Titus? The NRSV

I just read Titus (a book of the Bible I have memorized before ;-), and I was reading from my New Revised Standard Version, which I try to read from every now and then; that is, until it gets me upset, and I return either to my NKJV (I know about the text critical concerns here ;-), NASBu, ESV, or NIV (I read from all of these, although the NKJV is the one I've read the most and memorized from in the past). Anyway, Titus 2.11 represents just an occasion for me to get upset and, indeed, return to one of my old faithfuls. The NRSV rendering of Titus 2.11 reads this way:

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,..."

Here is how the NKJV reads the same passage:

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,..."

And then the NASB:

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,..."

And then finally (which is where I went to check this passage first), the Greek New Testament (this is the SBL version, I checked my UBS text, but they are the same here):

 "Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις...."

The word that the NRSV lops off in order to be gender inclusive is ἀνθρώποις, which is properly translated by the NKJV and NASB as 'all men'. This really isn't a surprise to me given the various translation philosophies afoot, and what informs the NRSV approach. But what totally peeves me is when the philosophy of translation nullifies the actual translation of actual 'words' in the actual text of scripture. You can't just cut off and not include a word in your translation of scripture just because it doesn't fit with a particular cultural more; I would have been much happier if the NRSV would have just translated ἀνθρώποις as 'humanity'. But instead, they totally cut this word out of their translation; this does not impress me to continue reading the NRSV, except in cases where I might be doing cross reference check while studying or something. That's too bad!

Babylon V. Zion as a Biblical Interpretive Theme

I am just finishing up my reading of Psalms in my Bible reading, and I just read Psalm 146, especially vv. 5-10, which reads as follows:

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
     who executes justice for the oppressed,
     who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
     the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
     he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10  The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

I couldn't help but think of the contrast that occurs between Revelation 17--18 & 21--22, and the two kingdoms involved there; Babylon V. Zion. Babylon in the Revelation passages operates with the same kind of oppressive power against the poor and powerless in the world as our Psalm vv.7-9 describes. And, just as the last line of v. 9 indicates 'but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin', this is exactly what happens in Revelation 19--20; which transitions us, finally from the oppressive hand and power of Babylon (and even Rome in the Revelation context), into what we have in our v. 10 of Psalms---i.e. God reigning forever from Zion (which correlates with Revelation 21--22). 

A quick application of this might shake us up, especially as Americans. Does America function more from Zion characteristics or Babylon/Roman characteristics and power? So, my question here obviously is a theopolitical question; one that I think is quite convicting, at least for me.

A Christ-Conditioned Interpretation of Scripture, As Literature

Of course in light of my last post; scripture is literature, and so I should be clear that I am not in anyway suggesting a rejection of that more than obvious reality. Instead, that there is an ontology of Scripture that flows from within a properly construed concept of God's triune life and Self-revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. It is this framework that ought to tense the way we approach scripture as the literature that it is, and appreciate that the singular meaning of scripture is centered in Jesus Christ and the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ (Triune). As Thomas Torrance has said, this is scriptures 'depth dimension', and one that framing and understanding scripture in the way that Ernst Käsemann cannot appreciate. Scripture is about Jesus, and I think it is about Jesus in an intensively, principial way; meaning that Jesus and God's Triune life is what holds all of scripture together. If this is the case, and I think it is, then this ought to impinge on the way we interpret scripture (as it did for Karl Barth for example in his Commentary on Romans). Here is how David Gibson describes Barth's approach to biblical interpretation, and in particular, his interpretation of Romans 9--11 as a case study:

Karl Barth
 A good example can be found in the way Barth approaches Romans 9–11. When his thesis of biblical text as witness to revelation is read in conjunction with his understanding of Jesus Christ as the object of that witness, and with his understanding of Jesus Christ as therefore the electing God and the elected man, then a particular set of theological lenses for reading Romans 9–11 come into view. Barth’s approach is well stated by Douglas Sharp:
[Barth's] exegesis [of Rom. 9--11] presupposes the identity of revelation/incarnation and election, and can be seen to consist in the interpretation of an objective reality (Israel and the Church) which he finds imaged in the text. The truly significant element of the exegesis is the fact that it is not so much the intepretation of biblical revelation as it is an interpretation of a medium which is itself an interpretation of revelation. This is to say that the exegesis of Romans 9–11 is an interpretation of an interpretation. Jesus Christ is the revelation, and Barth views the existence of the community as an interpretation of that revelation. Thus Barth interprets the community in its two forms in terms of the primary reality of Jesus Christ’s election.
This argument corresponds with what we discovered in reading Barth’s exegesis of Romans 9–11. The two forms of the community, Israel and the church, were read by Barth as witnesses to the two-fold determination of Jesus Christ for both judgment and mercy; here Christology intensively occupies the horizon of interpretation. We may recall how different this is to Calvin’s approach. Calvin’s covenant hermeneutic for Romans 9–11 (arguably the most salient feature of his exegesis) is influenced by Christology. But his hermeneutic is not christologically intensive, because he does not see Christology as the meaning of certain verses where Christ himself is not mentioned or as providing the typological structures for Israel and the church within the details of the text.

It is now clear that Barth’s reading of the Bible displays a heremeneutical paradigm that is created not just by Barth’s doctrine of election as it has emerged out of his reading of the Johannine Prologue, but just as closely by a tightly related set of well developed and consistently applied hermeneutical convictions that have operated at least as far back as CD I/2. As Barth comes to provide extended exegesis of biblical texts as part of his doctrine of election, his understanding of interpretive freedom and responsibility ensures that his exegesis of election will be carried out in a manner that may be described as intensively christocentric. This is because his account of the required subordination of the biblical interpreter to the witness of revelation is itself intensively christocentric. [David Gibson, Reading The Decree: Exegesis, Election, and Christology in Calvin and Barth, (London: T&T Clark, A Continuum imprint, 2009), 190-91]

I am actually not totally sure I am altogether comfortable with interpreting scripture the way Barth does, in toto, but I am quite close. I see all of the OT, for example, prefiguring the preincarnate Christ; and then the OT given it's proper orientation in its fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ's actual incarnation (and all the attendant realities associated with that). Nevertheless, in gist, I am heading more in the direction of Barth, than what Gibson describe's of Calvin's approach as soteriological-extensive (which we can get more into later); if possible, I might be somewhere in between Barth and Calvin. Which really, that's right about where T.F. Torrance was at.

PS. Just so you all know, if not apparent, I often work through my thinking right here at the blog, in the open. So, a post like this represents that mode of my blogging existence; I'm in process here.

Trying to Rethink a Usual Evangelical Conception of Scripture and Interpretation

I was trained to study the Bible at what is now called Multnomah University (both the Bible College and Seminary). By and large, the methodology that I was taught (and that I also taught for a time) was/is known as the Literal Grammatical Historical approach to biblical interpretation. This approach is one that has been adopted, and really, inherited from the hard fought battles of yester-year from within the Christian 'Fundamentalist' fight with the so called 'Liberal higher critics'. So it is ironic, to say the least, that the Fundamentalists (and later, the Evangelicals) ended up adopting a historicizing and rationalist mode of interpreting the Bible; wherein Scripture becomes literature like any other kind of literature (albeit, because of the Fundamentalist-Pietist veneration, it is imbued with a special kind of status), and the tools that the Liberal higher critics employed to interpret the Scriptures, just the same. But this is indeed what has happened. Scripture and its interpretation has become reduced to abstracting ethical and propositional axioms which then are made available to furnish the theologian's and ethicist's framework or construct of articulation (but even this style, proof-texting, of theologizing has really gone out of style, except for some hold overs within the Evangelical movement---but I would say that most Evangelical theologians have moved away from using scripture in this way). This problem actually probably plagues the Evangelical pastor more than anyone else; since he has been trained to interpret this way, with no real recourse to trends away from this today (like towards theological exegesis, etc.). I am just reading Stephen Fowl's contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, which is on Scripture. Fowl sketches the history that has led to the usage of the Literal Grammatical Historical method of biblical interpretation; he writes:

[O]ver the past forty years ... it has become much more common for this Christological analogy to be applied to scripture in the way advocated by Ernst Kasemann. For Kasemann (1967), this application of a Christological metaphysic to scripture results in or justifies a further set of arguments and practices. First, scripture's human, historical status necessitates the wide variety of practices commonly known as historical criticism. Failure to see this is to lapse into a sort of docetism. Because the Bible is a human book, it should be subject to the same interpretive practices and standards as any other ancient text. In this light, the interpretative practices and theories of biblical scholars should be accessible to all regardless of one's disposition to the claims of Judaism or Christianity. Should an interpreter be a Jew or a Christian, those convictions need to be abstracted as much as possible from one's interpretative work as a biblical scholar. Biblical interpretation becomes an end in itself whose goal is either the unearthing or the construction of textual meaning(s). 
Upon deciding to treat the Bible as a human, historical text to be read like any other, the remaining issue for theologians, and Christians more generally, is how to treat the Bible as the word of God. Once interpreting the Bible as a human book becomes its own end, the question is how to move from the results of that work either to theological claims, or to the moral and ascetical formation of Christians, or to any other edifying practice which Christians have traditionally based upon scripture. 
Attempts to distil [sic] the timeless truths of scripture from the historical particularities of the biblical texts and those texts' production represent simply one form of the attempt to figure out how to treat the Bible as the word of God after already treating it as the work of human hands. The so called 'biblical theology movement' represents another form of the same attempt . . . . [Stephen E. Fowl, Scripture, in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 347]

So Fowl, while discussing the impact of using the Christological analogy for scripture, identifies how we have gotten to where we have gotten in much of Evangelical biblical interpretation. Indeed, as he notes in his last paragraph---which is the other way I was taught to interpret the scriptures---was from the 'biblical theology movement'---which is just another attempt for the Evangelical to move beyond the rationalist method of interpretation that they fought against; but this attempt fails too, since, again, along with Kasemann, it views scripture just like any other form of ancient 'Literature', albeit imbued with special prowess, as God's Word---but this move isn't made until as Fowl notes "... simply one form of the attempt to figure out how to treat the Bible as the word of God after already treating it as the work of human hands".

Upon further reflection, I might be a little too optimistic (from earlier) about Evangelical exegetes moving beyond the specter that Fowl describes as a result of Kasemann's impact. I interact with quite a few Seminary trained Evangelicals who seem to engage the scriptures in the same way that Kasemann does; as historical literature that anyone has access to.

But how is this Christian in methodology? There is a dualism of history V. faith that is presupposed in this approach. Which is illustrated in Historical Jesus studies; when these scholars refer to 'The Jesus of Faith V. The Jesus of History'. For the Christian there should be no such competition in their Christology, and I think most Christians would say amen. But I wonder if we are this careful in the way that we conceive of Scripture and the hermeneutical theory which we so often employ as we interpret Scripture. If we follow Kasemann (like I think so many Evangelicals do), then scripture is reduced to ancient historical literature (akin to 'the Jesus of history'), to be interpreted like any other ancient literature; and then afterword, we try to figure out how our findings, through this kind of interpretive work, can be imbued with special significance for the faithful (Christians) (this is akin to 'the Jesus of faith'). But this is not to think of Scripture from within a Christian doctrine of God, and from within God's speech act to us which is centered in and from his Self-revealed Word, who is Jesus Christ.

In the next section of Fowl's chapter he moves to John Webster's proposal for scripture and biblical interpretation which Webster articulates in his awesome little book Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. I am really happy to see Fowl make this move. I have already previously discussed this through some posts, not too long ago, right here at the blog. I would like to challenge my brethren and sistren to maybe rethink their conception of scripture, and the impact that this has upon their exegesis, their expositing, and their pulpit -preaching ministries. This is only an invitation to re-think, not, obviously, a full offering for how to proceed forward (although those other posts broach that).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Introduction to 'Affective Theology'

**Repost, I wrote this probably 5 years ago now; but I like to throw it up every now and again. I still think ‘Affective Theology’ offers some very valuable framework for thinking about the role of the love of God in theological construction. Let me know what you think.

Ron Frost's Book
Here is a brief sketch to a historical system of theology (don’t let the historical part scare you away that I was first introduced to while in seminary, under the tutelage of Dr. Ron Frost. [You can now purchase Ron's book Richard Sibbes: God's Spreading Goodness by clicking on the hyper linked title, and buying it directly from LuLu Press---this is actually Ron's PhD dissertation which he completed at King's College, London University in 1996, it was originally entitled: Richard Sibbes' Theology of Grace and the
Division of English Reformed Theology
] This theology is known as Affective Theology (or even Free Grace Theology–different than the popular movement being forwarded currently by Zane Hodges). I am a proponent of this form of theological engagement (qualified at a few points, I actually like to assimilate this with “Scottish Theology”, Evangelical Calvinism), and believe that it beautifully captures the intention of scripture relative to things salvific and God’s nature. This framework was communicated in Puritan England by people such as Richard Sibbes and William Erbery amongst others. This was a movement that was responding to the stringent “precianism” of Federal Theology (Calvinism) articulated by fellows such as William Perkins and William Aames. Notice a testimonial offered by a man named Humphrey Mills, someone who new what it meant to live under the unbearable burden of the moralistic proving ground spawned by the inevitable consequence of “Perseverance of the Saints” and “Limited Atonement/Election”, here he speaks in his own words about the freedom of conscience he finally felt under the teaching/preaching of Sibbes:
I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had muchof God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward. (Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics,” Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653)
Here’s a heart freed from the constant burden of looking to self for assurance of salvation; and prompted to look up to Christ for freedom and salvation.

Richard Sibbes, 'The Heavenly Doctor'
Sibbes was one of the key-note articulates against the popery he observed with the moralistic tradition provided framework through the Calvinist doctrines. Sibbes believed, along with others, that external works should never be the basis for assurance of salvation–in fact Sibbes believed that assurance of salvation should not even be a functional premise within a soteriological construct; such as Calvinism provided. Sibbes was part of a movement known as Free-Grace, this was ” . . . the party of Puritans who opposed any idea that grace is conditioned by human cooperation.” (Frost, The Devoted Life, 81). Notice this quote offered by William Erbery, a contemporary of Sibbes, as he discusses progression of Purtian thought ending with that kind of Free-Grace preaching exemplified most clearly by Sibbes, note:
I observed four great steps of God’s glorious appearance in men’s preaching. First, how low and legal were their teachings as they learned the way of preaching from Mr. Perkins, Bolton, Byfield and Dod and Dike. . . . Next the doctrine of free grace came forth, but with less success or fruit of conversion by Doctor Preston, Sibs [Sibbes], [and] Crisp. . . . Thirdly the letter of scripture, and flesh of Christ hath been highly set up by both the famous Goodwins: . . . [Thomas] excels in spiritual discourses of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession, yet much according to the flesh, for he meddles not with the mystery of Christ in us. . . . [The fourth step] is the knowledge of Christ in the Spirit. (Frost, The Devoted Life, quoting from: William Erbery, The Testimony of William Erbery (London: n.p. 1658)
As Erbery highlights, Sibbes’, amongst the other Free-Grace teachers, was not taken as seriously as the predominate moralistic (Calvinist) teachers, i.e. Perkins, Bolton, et al. But notice where Erbery’s quote leaves off, “the knowledge of Christ in the Spirit”, to this we now turn. This is an important point of departure for the teaching of Affective Theology, as defined by Sibbes, i.e. the immediacy of the Holy Spirit in the persons life.

While Sibbes believed works were an aspect of salvation, he did not believe that these should be a barometer for determining a person’s salvation. Furthermore he believed constant obsession with such thinking was a product of an unscriptural understanding foisted on the laity of Puritan England by the Calvinist Divines. Note Ron Frost’s assessment of Sibbes’ approach here:
While Sibbes acknowledged some biblical support in calling Christians to obedience as a duty (Erbery’s category of ‘low and legal’ preaching) Sibbes clearly understood that duty can only be sustained if it is supported by the motivation of desire. Thus Sibbes featured God’s winsome love more than his power: the Spirit accomplishes both conversion and sanctification by a single means: through the revelation of God’s attractiveness by an immediate, personal disclosure. This unmediated initiative was seen to be the means by which God draws a response of heartfelt devotion from the elect.” (Ron Frost. Kellp Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life”, 82)
Notice the relational nature of the salvific event, the Holy Spirit comes to the heart of the “elect” and showers the heart of the sinner with the beautiful person of Jesus Christ. It is as the heart of the sinner is enflamed a love by the work of the Holy Spirit that the sinner responds back in love–given the overwhelming attractiveness of the sweet Savior. Another thing of note, is that the primary instrument used for disclosing sweet Jesus to the heart of the sinner is through the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, notice the centrality that heart, motive, and desire play in the thought of Sibbes’ as articulated by Frost. This to me is very important, because it takes seriously what God takes seriously, and alone searches, the hearts and motives of men (see Jer. 17:9 and many other passages). This is God’s concern, the motives, and desires of men and women; this is contrary to the system that emphasized external moralistic duties as the basis of determining one’s election (which by the way had horrific ramifications for Christian ethics as well)– Calvinism. Sibbes’ approach, and his affective anthropology, i.e. the defining feature of man (i.e. where values and motives take shape), was directly contrary to the Calvinist anthropology that saw the intellect and will as the defining features of man, and actually saw the “affections” as that which was the weakest part of man. In Calvinist thought it is within the will via interaction with the intellect that becomes enlivened by a “created quality” or Grace. It is through this created quality of Grace that man is able to cooperate with God and thus keep the duty driven moralistic standards consequently proving one’s election and salvation (like Humphrey Mills lived under).

Conversely, Sibbes saw grace as a relational characteristic of God imbued upon the heart of man. It is through this transformative intervention that man’s heart is changed (II Cor 3), and drawn to God. Note Frost’s description here, as he contrasts the Calvinist understanding of grace and the historic Free-Grace (Affective Theology) understanding of grace (as articulated by Sibbes):
In this framework some additional theological assumptions were revised. For instance, Sibbes understood grace to be God’s love offered immediately (rather than mediately) by the Spirit to the elect. By identifying grace primarily as a relational characteristic of God—the expression of his goodness—instead of a created quality or an empowerment of the will, Sibbes insisted that God transforms human desires by the Spirit’s immediate love and communion. Faith, for Sibbes, was not a human act-of-the-will but a response to God’s divine wooing. God’s laws, Sibbes argued, must be ’sweetened by the gospel’ and offered within a framework of ‘free grace.’ He also held a moderately developed form of affective anthropology (which is as further explained by Frost: Augustine’s affective position emerged in the Pelagian debate. Augustine held sin to be concupiscence of the heart—an enslavement to a love of self rather than God. In Augustine’s anthropology the heart is held to generate values; the mind uses the heart’s values to consider its options and to offer its best judgments; the will uses those judgments to engage in action. . . .”)Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life”, 82)
This represents the touchstone, and most basic understanding of historic Free-Grace theology, or Affective Theology. Some highlights to take away: Affective Theology (AT) believes man heart is in total bondage to self-love; AT believes that man cannot cooperate whatsoever with God in salvation; AT believes that until the heart is transformed by God’s love through the Holy Spirit’s enflaming work, man will never find rest or salvation; AT believes contra historic Calvinist teaching that the emphasis of salvation is relationally based given the identification of God’s gift of grace with the work and person of the Holy Spirit; AT believes, given the relational basis, is not obsessed with proving one’s election since works are not the foundational component of AT’s framework of salvation.

I’ll leave it here for now, there is much more to be said about this perspective . . . especially about the framework that served as the touchstone for Affective Theology. That touchstone is found in Ephesians 5, and the Pauline marriage discussion. The marital framework provided in this beautiful epistle is picked up by AT and pressed into as the picture, but more than a picture (actually an ontological reality), of what union, and thus communion with Christ, is all about. I.e. this is contrary to the covenental framework provided by Calvinism, and the “contractual” implications provided by such a system (e.g. you keep your end of the contract, and God will keep His—). The marital framework, rooted in the New Covenant, is no longer obsessed with personal performance–but instead is overwhelmed with the beauty of her bride-groom [Jesus]–marriage presupposes relationship, i.e. nothing to prove, just something to grow in–ultimately finding consummation in glorification and celebrated at the marriage supper feast of the Lamb.

Knowledge of God From John Knox through Thomas Torrance

I am on a bit of a posting blitz, but here is a post I wrote quite some time ago that I really like; enjoy:

In commenting on Evangelical Calvinist, John Knox’s understanding of God; Thomas Torrance offers a profound statement of what all of this entails:

Young, Thomas Torrance
[K]nowledge of the one and only God, as far as it is true knowledge, enshrines the mystery of God, and so is confessed and acknowledged as God eternal, infinite, immeasurable, incomprehensible, omniscient, invisible. This God whom we know cannot be fitted into our knowledge. God cannot be commanded by our reasons — cannot be comprehended by our minds. It is certainly to our minds that God reveals himself but only in such a way that he remains eternal, infinite, incomprehensible, etc. Knowledge of God cannot be put into precise words. God’s majesty defies definition or description — all theological language is apocalyptic in so far as it is genuine. That is true above all of the Trinity — knowledge of this God is infinitely open. Thus in faith the human reason is opened wide to the infinite and incomprehensible being and majesty of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. [Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell, (T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1996), 6 -- A review copy provided graciously by T&T Clark]

You will quickly notice which direction Torrance believes knowledge of God comes from; not from our epistemological schemas, but from God to us through Christ and into the Triune life of God himself. This approach to knowing God runs against the construing God from thinking of him through his works in creation or something. Or trying to find analogies in creation, or in humanity that in latent ways allow us to think and speak about God. No! Knowledge of God for Torrance, and as he would contend, John Knox, is a gift from God in Christ for us through the Spirit. There is never one-to-one correspondence between our theological language and God’s being. Instead, theological language is something that is constantly given to us anew as God continues to break in on our world, on our conceptions; and re-orders and re-orientates our grammar in a way that puts to death anything we had conceived of prior to this encounter in Christ. He provides a ground for knowing him that is completely out of this world (but decidedly and concretely in this world); the God-Man. He presents us with concepts that breaks up and re-orders our imaginations in ways that place us upon the precipice of heaven’s throne; Ezekiel knows what I’m talking about.
Just a little reflection . . .

The Guts of Classic Dispensationalism

If you are unaware of what classic Dispensationalism is shaped by, then I offer you this post. I will never fully escape Dispensationalism; I am an American Evangelical after all, and it has held more of my life than not (now I am amil), thus far. So I will continue to write on this system of interpretation, as I have a chance; and I will do so in constructive ways ;-).

According to Charles Ryrie here are the 3 most basic ingredients that must be present in order for someone to pop out as an Dispensationalist:

[T]he essence of dispensationalism is (1) the recognition of a consistent distinction between Israel and the Church, (2) a consistent and regular use of a literal principle of interpretation, and (3) a basic and primary conception of the purpose of God as His own glory rather than the salvation of mankind. (Charles Ryrie, “Dispensationalism,” 45)

Jerusalem, 70 A.D.
This provides the rubric from which dispensationalism flows (esp. in its Classic and Revised forms). Each of these points require further explanation, and development; but for now I will just state them up front like this, just in case you are unaware of some of these basic points upon which dispensational theology pivots. In the same flow, let me also list the 7 dispensations usually articulated by both Classic/Revised dispensationalists; again, we will hear from Ryrie:

1.) Name: INNOCENCY –> Scripture: Genesis 1:3–3:6 –> Responsibilities: Keep Garden, Do not eat one fruit, Fill subdue earth, Fellowship with God. –> Judgment(s): Curses, and physical and spiritual death.
2.) Name: CONSCIENCE –> Scripture: Genesis 3:7–8:14 –> Responsibilities: Do good –> Judgment(s): Flood.
3). Name: CIVIL GOVERNMENT –> Scripture: Genesis 8:15–11:9 –> Responsibilities: Fill earth, Capital Punishment –> Judgment(s): Forced scattering by confusion of languages.
4.) Name: PATRIARCHAL RULE –> Scripture: Genesis 11:10–Exodus 18:27 –> Responsibilities: Stay in Promised Land, Believe and obey God –> Judgment(s): Egyptian bondage and wilderness wanderings.
5.) Name: MOSAIC LAW –> Scripture: Exodus 19:1–John 14:30 –> Responsibilites: Keep the law, Walk with God –> Judgment(s): Captivities.
6.) Name: GRACE –> Scripture: Acts 2:1–Revelation 19:21 –> Responsibilities: Believe on Christ, Walk with Christ –> Judgment(s): Death, Loss of rewards.
7.) Name: MILLENNIUM –> Scripture: Revelation 20:1-15 –> Responsibilities: Believe and obey Christ and His government –> Judgment(s): Death, Great White Throne Judgment.
– Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 54

Do these sound familiar? Maybe not all of these, but I would imagine the last 3 that many of you are quite familiar with; at least if you are an American Evangelical. You can see how the cycles of “stewardship” work between each new dispensation. There are certain responsibilities given to humanity in each dispensation; when this group of people fail, they experience God’s judgment, which then also becomes the trigger for the next dispensation to start. Interestingly, the end of the 6th dispensation would come about by unbelief in Christ (by much of the Church); which for the Apostle Paul (like in his epistles to Timothy) coincides with the “Great Apostasy” that will typify the end of days (which many believe we are experiencing right now).

Let me know what you think . . .

PS. Addendum: You know how I just recently said I was going to be writing at my other blog 'Blogic Of Grace', well I lied ;-). I am just going to post here, it gets too confusing sometimes for folk to follow me at two venues. The reason I was going to blog elsewhere is becomes sometimes being known as 'The Evangelical Calvinist' in the blogosphere carries with it unwanted connotations amongst various Christians, and I get tired (some times) of having to explain how EC is different than what people usually think of as Calvinist; and usually what happens is that people presumptuously pigeon hole me, and don't even give me a chance to explain what Evangelical Calvinism entails. Anyway, forget that, I am 'The Evangelical Calvinist' in the blogosphere for better or worse ... ultimately I think, for the better :-)!

Am I too critical, too negative in tone?

I usually don't like opening myself up like this here at the blog---I used to do this quite frequently, and it never turned out all that constructive, usually---but since an interlocutor of mine just emailed me with this very concern; I thought I would try to get more feedback than just from him.

So, do you think that the tone of my posts, in general, are too critical? As you peruse my more recent line-up of posts, most of them seem to have something to do with critique of what I refer to as classic Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and in one instance, Mormonism. My email friend thinks that the tone of my posts, as of late, have taken a turn toward the negative; but I would submit, that relative to myself a few years ago, my posts nowadays are much more tame, mild, and matter of fact than they used to be.

Now, my friend is an Evangelical academic, and often times what I have found is that my blogging style does not mesh well with the more careful, dispassionate, analytic, academic mode of being. My friend is concerned that I open myself up for caricature in the way that I characterize whatever I happen to be critiquing; again, not being careful and developed enough for the academic pallet. This most recent email from my email friend is not the first time I have been lovingly chastised for my chosen style of blogging; I have many an academic (seriously, not overstating) contact me from time to time with the concern that my blogging style is too aggressive, too provocative, and many other "toos" as well.

Let me state for the record---in case you haven't noticed---I am a passionate guy who really really does not like the spirituality that has been produced by classical theism, in general; and then in classical Calvinism and Arminianism in their varied instantiations. One of my former profs (who is wiser than I) [I'm not referring to Myk for folk trying to read between the lines] has more heart burn related to classical theism than I think I might; indeed, he has been of great influence on me. I am just saying that I see a serious problem with almost all things Classic (like theisms, Calvinisms, Arminianisms, Dispensationationalisms, Fundamentalisms, etc.). In other words, this is not an academic thing for me (just to provide some rationale). There is no doubt that I could be more positive (meaning just talking about the tenets of Evangelical Calvinism), but in a way I don't find this helpful either. The dots need to be connected first, context needs to provided prior to the significance (in some ways) of Evangelical Calvinism being totally appreciated (and I am referring primarily to the laity who have been hood-winked by classical theistic teaching all their lives ... folks who don't even realize that there is an alternative way to think about God that is better suited as Triune).

Anyway, I am somewhat venting (my friend's email could have come at a better time than it did); but I am also reflecting upon 'why' I often write with the kind of edge that I do. I don't really write for the academic (although they are free to read ;-); I write from the perspective that folk don't know that there are alternatives to the kind of usual American pulpit theology that they sit under Sunday in, Sunday out. Could I change my tone? Maybe a bit (I already have, and there are many of you out there, I think, who could attest to this), but I can't ever imagine me writing something about Evangelical Calvinism (by way of providing context for it), without also referencing its cousin, classic Calvinism. 

PS. You think I'm negative, just read some of the Torrance's (not just Thomas, but his brother James), or old school guys in that camp; they write with just as much, if not more edge than I in this regard. This does not necessarily justify my edge, but it suggests to me that I am not the only one who has been excited by the deficits that flow from classical theism and its theology as well as spirituality. Sometimes I wonder why it's more noble to be passive-aggressive than it is to be aggressive (at least that's how I often read it in American Evangelical circles, by way of approach and posture)?

Evangelical Calvinism is much better situated to be 'Incarnational-Missional' than is classic Calvinism

Being an 'incarnational-missional' or Evangelistically oriented Christian fits much better with Evangelical Calvinism than it does with classical Calvinism. [Todd Billings in is book Union With Christ provides a great critique of the usual usage of the language 'incarnational-missional', I am using this terminology with that critique in mind, and thus more in a denotative way---I think, later today, I will quote Billings and get further into what it means to actually live incarnational-missional over at my other blog 'Blogic Of Grace' (I already have a post up over there on this)]. Here is what I mean about 'Evangelical Calvinism' being better equipped to be 'Evangelistic' than its cousin 'classic Calvinism' is.

Evangelical Calvinists start with God as Self-revealed in Jesus Christ, and thus we have an orientation that grounds itself in Christ as the Son of the Father with the Holy Spirit as Triune; and thus our understanding of God is personalist and relational (other-centered from within the orbit of God's life as other centered or as 'subject-in-being' through mutual indwellment one in the other). Classical Calvinists start with a philosophical conception of God that appeals to Aristotle's notion of an unmoved mover, actual infinite, monad, or substance; once this conception of godness has been developed (apart from the Self-revelation in Jesus Christ), the classic Calvinist then applies this to the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus Christ. This initial and methodological move, relative to the disparate doctrines of God; leads Evangelical Calvinists and classic Calvinists to different paths in regards to their orthopraxis (or what each would consider right practice in the Christian life).

For the Evangelical Calvinist, she believes that God came down, immediately and personally, to humanity because of who he is in himself (antecedently); that is, that God is love (I Jn. 4:8 etc.). The Evangelical Calvinist thinks (at least this one does) that this 'coming down' means that Jesus truly became a human, entered into humanities' sinful state, and began redeeming us (from the inside out) from Christmas time, through his Baptism, into 'Good Friday', climaxing at Easter and Ascension, leading into Pentecost, and finally consummating and being fully realized at his second Advent. This all presupposes that all of sinful humanity was taken care of through the mediatorial and priestly work of Jesus Christ; emphasis is on ALL! In contrast, the classical Calvinist believes that God relates to humanity through abstract, deterministic, impersonal, philosophical decrees. Within the Covenantal/Federal system of Calvinism, this kind of Calvinist believes that God originally related to Adam and Eve through a situation of 'Law-keeping' (Covenant of Works); once Adam and Eve broke God's Law, then the Son and the Father agreed on a contract ('Pactum Salutis' or Covenant of Redemption), which resulted in the Covenant of Grace. This involved the Son coming, meeting the conditions of the Law (that Adam and Eve failed at), paying the legal penalty of death that accrued from original Law Breaking; and in so doing, literally purchasing an elect parcel of humanity for whom the Father and Son had already bartered over in the past (e.g. Unconditional Election). Once Christ fulfills and meets the conditions of the Law (forensically construed), and he purchases this elect group of humanity; then God is able to love this set of humanity.

It should be clear, at this point, why Evangelical Calvinists have a capacity to be incarnational-missional; wherein, the classical Calvinist does not. Since Evangelical Calvinists believe that God 'is' love; then this is what motivates his creating, incarnating, redeeming, and coming for all of humanity. Since classic Calvinists believe that God's primary mode of relation 'is' law; then this results in a theology and practice that sees God only being able to meet the needs of a few elect folk, and not deal with all of humanities' sin problem. Given this scenario, between these two disparate approaches; it should be obvious, by now, that the Evangelical Calvinist can genuinely preach salvation to ALL of creation (Romans 8), instead of just part of it. Myk Habets turned me onto this quote from TF Torrance, years ago now; this quote captures exactly what I have been getting at, in regard to the capacity for the Evangelical Calvinist to be incarnational-missional and evangelistic in a way that is motivated by love for all:

"God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour." ~T. F. Torrance, "The Mediation of Christ", 94.
PS. Truth be told, I've never liked the language of 'incarnational-missional', because I've always understood the formation and impetus to this kind of language to flow from a theologically Pelagian perspective wherein the emphasis is upon what "I" can perform or do for Christ by way of mimicking my perception of the incarnation. This rubs against a truly Christ-conditioned understanding of Christian practice wherein we live lives that participate in Christ's life for us and others. So just understand that I am not endorsing the usual mode of what it means to be 'incarnational-missional'; which is why I opened up with that word about Billings critique of this movement.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Read me at the Blogic Of Grace too

I am going to continue to blog here, and one other place, now. I am reopening another blog of mine which is entitled 'Blogic Of Grace'. This blog ('The Evangelical Calvinist') will be updated on Sundays and Wednesdays, and the themes here will always have to do with Calvinism (dominated by Evangelical Calvinist concerns). My other blog will be updated more frequently (like probably daily), and will be hodgepodge of various theological themes (primarily issues having to do with whatever I am reading at the moment). I want to always maintain this site to have a placeholder for Evangelical Calvinism, and a place to expose our forthcoming book (which I think should be out this June, now).

So, as usual, read me here, or over at Blogic of Grace ... see you wherever :-).

I have never believed in 'Limited Atonement'

I was born into a Conservative Baptist pastor’s home. I became a Christian in a home where your basic baptistic soteriology was taught, you know Biblicist. In regards to the atonement this meant that when the Bible said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life;” and that that is what it meant. That God loved the world (meaning the whole world), that He gave His Son to die for the world; or a “universal atonement.” At the same time I grew up believing that entrance into the salvation that Jesus won for us, was exclusive and limited to those who believe in Him (based on passages like Jn. 1:12; 14:6; etc.). So, without any kind of supporting theology in place; we held these realities in tension, you know, in Biblicist form.

So, should it be any surprise that when I came across Barth and TF Torrance that their theology resonated with me in regards to providing a theo-logic that actually fit with the Biblicism that I grew up with, and was so familiar with. Ironically, I have come to hold to a kind of “limited atonement;” but a kind that sees the atonement limited to Christ, not particular people. That Christ is both elect and reprobate in Himself for us, and by virtue of union with Him all of humanity has the possibility to believe in Him by the power of His name. Of course the darkness and love of sin, the god of this age and the prince of the power of the air poses problems for some (many, the broadway).

I like to think that I am still just a Biblicist. I doubt most would agree with that ;-) .

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Glenn Beck & Tim Ballard Need to Repent: The Divinization of America and Anglo Israelism Repackaged

I just watched a clip from Glenn Beck's show on his network GBTV. For those who don't know, Glenn Beck is an American commentator who has risen to fame through his analysis of current events; which most often includes themes related to global economic collapse, world war III, and the belief that we are at a tipping point in world history in which there will be a restructuring of the global situation from what we have known it to be up to this point. Beck is LDS (Latter Day Saint), or Mormon in orientation; and it is his commitment to this kind of belief structure that informs his particular kind of Americanism ('Nationalism'), and interpretation of current events. He often collaborates with known Evangelical Christians, and thus has a rather hybrided (from a pure Mormon eschatology) view of prophetic history according to Scripture (in other words he seems to mix Dispensational Premillennial Zionism with his Mormon end times expectations).

Back to the clip I just mentioned, here it is:

In the past, Beck has hinted, for the discerning listener, at the idea that he believes America has ties to ancient Israel (which is exactly what Joseph Smith taught; i.e. that the Mormon's were the descendents of King David, etc.). So with this belief, it is fitting that he would hearken to ideas about the founding of America which believed that America was the 'New Israel' (which is really just post-millennialism gone awry and to its logical conclusion); indeed, there were many founding Fathers of America who believed this (just read Noll's, Hatches', and Marsden's 'The Search For Christian America'). But Glenn (from all appearances), and one of his most recent guests take this even further than many of these founding Fathers. Glenn's guest, Tim Ballard (who I believe is also Mormon, he is a graduate of Brigham Young University), argues in his recently released book, The Covenant, One Nation Under God: America's Sacred Connection with Ancient Israel, that the American Founders were the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That is, that these American's, in fact, are blood descendants of ethnic Israel. Ballard's thinking is only a reiteration of what has been called British Israelism, or Anglo Israelism (read about it here). In a nutshell, this is the belief that the lost 10 tribes of Israel, after the scattering and captivity from the Assyrians, migrated to parts of Western Europe and the British Isles; it is this genealogy, that Anglo Israelism taps into for their argument that the founding Fathers of America believed themselves to be fulfilling prophecy by founding America, or the New Israel. Ballard takes this literally, and gives this belief divine sanction, in his book (from what I can surmise); here is what is written about his book in a blurb at his website:

[T]o be clear, this book is not about America's ties to the Jewish State formed by U.N. edict in 1948 called “Israel” but rather, the text hearkens back to the period of 720 B.C. to the Northern Kingdom of ancient Israel who with her Ten Tribes were scattered by the Assyrians into the "North” land of Western Europe, Great Britain and Scandinavia, who inherited by virtue of birth and bloodline, the right to invoke "the Promises made to the Fathers."

Except for a very few cases, every freedom-loving patriot in modern times (regardless of his birth nation) has already tasted of the blessings which flow from the "just and holy principles" upon which America was founded. Could it be that America was designed to be much more than simply another political entity among many?  Could it be that her founders understood and endeavored to teach the rising generations exactly what it would take to preserve those blessings forever?

As a nation we have both honored and breached the Covenant at various times in our history and have been blessed or suffered as a result, this book is written to leave all without excuse. We have within our grasp the freedom to sacred and ominous power to choose to honor or to violate the terms of the Covenant and surely as a nation, we will live or die by the consequences of that choice. [full quote taken from here]

So really, this is nothing new. British Israelism has been around for along time; indeed, it was a touchstone teaching for the former Worldwide Church of God, through their founder Herbert Armstrong (the WWCG has now renounced their teacher's former teaching, and have become quite orthodox under the new name Grace Communion International---indeed, much of their leadership follows the teaching of Thomas Torrance, and I have some of them reading right here at the blog :-). 

Anyway, Glenn Beck and Tim Ballard are out to lunch; we all know that the Apostle Paul taught that the 'Seed' and promise was all in reference to Jesus Christ (not any lost nations, or even one nation); at least that's what Paul clearly argues in his little epistle to the Galatians. 

Glenn Beck and Tim Ballard need to:

  1. Convert to orthodox, historic Christianity.
  2. Read their Bibles for all their worth.
  3. Take some Christ-centered biblical interpretation classes (hermeneutics).
  4. And repent of their divinization of America, and recognize that Jesus alone is the homoousion person who brings nature and grace together in his one divine person!  
Here is the trailer video to Ballard's book:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The 'Way' I Critique classic Calvinism ... So, you don't like it, why not?

Maybe you are like, Gojira, he is a guy I came across years ago as I started blogging, and he just shown up again ;-) in the comment meta of my last post---the following post represents my response to him, and his concern that he doesn't like the way that I usually frame my critiques of classic Calvinism; maybe you don't either, and so I give this response to you as well ...

Thomas Aquinas at Jesus' Feet
I think there are many heirs and expressions of the metaphysics that shape all Calvinisms (except for Evangelical Calvinism); and this is the "frame" that I always use when "critiquing" any kind of 'classic Calvinism'. I use "classic" intentionally, when I lump all these various modes of Calvinism together, sometimes; I use 'classic' because they all flow from the same substance metaphysical conception. So what is it about my "framing" in this regard that you don't like? Are you a fan of substance metaphysics? Many, many are. But I don't see how one can argue that this metaphysical construal, in its classic form, serves the grammar of the Gospel in a fiduciary way---relative to the revealed categories of the Gospel, which are revealed, of course, in God's Word, Jesus Christ. Substance metaphysics starts with a single composite substance (which is unitary, and impersonal by definition). Yet our God, revealed in Jesus Christ, the Son, is Triune, dynamic, and personal. So what is it about the way that I "frame" my critiques that you don't like? Do you support  the usage of a metaphysical framework that morphs God into an impersonal Lawgiver instead of a personal Lover (in the Triune sense)? Many, many do support this metaphysic; why do you, if you do? Many also assert that there is a different piety associated with Reformed classic Calvinism that belies the metaphysic behind it. In other words, many classic Calvinists assert that there is a disjunction between the God who is in se (ontologically), in himself in eternity (de potentia absoluta); and the God who is revealed in historic-time ad extra (epistemologically), in the economy (de potentia ordinata). But this nominalist, split, combined with its classical theistic metaphysic places a rift, a wedge, between who God is in eternity and who God is in historic time; thus causing a rupture between the Father and the Son, and destroying the unity of the Divine Monarchia, and thus destroying the Christian concept of God ... placing, as Barth and Torrance both were fond of saying, a 'God behind the back of Jesus'. So you support the classical theistic, classic Calvinist framework? I am presupposing that you do, since you don't like the 'way' I "frame" my critiques; since the way I "frame" my critiques of any kind of classic Calvinism, is always through this framework---that is, through the framework that is critiquing the substance metaphysics that stands behind and under any form of classic Calvinism. That's fine if you do support this, many, many do; but then I am still left to wonder, why?!

That was my response to, Gojira, and you, if you don't like my usual critiques of classic Calvinism. I know that many say we have moved beyond the regular substance metaphysics that underpin classic Calvinism, but in what way? Have we moved onto Barth's 'acutalistic' post-metaphysic (much much better!)? Or maybe TF Torrance's reification of substance metaphysics through what he has called the 'onto-relations' of God's life (wherein the Triune life is given its 'being' as a Subject-in-Being so mutual-indwellment of the other and perichoresis are given pride of place in this construal, which is probably more in the category of ontology V. metaphysics, simpliciter). I don't think classic Calvinistic theology has moved, or has even tried to move beyond the substance metaphysics that supports their theological grammar (just see someone like Richard Muller); in fact, by and large, much of the American Reformed movement (if not its entire Western instantiation) lives in a constant mode of  repristination, attempting to revivify the categories of their past into the present. So I don't think my critiques, "framed" as they are, are over-reaching (in general). If this is the mode that classic Calvinism is most often shaped by, then it seems correct to attempt critiques that look at what has served as the framework for Calvinism's development in its history.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Calvinism Sells: More on Evangelical Calvinism

Nothing has really changed. It's kind of weird to have a certain blogging identity, like I do (like we all do, at some level). I mean mine has become rather specific, it seems (the name of my blog contributes to this, no doubt). My blog, relative to the hits it receives, almost dies when I talk about anything other than Calvinism (and things related). Yet, when I do posts on Calvinism (or the doctrine of Scripture), my hits per article surge dramatically. I'm not totally sure how I feel about this, but as I opened 'nothing has really changed'. What I mean is, is that ever since I've started blogging (back in 2005); my posts on Calvinism (Arminianism), and soteriology, in general, have always been the most popular. Indeed, I don't think this is simply my problem; I think, in general, that this is the case (blogosphere wide) for almost all bloggers who attempt to bring up this never ceasing hot button issue (e.g. the debate and continuum of Calvinism-Arminianism).

My greatest concern, though, is that so many folks (and I refer to the popular level) remain in a state of confusion; it's as if folk think the the binary between Calvinism and Arminianism (classically construed) cannot be reframed in a way that is actually 'Evangelical' and 'Scriptural' (and I mean thematically). I am afraid that people see 'the Evangelical Calvinist' and presume that this is simply a case of math wherein we have Evangelical + Calvinist = Evangelical Calvinism. But this is sorely presumptive, and these folk only are presuming through their lack of exposure to the history of interpretation, ideas, and theology in particular. It is really only arrogance, from my perspective, that keeps lay and academic thinkers, alike, in the muddle of the false binary that classic Calvinism and Arminianism represents (the recent dialogue between Roger Olson and Michael Horton only helps to reinforce this binary). What people on both of these sides of the same coin are failing to grasp is that it is possible to start with a different doctrine of God, within the Reformed heritage, than does the classical representation of Calvinism and Arminianism start with. It is possible to actually start with a Trinitarian understanding of God, within the Reformed tradition (whether that be Calvinian, Torrancean, Barthian, Sibbesian, et al.), that leads beyond and around the classical debate between Calvinists and Arminians. This is what I, at points, am continuing to try to do here at 'The Evangelical Calvinist'. And yet, I grow weary some times; at least in trying to persuade people that there is another way to think of such things relative to salvation theory (amidst its given doctrine of God).

I will try to do more posts, in the near future on this issue ... count this one as the first of many.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

You Don't Need To Be an 'Egg-head' to be a Theological Thinker

Don't be an 'Egghead', you might break!
Trained theologians clearly have their place for the church of Jesus Christ (cf. Eph. 4:11ff), but, of course, not all Christian folk are going to be 'trained theologians'. This is a constant tension for me though; my desire is for all Christians to learn to think deeply and theologically about all of life. To inhabit the life of Christ by the Spirit so much, that we cannot but help to interpret all of life's circumstances through the lens of Christ's life. And yet, I so often don't see people moving in this direction; it isn't that everyone needs to be up on all of the cutting edge theological discussions, but it is that all Christians are commanded and exhorted to quit thinking like babies, and in fact grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. So I have this tension; I want all people to be theologians, but I have to balance this out with the realization that not all Christians are called to be professional (so called) theologians. Thomas Torrance provides some good balancing words on this kind of tension:

[I] have been wonderfully blessed with a mother and a wife who have a profoundly Christian, and indeed a remarkably theological, instinct. My mother had little academic training in theology, but her life and her understanding were so tuned in to the mind of Christ that she knew at once where the truth lay and was quick to discern any deviation from it. This is also very true of my dear wife, who is imbued with an unerring theological instinct, evident again and again in her reaction to ideas put forward by preachers or teachers. At the end of the day that was the test I put to my students, as I read their essays and examinations or listened to them in the chapel. 'Has this person a genuinely theological instinct or not? Is his or her thinking spontaneously and naturally governed by the mind of Christ?' That is much more important than being theologically learned, much more important than being able to offer a formal academic account of some doctrine or historic debate in the church. What really counts in the end is whether a person's mind is radically transformed by Christ and so spiritually attuned to the mind of Christ, that he or she thinks instinctively from the depths of their mental being in a way worthy of God. [Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement, 445]

I similarly, like Thomas, am blessed with a dear wife who has these theological instincts. It is this kind of 'tacit knowledge' (another theme, or the same theme that TFT is appealing to here with his 'instinct knowledge') that we come to as we are in a submitted, even repentant posture towards our God through Christ, because we indeed love him (because he first love us in Christ I Jn. 4.19). Torrance's perspective is one that I must always keep before me; the goal, for the edification of the saints, is to equip them in ways that help to cultivate a life of instinctual, Holy Spirit given, Christ conditioned 'lights' that are constantly being switched on throughout our daily lives.

Not everyone is called to be a professional theologian, but everyone is called to love God in Christ. And cultivation of this call will result in this kind of instinctual discernment that lays everything at the feet of Jesus before proceeding (whatever it is). It will be a life characterized by utter dependance upon the One who raises the dead, such that life will only make any sense (in every waking and sleeping moment) as it is lived from the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. The ground of this instinctual knowledge of God is found nowhere else but in the gracious and loving demonstration and reality of that in the mediatatorial humanity of Jesus Christ 'for us'.

Do you have this kind of theological instinct? If not, why not? It is time to get moving, the days are short, and the coming of Jesus is at hand (cf. Heb. 5--6 & Heb. 10:24ff).