Friday, July 20, 2012

Why I am Not a 5 Point Calvinist

I am not a so called Five Point Calvinist for various reasons, but one of those reasons, a primary reason, is that the theology behind the acronym TULIP was never intended to be the sum or end all of what Calvinism was to be known for, doctrinally. Myk Habets and I, in our recently released book, have commented on this reality in the introductory chapter of the book:

Numerous recent attempts at defining the Reformed or Calvinist tradition have been offered. A number of these treatments have tended to present in objective fashion what is, ultimately, only a subjective judgment. Earlier popular works at definition, still in vogue amongst seminary and university students on campuses today, look to the five points of Dort—the so-called “doctrines of grace”—as the essence of what it means to be Reformed.25 Dort, however, as with most if not all of the Reformed confessions, is a localized and contextual document. The Canons of Dort give a detailed and skilled reply to Arminianism; hence “TULIP” represents a response to the Arminian five-point Remonstrance. It was never intended as a sum of Reformed thought. The Canons of Dort are still to be consulted for a Reformed reply to Arminianism, but they should not be thought to represent the sum of our belief. As Muller has written:

In other words, it would be a major error—both historically and doctrinally—if the five points of Calvinism were understood either as the sole or even as the absolutely primary basis for identifying someone as holding the Calvinistic or Reformed faith. In fact, the Canons of Dort contain five points only because the Arminian articles, the Remonstrance of 1610, to which they responded, had five points. The number five, far from being sacrosanct, is the result of a particular historical circumstance and was determined negatively by the number of articles in the Arminian objection to confessional Calvinism. [Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, eds., Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church, (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 9-10.]

So even Richard Muller, Calvin and Calvinist scholar renowned, would agree with us, that the five points should not be seen as universally binding for the faithful; instead their regional and occasional nature should be understood as their primary context of meaning. Thus, when we say that we are 'Evangelical Calvinists' we are free to eschew the five points in favor of other emphases that have also developed within the history of the Reformed faith, in general, and Calvinism in particular.

PS. Make sure to check out my other blog: The Face Of Christ

Monday, July 16, 2012

Follow Me, If You Want ...

This blog has just become my official "Book Blog," if I have any particular updates about the book itself, or other pertinent things regarding Evangelical Calvinism in particular, then this will be the place to read about that. I will be continuing my blog life over at an older blog of mine renamed to 'The Face Of Christ'. Sorry about the inconvenience to the relatively small readership I have at this blog (which has dwindled to almost nothing, strangely) for making another move, but it is what it is.

My blog address is:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wright on Dispensationalism and the Nation of Israel in the Theology of the Apostle Paul

Jerusalem besieged, 70 A. D.
I thought this was an interesting point made by N. T. Wright in his book Paul: Fresh Perspectives, he is discussing the nation of Israel and how Israel functions in the theology of the Apostle Paul. The point I am lifting from Wright here is a point that illustrates his dismay over North American Dispensational readings of Paul's theology, in particular his conception of the second coming of Christ. Here is what Wright writes:

[...] For some, alas, the very phrase 'second coming', and even perhaps the word 'eschatology' itself, conjures up visions of the 'rapture' as understood within some branches of (mostly North American) fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity, and as set out, at a popular level, in the 'Left Behind' series of novels by Tim F. Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and the theology, if you can call it that, which those books embody. That scheme of thought, ironically considering its fanatical though bizarre support for the present state of Israel, is actually deeply un-Jewish, collapsing into a dualism in which the present wicked world is left to stew in its own juice while the saints are snatched up to heaven to watch Armageddon from a ringside seat. (p. 145, Nook edition)

And then he goes on in the next paragraph to develop the Apostle Paul's actual thinking, in contrast to dispensationalism, on such things; he continues to write:

This is massively different from anything we find in Paul [referring to the dispensationalist reading he just mentioned], for all that the central text for the 'rapture' theology is of course I Thessalonians 4.16-17. What we find in Paul at this point is four things, in each of which we see the still-future Jewish eschatology redrawn around the Messiah.... (p. 145, Nook edition)

He goes on to develop his 'four things', which I don't want to get into at this point. Instead, I simply want to draw attention to the way that N. T. Wright (unsurprisingly) thinks of dispensational theology. I have come to agree with Wright about my former dispensationalism (I am an American Evangelical after all). But what does Wright mean when he writes 'That scheme of thought, ironically considering its fanatical though bizarre support for the present state of Israel, is actually deeply un-Jewish, collapsing into a dualism in which the present wicked world is left to stew in its own juice while the saints are snatched up to heaven to watch Armageddon from a ringside seat'? It is something that I have harped on for quite some time, whenever I write about dispensationalism; that is, this neo-Platonic, hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church (the Church=for Wright 'the saints snatched up'). It is this distinction that ironically, but not, makes the Church God's saints, and the nation of Israel his Covenant People; such that the latter are judged (even though Jesus already was ... he was the Jew, wasn't he) by God in the 'Great Tribulation' (Daniel's so called 70th Week, or Jacob's Trouble, cf. Jer. 30:7), and the former are the beneficiaries of Christ's death for them on the cross. So we end up with this strange dualism between God's "two people," with the result that one still has to go through a blood letting of unimaginable depth, and the other has been released from such blood letting (the Church) through their Savior, Jesus Christ. My depiction might seem crude, but this is the inevitable conclusion to consistent and honest classical dispensational theology.

Wright, in the end, is right that dispensational theology offers a bizarre picture of what it means to 'support' the nation of Israel. Their theological framework has abstracted the nation of Israel out from Christ (in this dispensation, anyway ... i.e. the so called "Church Age"), and essentially placed them into a situation that has them facing something akin to a medieval Roman Catholic conception of purgatory; but instead dispensationalists have named it, 'The Great Tribulation', riffing on Jesus' words in the Olivet Discourse.

What say you Dispensationalist?

PS. In the end, though, I think Wright unhelpfully ends up offering an ecclesiocentric view of God's people, instead of grounding God's people (the Pauline 'One New Man' cf. Eph. 2.11ff) in God's life in Christ as his new creation in his covenant life of grace. So I think Wright is still in need of some dogmatic reflection, and I am happy to see that he seems to be open to some correction by some of his more recent interaction with Kevin Vanhoozer (esp. in areas having to do with union with Christ theology).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Can't Have Jesus Without Faith

You can't simply do historical analysis of the New Testament and expect to come to right conclusions about Jesus. And yet this is where so much of 'Evangelical' scholarship (and Christian scholarship in general) resides. You can't use analogies that start with yourself and work your way to Jesus from there, and expect to find the genuine Jesus; you'll just end up finding the Jesus who looks oh so much like yourself--the Jesus molded in your own image. So the irony of what I just asserted is that I am saying that you can't 'solely' rely on historical Jesus studies and expect to find the true Jesus, and at the same time I am asserting that we must avoid somehow importing our own historical culturally situadedness back onto the face of Jesus. So what's the answer to this dilemma? What get's us beyond this impasse of dualism between studying Jesus through historical empericism and isolated subjectivism? I mean isn't Christianity a religion based in history? Yes. But history by itself does not have the proper traction or orientation to provide humanity--embedded within history--with the proper epistemological antennae needed to penetrate the depths which gives history its right relation to the one who gave us history to begin with. Am I speaking too cryptically for you yet?

Here Thomas Torrance speaks somewhat less cryptically about how we ought to dogmatically consider the relation between history and revelation through the optic of Faith:

All this means that any christological approach that starts from the man Jesus, from the historical Jesus, and tries to pass over to God, and so to link human nature to God, is utterly impossible. In fact it is essentially a wrong act: for it runs directly counter to God's act of grace which has joined God to humanity in Christ. All Attempts to understand Jesus Christ by starting off with the historical Jesus utterly fail; they are unable to pass over from man to God and moreover to pass man to God in such a way as not to leave man behind all together, and in so doing they deny the humanity of Jesus. Thus though Ebionite christologies all seek to go from the historical Jesus to God, they can make that movement only by denying the humanity of Jesus, that is by cutting off their starting point, and so they reveal themselves as illusion, and the possibility of going from man to God is revealed as likewise illusory.

No, it is quite clear that unless we are to falsify the facts from the very start, we must face with utter and candid honesty the New Testament presentation of Christ to us, not as a purely historical figure, nor as a purely transcendental theophany, but as God and man. Only if we start from that duality in which God himself has already joined God and man, can we think God and humanity together, can we pass from man to God and from God to man, and all the time be strictly scientific in allowing ourselves to be determined by the nature of the object. [Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation, edited by Robert Walker, 10]

So Torrance's premise is that what has happened in the incarnation is totally unique, and has only been made accessible through the purview of faith. Not blind faith, but faith that takes it shape as it is given to us through the revelation of God himself in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ for us; the humanity that grounds all of humanity as the image of God (Colossians 1:15)--so faith is the eyes to see and the ears to hear with that Jesus so often challenges his audiences to employ.

What does this tell us about historical Jesus studies that seek to tell us the truth about Jesus, but then fail to do so through the mode of faith? It tells me that these approaches are trying to find a public square, a common ground through which to substantiate and situate Jesus in such a way that he has respectability amongst the world. Once this respectability has been established, and Jesus rightly reconstructed, then we can attend to the issues of faith (so there is an implicit competition, then, in this scenario, between the Jesus of Faith and History). To be clear, none of this is to reject the usage of historical tools, but it is to call attention to the need that these tools have; the need is to provide for them a prior Christian dogmatic order that will allow those tools to not chisel a Jesus into something he is not (e.g. first a man, then God added on). He is God first, who becomes man; and this is such a unique event that it in itself can only be its own analogy.

There is more to say about the TF Torrance quote above; especially about the affirmation of creation and humanity that is provided for it through the incarnation of Christ. Maybe another time, or in the comments. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Jesus of History & Faith, Conjoined

I wanted to address something that dovetails with a recent mini-essay that Darren Sumner wrote on Karl Barth's understanding of history and revelation. What I want to do is provide a counter-part post that underscores and articulates Thomas F. Torrance's view on the same subject. If you read Darren's post alongside this post; what you'll notice is that both Torrance and Barth share a very similar understanding on the relationship between how revelation and history work together, and how the former ultimately must be said to condition the latter; and not vice versa. Here is TF Torrance, at length (I will highlight the significance of this relative to the normal ways that Evangelicals and some of the Reformed use history as the foundation for their view of revelation---which is really backwards from a genuinely Christian order of things):

The mystery of Christ is presented to us within history --- that historical involvement is not an accidental characteristic of the mystery but essential to it. That is the problem.
Let us first put it this way, recalling the bi-polarity of our theological knowledge. If God has become man in the historical Jesus, that is an historical event that comes under our historical examination so far as the humanity of Jesus is concerned, but the fact that God became man is an event that cannot be appreciated by ordinary historical science, for here we are concerned with more than simply an historical event, namely, with the act of the eternal God. So far as this event is a fact of nature it can be observed, and so far as it is historical in the sense that other natural events are historical, it can be appreciated as such; but the essential becoming behind it cannot be directly perceived except by an act of perception appropriate to the eternal event. That act of perception appropriate to an eternal act, or divine act, would surely be the pure vision of God, which we do not have in history. Here on earth and in time we do not see directly, face to face, but see only in part, as through a glass enigmatically, in a mystery. We see the eternal or divine act within history, within our fallen world where historical observation is essential. Faith would be better described then as the kind of perception appropriate to perceiving a divine act in history, an eternal act in time. So that faith is appropriate both to the true perception of historical facts, and also to the true perception of God's action in history. Nor is it the way we are given within history to perceive God's acts in history, and that means that faith is the obedience of our minds to the mystery of Christ, who is God and man in the historical Jesus. What is clearly of paramount importance here is the holding together of the historical and the theological in our relation to Christ.

If the two are not held together, we have broken up the given unity in Christ into the historical on the one hand, and the theological on the other, refracting it into elements which we can no longer put together again. We then find that we cannot start from the historical and move to the theological, or from the theological and move to the historical without distortion, and nor can we rediscover the original unity. We can only start from the given, where the historical and the theological are in indissoluble union in Christ. [Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation, 6-7]

So there is no analogy for the incarnation. And for Torrance, the incarnation must be the definitive touchstone for how we start to conceive of a knowledge of God (the Old Testament then is seen as the pre-incarnation of God in Christ); and since there is not human analogy for this reality to be found in the history of history (i.e. God and humanity united in a single person), the only 'foundation' that can be used to justify our belief about God must be given its shape and reality through the given reality of the incarnate Christ---which means, faith.

This means that we cannot start with an abstracted history (like a naked evidentialism) and seek to attach this to the history of Jesus, but the history we have, in itself, of Christ's revelation is the given reality itself; there is nothing else that can be determinate of that, other than the truly and self-determinately free God himself.

*A repost for those who may have not read this, I once posted this not too long ago at my EC (Wordpress) blog.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thomas Torrance on Justin Martyr and "Proving Jesus" as Hermeneutic

Justin Martyr
Thomas Torrance, in his Theological Science (his theological method, and a title of one of his books), follows what he calls an epistemological inversion; in short, epistemological inversion is the approach that holds out that an object or subject (or both as in the case of Christian Theology) acts upon us (the knowers and inquirers), such that it itself opens up to us its own reality and structures of thought—this process remains an open structured event. It is from within this context that we can better understand Thomas Torrance’s appropriation of someone like Justin Martyr, and his defense of Christian reality and the Christic event itself (one and the same). Let’s follow along as Torrance engages Martyr, this quote will end with Torrance quoting Justin (which is the piece I really want to get to with this post—viz. Martyr’s “argument”):
The distinctive feature of this Word is its relation through the Spirit to historical facts and events. It is when we allow the Scriptures to direct us to these facts and events that our minds fall under the power of their truth and we are compelled to believe for they carry in themselves their own demonstration. This is not, of course, any kind of logical proof, but the kind of demonstration that arises immediately out of the facts and events themselves through their self-evidence. This is particularly well expressed in a fragment of a lost work on the resurrection that has survived through John of Damascus and attributed to Justin.
[T]he Word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, disdaining to fall under any skilful argument, or to endure the logical scrutiny for its hearers. But it would be believed of its own sake, and for the confidence due to him who sends it. Now the Word of truth is sent from God, wherefore the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant. For being sent with authority, it were not fit that it should be required to produce proof of what is said, since neither is there any proof beyond itself, which is God. For every proof is more powerful and trustworthy than that which it proves, since what is disbelieved, until proof is produced, gets credit when such proof is produced, and is recognised as being what it was stated to be. But nothing is more powerful or more trustworthy than the truth; so that he who requires proof of this, is like one who wishes it demonstrated why the things that appear to the senses do appear. For the test of those things which are received through the reason, is sense; but of sense itself there is not test beyond itself. As then we bring those things which reason hunts after, to sense, and by it judge what kind of things they are, whether the things spoken be true or false, and then sit in judgment no longer, giving full credit to its decision; so also we refer all that is said regarding men and the world to the truth, and by it judge whether it be worthless or no. But the utterances of truth we judge by no separate test, giving full credit to itself. And God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the Truth. And the Word, being his Son, came to us, having put on flesh revealing  both himself and the Father, giving to us in himself resurrection from the dead and eternal life afterwards. And this is Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. He, therefore, is himself both the faith and the proof of himself and of all things. [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning, 95-6; the quote from Justin, De resurrectione, 1.1f, from the Sacra Parallela of John of Damascus. E.T. from Ante Nicene Christian Library, vol. 2, pp. 341ff. This is not generally accepted as Justin's
own work, but like the Cohortatio ad Graecos was at least written under his influence.]

For all those weary souls who have labored under the Evangelical mantle of ‘Fighting Fundamentalism’ and the Apologetic Faith (as Warfield called it); won’t you join me in commending yourself to a more Christian Way? A ‘Way’ that does not entangle itself in the realm of rationalist-historicism, that seeks to ‘prove’ Jesus to themselves and the world. I am sure that it is the other way around … we are in need of ‘proving’. And I think the “Martyr” quote helps us to think in this order, and not the order of the “world.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Too Much Jesus in the Bible?

I would like to expose you all to Thomas Torrance's take on Irenaeus' understanding on what could be called a Christocentric Hermeneutic. As you read Torrance's account of Irenaeus, understand that you are reading Torrance too. Here is Torrance on Irenaeus:

It is, then, to the Incarnation that Irenaeus turns for the clue to the interpretation of the history of creation and redemption and therefore for the clue to the interpretation of the Scriptures. The essential order and connection of things is embodied in Jesus Christ and it is by reference to him that the economic ministrations of God in humanity and the historical covenants are to be understood aright, and therefore the interconnection between the scriptures of the prophets and the scriptures of the Apostles, 'the Gospel and the Apostles. Even the Scriptures of the old covenant have to be read in the light of Christ's advent in the flesh, for his coming connected the end with the beginning and made the beginning predictive of the end, thus showing that the faith of the patriarchs and prophets and ours is one and the same. They sowed the seed, the word about Christ (sermonem de Christo), but it is in us that the fruit is reaped and received, and only in the Church is the truth of the things prefigured realised. 'Certain facts had to be announced beforehand by the fathers in a paternal manner, (paternaliter), and others prefigured by the prophets in a legal manner (legaliter), but others delineated according to the pattern of Christ (deformari secundum formationem Christi) by those who perceived the adoption, for in one God are all things shown forth.' [Thomas F. Torrance, Divine Meaning, 122-23]

How does this strike you? Do you think this is too intense for a hermeneutic or mode for interpreting Scripture? Is your method of biblical interpretation this intensively Christ focused? I am really curious how you all think of this; I obviously highly appreciate this kind of 'Patristic' method of interpreting and reinterpreting (the OT) Scripture in light of  its fulfillment in Christ. This rubs against the method of interpretation I learned (by and large) in Bible College and Seminary; which is the Literal Grammatical Historical method (the kind that leads to and from Dispensationalism).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Knowledge of God for Thomas Torrance

Here is a video I did about 2 years ago (forgive my haircut, this is actually just after I finished my chemo treatments, so my hair is growing back :-). Anyway, I am interacting with Paul Molnar's book Thomas F. Torrance: The Trinitarian Theologian. I think the material covered in this video is apropos towards providing more insight into some of the issues that seem to be arising for Roger Olson as he interacts with our book. Furthermore, the material covered in this video is what I develop further in my personal chapter in our book.

So knowledge of God can only come through knowledge of God as it is Self-revealed and determined to be in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 1:18). Knowledge of God can only be regulated by his own Self-revelation, and thus other modes for providing grammar and content for knowledge of God cannot be entertained (such as using philosophical categories like appealing to Aristotle etc. appeal to).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Classical Determinism

Over at Roger Olson's blog, and in his most recent post where he is interacting with our recently released book, one of the issues that has come up or that is not being appreciated 'yet' is the Evangelical Calvinist eschewing of logical-causal-deductive determinism. This is somewhat of a fundamental key toward appreciating the distinct offering that we are, under the 'Evangelical Calvinist' nomenclature. True, not all, even of the authors in our book, would necessarily go this far in offering critique of classic determinism (or they might, but just might to it differently); but the following (which is a repost of mine), will illustrate how I, at least, want to proceed in relation to the usual epistemological methods employed by the 'classical' tradition. So the following is in response to what I am perceiving, thus far, as somewhat of a lacuna in the reading of Olson and those commenting vis-à-vis an Evangelical Calvinist approach.

Here T. F. explains and undoes the usual understanding of how events in history and causation relate one to the other. He defeats the idea of causation, appropriated by Classical Theists, in general; and Classical Calvinists & Arminians, in particular, that there is a necessary relation between the event that happened, and the events that led to the happening. He makes a disjunction between Factual event and Necessary event; the former being that which we understand as an actual happen-stance of the past, and the latter having to do with the idea that because that happen-stance happened, that the events that led to its happening also were necessarily organised in a certain way in order for the the conditions of that event to be so — as if we, as historians (or scientists, theologians, etc), can absolutize causes based upon an idea of uniformitarian conception of Event. Obviously this is a little complicated, and not for the faint of heart, but I think it important to be grasped in order to understand what Evangelical Calvinists mean when we say that we eschew the logico-causal-determinism of ‘classic’ thought.

 Here’s T. F. Torrance (this whole discussion takes place in the context of TFT talking about resurrection):

(a) Interpreting ordinary historical events
(i) Freedom and necessity in historical events
Let us try to understand this from a merely natural point of view. Think of a historical happening: in taking place it appears as a free happening. Once it takes place, it cannot be undone. Throw a stone through that window and you are engaging in a free act, but once it has taken place, the act cannot be recalled — we cannot turn it backwards as we can a film of the event. Thus once an event has taken place, it becomes ‘necessary’ — in the sense that it cannot now be other than it is. At this point, however, we are liable to suffer from an illusion, for we tend to think that because it is now necessary fact, it had to happen. This is the kind of optical illusion we suffer from on the golf course when our opponent putts a ball from the other end of the green and it goes right down into the hole — immediately that happens we somehow think it had to happen from the start, but what we have done in a flash is to read the final result back all along the line of the ball’s course into the free act behind it. It is through this kind of illusion or indeed delusion that some historians think that historical events are to be interpreted in the same way in which they interpret the events of natural processes as concatenated or linked together through causal necessity.

The distinction between causal necessity and factual necessity
But it is important to distinguish in historical happening between causal necessity and factual necessity, between causal determination of events and the fact that once they happen they cannot be otherwise. An historical event, once it has taken place, is factually necessary for it cannot now be other than it is, but an historical event comes into being through a free happening, by means of spontaneous human agencies. Certainly all historical events are interactions between human agents and nature, as well as interactions between agents and other agents — so that there are elements of causal determination in historical happening that we have to take into account, physical factors relating to the kind of patterns of space and time in which we live and work. But historical events are not by any means merely natural physical processes, for as happenings initiated and bound up with purposeful agents they embody intention which often conflicts with and triumphs over the course of events that nature would take on its own.

(ii) History is the interweaving of natural processes with human intention
It is this interweaving of natural processes and human agencies, of nature and rational intention, that gives history its complicated patterns. The course of events has often quite unforeseen results, for human acts may fail to achieve what would have been expected or may achieve far more than would or could have been anticipated. But in our interpretation of history we must never forget that in the heart of historical events there is free happening which bears the intention in which the true significance of history is to be discerned. Thus while we must appreciate fully the physical factors involved, we must penetrate into the movement of time in the actual happening in order to understand the event in the light of the intentionality and spontaneity embedded in it. The handling of temporal relation has proved very difficult and elusive in the history of thought, for it has so often been assimilated to logical relation and so transposed into something very different. The confusion of temporal with logical connection corresponds here to that between spontaneity and causal determinism in natural science. We can see this error recurring, for example, in notions of predestination where the free prius of the divine grace is converted by the scholastic mind into logico-causal relation, while the kind of time-relation with which we operate between natural events is imported into the movements of divine love and activity. It is a form of the same mistake that people make in regard to the resurrection, when they think of its happening only within the logico-causal nexus with which they operate in classical physics. (Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, edited by Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009, 249-50)

In keeping with Torrance’s usual mode of thinking from the Incarnation & Atonement (here the resurrection being the focus), he seeks to excoriate any ideas of logico-causal determinism as the lens through which profane historians would attempt to interpret the ‘historicity’ and ‘facticity’ of the resurrection itself — Torrance’s discussion here, is all taking shape within his line of thought associated with Kata Physin (or according to the nature of the thing, or his more popular method Theological Science). As he deconstructs the post hoc ways of what might be called ‘natural theology’ (meaning all modes of intellectual inquiry which make inferences from supposed stable events, works, physical nature, etc. to their “necessary causes”), by implication, he also gets at theological constructs (like classic Calvinism-Arminianism, Neo-Orthodoxy like Brunner’s) that operate with this same modus operandi.

The moral: There are unseen, unknown contingencies built into the nature of things themselves that make it impossible to accurately infer a stable causal chain of events from the event back to the cause itself. The answer to this, in relation to knowledge of God, is to see the event and cause conjoined together in the person-act of Jesus himself. It is from this vantage point that we then are set up to know God, in Christ, but no longer as some sort of deterministic causal agent; but instead, as personal, triune Divine agent who apocalyptically breaks into the contingencies of history re-creating them towards their telos or created purpose in Christ (cf. Col. 1:13ff) — the resurrection, then, being the instantiation of this within time-space history.

I doubt this has cleared much up, but if nothing else it helped me to write this out for my own process. I also would surmise that it is because of the nuance of this kind of thought, evinced by TFT, that Evangelical Calvinism will continue to have problems with making headway with the typical American Christian. It is easy to understand causal-determinism, because that’s what “we see” in “nature” all the time (there is an “apparent” coordination between how things appear to the naked mind’s eye, and how we then assume things in themselves “must” be — so it is natural to operate with a docetic understanding of things — but this is not Christian (and when I write 'Christian', I mean by way of what we perceive as 'principled' Trinitarian theological methodology — I am not even coming close to questioning anyone's 'salvation'), nor Evangelical Calvinism — it is the mode of Classical Calvinism & Arminianism [and I realize this is hard teaching, who can hear it?]).

Roger Olson Interacts with our Book

Professor Roger Olson has been interacting with our book, recently. You can read his initial impressions here. I will be interested to see what he thinks once he gets to our last chapter, chapter 15; this chapter is the one that Myk and I cowrote and it offers up the most definitive statements of what it means for us (Myk and I in particular) to be so called Evangelical Calvinists. 

Roger Olson
My concern, thus far, as I read Olson's, and some of his commenter's, impressions, is that there still isn't a substantial recognition of the radicality that is involved in our methodology (which is why I think our chapter 15 will be instructive and informative for Olson). It still seems as if Olson & co. (his commenters) are trying to read what we are offering through what Torrance calls logical-causal and deterministic lenses. As if what we are trying to communicate is still working through a mechanical mode of inquiry V. a personal and Trinitarian one.

We shall have to see if this is finally caught once Olson makes it through the book, we'll see ... :-). Just glad Olson is giving our book a fair read! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Was Karl Barth a 'neo-Orthodox' Theologian? The Third Time ...

For anyone who was interested in that question of mine a few posts ago – e.g. whether or not Barth was actually neo-Orthodox – well, another Princeton guy I know (a bit ;-), David Congdon has offered the lineaments of a really helpful argument for why Barth was not neo-Orthodox [and he also comments on where he sees T.F. Torrance on (or not) spectrum as well]. It gives me hope, relative to my own thinking, that what David iterates jives with my earlier hunch (i.e. that natural theology is definitive for whether or not something can count as neo-Orthodox, or not). Below are the two links to the previous posts on this, and then David's clarifying comment.

1st post & 2nd post

I see you've posted Travis's comment. It's mostly right, but I would like to specify matters somewhat further. What neoorthodoxy did was to marshal certain ideas from Barth (mainly, divine transcendence, revelation as encounter), abstracted as static, stand-alone propositions, and use them to buttress the project of Christian orthodoxy within the modern era (hence the "new"). Neoorthodoxy is fundamentally ideological, in that it presupposes the validity of something like a Christian orthodox tradition. Having presupposed this tradition as something to be preserved and maintained, it then finds in Barth certain concepts that are useful toward that end. The reason neoorthodoxy is not dialectical theology is that the latter makes no such presupposition; it is in fact the total abolition of ecclesiastical presuppositions. Dialectical theology is a thoroughly destabilizing understanding of the gospel. Neoorthodoxy is basically a species of natural theology, in that it takes for granted something stable and given in the world -- in this case, the church. It is therefore no wonder that Barth and Brunner would fall out over that issue.

For these reasons, I demur from Travis on two points. First, existentialism as such is not a constitutive element of neoorthodoxy. It is only existentialism as it is welded to a certain kind of natural theology, as it was in Brunner's case, but emphatically not in the case of Bultmann. Second, I cannot help but see Torrance as operating within the ambit of neoorthodoxy. He did not engage in natural theology (I agree fully with Travis there), but it seems to me that he takes for granted a kind of ecclesiological givenness in the form of the orthodox tradition. That was precisely the underlying presupposition for his ecumenical work. And, conversely, it is why Barth cared so little about such ecumenical agreements: not because he did not believe in the unity of the church, but because such unity only exists in the person of Christ -- and the person of Christ is a reality that does not give itself to ecclesiastical and theological traditions. The saving event of Christ must always be an offense to those theologies that seek to sustain and prop up the tradition of the church. Orthodoxy, as Barth insisted, is only ever an eschatological reality. As such, there is no orthodox faith in history. And therefore there can be no neoorthodox theology. [David Congdon's comment, here]

To be as radical and 'critically-dialectically-realistic' as Barth, the theologian must endeavor to rub out any inkling of human mastery when it comes to knowledge of God in Christ. This is why Barth is known as a post-metaphysical theologian who works from his actualistic mode of theological endeavor.

Thanks, David.

Happy Human Independence/Freedom Day, from Karl Barth

Since it is 'Independence Day' here in America, today, I thought I would repost a reflection and response on 'Human Freedom' that I posted at my older EC blog quite a few months ago now. As you will see, these reflections are in response to a brother (in Christ) of mine. Happy 'Freedom Day'!

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. ~John 8.36

Silhouette of Barth, Garbed in the 'Colors'
I am reposting the following because I am working the next couple of days, and so don’t have the time to develop some things I would like to in response to the discussion I have been having with Nathan in this thread. Some have asked what ‘grace all the way down’ might mean (in the thread and post I am referencing). Some of you are wondering how I might move differently than a classic Calvinist or Arminian in framing human action as grounded in a theological-christological anthropology—thus ultimately recasting, and somewhat avoiding the usual categories of working out of ‘the bondage of the will’ dialogue. So in lieu of me writing an actual post that would articulate how I might proceed; this post, and maybe one more tomorrow will have to suffice until I can do a proper (new) one. Somebody might think that some of the language from Barth sounds like what Billings is critiquing in the Arminian, but it’s not. Since Barth’s construct grounds what it means to be human, dogmatically, in the elect humanity of Christ for us. This is the piece that classic Arminianism (and Calvinism) is missing; i.e. ‘the classic way’ operates with a competitive view between Divine-human action vis-á-vis human action simpliciter. Meaning that the classic approach, does not ground humanity from the humanity of Christ in an objective gracious way. Instead, it sees humanity as abstracted from the humanity of Christ in need of union with his humanity which is only actualised through their cooperation with God in salvation by habituating in the ‘created grace’ (which becomes the impersonal intermediary that binds elect or foreknown humanity to Christ’s humanity). More to be said. Here’s Barth on the vicarious humanity of Christ as ‘God with us’, which becomes the recreated humanity through which our humanity elevated to what it means to be human; or free for God.

Here is a great statement from Barth on the vicarious humanity of Christ,

[T]he answer is that we ourselves are directly summoned, that we are lifted up, that we are awakened to our own truest being as life and act, that we are set in motion by the fact that in that one man God has made Himself our peacemaker and the giver and gift of our salvation. By it we are made free fro Him. By it we are put in the place which comes to us where our salvation (really ours) can come to us from Him (really from Him). This actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself opens up to us the one true possibility of our own being. Indeed, what remains to us of life and activity in the face of this actualisation of His redemptive will by Himself can only be one thing. This one thing does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment. It is not a small thing, but the greatest of all. It is not for us a passive presence as spectators, but our true and highest activation—the magnifying of His grace which has its highest and most profound greatness in the fact that God has made Himself man with us, to make our cause His own, and as His own to save it from disaster and to carry it through to success. The genuine being of man as life and activity, the “We with God,” is to affirm this, to admit that God is right, to be thankful for it, to accept the promise and the command which it contains, to exist as the community, and responsibly in the community, of those who know that this is all that remains to us, but that it does remain to us and that for all men everything depends upon its coming to pass. And it is this “We with God” that is meant by the Christian message in its central “God with us,” when it proclaims that God Himself has taken our place, that He Himself has made peace between Himself and us, that by Himself he has accomplished our salvation, I.e., our participation in His being. [Karl Barth CD IV/I, p. 12]

This is the kind of stuff I am looking for. A theological anthropology, that is Christological; that honors the integrity of created humanity by giving humanity its place in the recreated humanity of Jesus Christ for us. It is a participationist humanity that we are given as a gift, we don’t possess it in ourselves. The giveness of humanity is where humanity flourishes through its relation in the divine life (i.e. the proper order) in Christ. This early section in IV/I is entitled “God with Us.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blogging can be wearisome ...

I get tired of blogging some times. It's so virtual, so flat. And it often miscommunicates who the blogger is, because it creates a false persona (because blog posts tend to emphasize certain aspects of a person [and often not their best features] over against others). I bet if I met some of you folk in flesh and blood, you'd (and I'd) be surprised ;-). Anyway, I grow weary ...

Dispensationalists should "Re-interpret"

Addendum: See this dovetailing post I just read by Matthew Malcolm: Fundamentalist Hermeneutics Serves a Secularistic, Atheistic Agenda . Matthew's title is quite provocative, especially if you're still working from a dispensational hermeneutic; how would you counter Matthew's (and my) claim contra dispensational hermeneutics in particular? Matthew doesn't use the language of dispensational, but this is what he's referring to in the post (and then he broadens this out, as I have, to the issue that this revolves around; hermeneutical structure).

Rubin, Jerusalem circa. 1926
Must I? I guess I must. I must inform any of my newer readers that I grew up classic dispensational, moved to progressive dispensationalism (about 14 years ago), and finally (after much angst and study and deliberation ... seriously!) have arrived at all truth; viz. I am amillennial (so called). This is my little caveat prior to getting into the rest of this post. With that ground cleared before us, I simply wanted to highlight something that kept hitting me in the face as I was reading through Deuteronomy tonight. That is, that my dispensational brethren severely misread scripture (this is a strong statement ... who can hear it?) when they supposedly follow their literalist hermeneutic of interpretation instead of re-interpreting Scripture (like the New Testament authors did, as well as the early Church) in light of the Old Testament fulfillment, in Christ. Jesus was under no delusion that, indeed, Scripture was all about him; notice what he said to the religious leadership of his day (I think he would reiterate the same thing to Dispensationalists today):

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, ... John 5:39

Jesus understood the Old Testament Scriptures, and the promises therein, as finding their reality and fulfillment and purpose in him. He believed that the Scriptures, and the Old Testament promises to his covenant people were all about him; and that they were personally fulfilled in him. For example, as I was reading through Deuteronomy this evening, the concept of "land" and blessing and "Yahweh's people" kept popping up. Like the Jewish zealots of Jesus' day, dispensationalists collapse this promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh's people into a geo-political and "literal" promise that is yet (and is currently) to be fulfilled by the Jewish people in present day Israel (a sign of this fulfillment, for dispensationalists, is the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948). But if we re-interpret these promises as if their fulfillment has come to reality in Jesus Christ, then the promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh's covenant people will be understood to have fulfillment in and through the obedient humanity of Christ as the new man; the new and obedient Israel (Eph. 2:11ff); and in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Heavenly Jerusalem, as described in Revelation 21--22. So there is a literal fulfillment after all, but it has already been fulfilled (the now and not yet aspect of the kingdom ... or the in-between time we inhabit currently) penultimately in Christ's first advent, and yet ultimately in Christ's second advent and the consummation of all things.

One of the problems for dispensationalists is that they understand "literal" through a neo-Platonic lens; so that there is a hard distinction between the spiritual heavenly realm and the physical earthly realm. What the dispensationalist fails to appreciate, properly, is that if we interpret all of reality and the purpose of creation through the analogy of the incarnation and the hypostatic union between the divine and human; that the hard distinction between heaven and earth is not a viable option. If you will, the dividing wall has been broken, and all things have become One in Christ. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest ...


Some Perspective on Calvin

I just came across this quote from an acquaintance on Facebook---the quote intends to give a more round characterization of Calvin (or maybe demonize him):

John Calvin
Most Protestant Christians know John Calvin (1509 – 1564) as the French theologian of the Protestant Reformation who fathered Calvinism, the theological backbone of the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian churches. However few know the unflattering, intollerant & self righteous side of Calvin, whom had 16th century Geneva (1540s & 1550s) under such control that he was known as the "the Protestant Pope" and the "Dictator of Geneva". Following is a brief synopsis of Calvin's life in Geneva, with URL linked references. A picture emerges of a well educated, polemic defender of the Reformed faith, who's vast theological contributions are marred by instances of religious intolerance, jealousy & mis-use of power/authority over those who disagreed w/ him, theologically or otherwise.

It is true that Calvin was a human being, or Luther's simul justus et peccator; ‎but what's the point of highlighting such things, if not (usually) to marginalize and poison the material that Calvin offered the church, theologically? This is not to say that I agree with Calvin just because he is Calvin; indeed, I disagree with some fundamental things relative to Calvin's theology (like his construal of election ... I advocate for our Evangelical Calvinist understanding instead). But, if I quit paying attention to theologians and Christians because of some sort of heinous sin or character flaw in their person; then, there would be no one to pay attention to in the Christian faith---not to mention, David (in the Old Testament). I am not excusing Calvin's flaws, I am only trying to provide some perspective; Calvin was a man. Usually the mood that often prompts the kind of sentiment communicated in the above quote comes with something related to Calvin's handling of the Servetus incident. I have an old post on that here.

Does Christian character matter? Yes! Was Calvin someone who sought Christ, and yet remained a sinner? Yes! It would be very scary, indeed, if we all were studied, scrutinized, and scoped the way Calvin is. I would imagine that we would all be disqualified from the faith. I don't think it is wrong to try and know who Calvin was, for historical reasons; but it is the way that this kind of historical reconstruction is used that causes me to be wary in such instances.

The "Anonymous" Comment that Slipped Through

This comment came through on my last post, anonymously (which don't comment anonymously ... from this point on I will delete all such comments, unless you leave your name in the body of the comment because you don't know how to comment any other way). It showed up in my email, but oddly not here at the blog (not even as a deleted comment); so I have no idea how that happened. Let me transcribe it (it's short), and then respond to it; quickly! Here it is:

Bobby, there is a distinction between dialectical and dialogical theology. Your thesis seems somewhat confused in that regard.
 Also, not sure how you can claim that theological exegesis should be the 'only' way Christian thinkers and readers engage scripture. This comes across as nonsense when we consider the ways in which Bultmann's theology grew out of his historical-critical methods and interaction with existentialism -- he did not do theological exegesis as such. More often than not theological exegesis looks like isogesis in that there is a reading of the creed back into the text in a rather unhelpful way. 

In response to this "commenter's" first gripe on the distinction between dialectical and dialogical theology. The really strange (presumptuous) thing about this, is that this commenter has never read what Myk and I develop in regards to this thesis. Beyond that, this commenter simply makes an assertion, and then presumes that he has made some sort of substantial point by simply asserting something without explanation!

As far as Bultmann. At the end of the day, I don't really care whether or not Bultmann did theological exegesis or not; I am simply reporting what Rowe and Hays "argued" (V. asserted) in their essay.

As far as theological exegesis usually leading to isogesis; this is just a ridiculous assertion. This presupposes that an exegete can come to the text of scripture without informing theological suppositions. But the fact that a person (any person) comes to the text of scripture to interpret it, presupposes that said exegete has already committed themselves to a particular theological grid (whether it be 'Christian' or not is another story). Furthermore, the fact that orthodox Christians believe in the Trinity etc., commits the Christian exegete, at least, to a fundamental theological principle that will shape their interpretive endeavor both dialectically and dialogically!

Monday, July 2, 2012

On Biblical Studies and Systematic Theology: Their Marriage

I just finished reading a really helpful essay that was jointly written by, C. Kavin Rowe and Richard B. Hays; their chapter is in the 'Biblical Studies' category for The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. They offer a sketch of development relative to the historical and contemporary relationship (or not) between so called 'Biblical Studies & Systematic Theology'. They seek to broach how it is that these two relative disciplines indeed have come to be separate, even competitive disciplines; such that the biblical/exegetical student could be as far apart from the systematic theologian as could the analytic theologian be apart from his counterpart, the so called dialectic theologian. In other words, they seek to both descriptively and constructively engage this so called divide; and in the end, they offer a constructive proposal that seeks to place biblical studies and systematic theology in dialectical and dialogical relation (such that they are no longer in a competitive relationship) – which correlates, by the way, with our thesis 9; that Evangelical Calvinism is a form of dialectical/dialogical theology and understanding. Let me share, the summarizing and concluding thoughts of Rowe and Hays; thoughts that I concur with and find quite encouraging, personally:

[...] where the subject matter of biblical exegesis and of dogmatic theology is thought to be the same, the two disciplines are of necessity inseparable. In this respect, to refuse interdisciplinary work between biblical interpretation and constructive theology is to deny the coherence of the subject matter itself. Today, however, the complexity of the interpretive task may warrant a continued, though always provisional and cooperative, division of labour between biblical scholars and systematicians. The exegete concentrates upon the refraction of the subject matter through particular witnesses, thereby penetrating more deeply into the particular shape of the subject matter and helping to avoid banal theological  generalities (Childs 2004: xi). And the theologian concentrates more upon the whole of the subject matter as it is expressed through the understanding of scripture in the dogmatic tradition, thereby helping to avoid the tendency toward fragmentation in exegesis (the old problem of losing the forest for the individual trees).

Yet, in continuity with the ancient church, there is no final division between biblical interpretation and theological reflection, for they are united in the common task of attending to the subject matter of scripture. Their actual relationship is thus dialectical, in the sense that within their respective foci there exists a constant movement between the particulars of the biblical text and the whole of systematic reflection in an effort to do justice both to the exegetical thickness of doctrine and the theological coherence of biblical exegesis. [C. Kavin Rowe and Richard B. Hayes, Biblical Studies: Chapter 24, in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, edited by Webster, Tanner, Torrance, p. 452]

In the essay, both Rowe and Hays speak quite approvingly of both Barth and Bultmann of being thinkers who brought together (in their own ways) the task of theologizing and biblical studyizing; that in the modern period (from which they both were birthed) had been divided  – as much as the 'historical Jesus' had been from the 'Jesus of faith'. To see biblical studies and systematic theology implicating each other – as we ought – is really to engage in a 'theology of retrieval. Meaning, as Rowe and Hays suggest through their historical development, that Barth & co. engaged in the process of retrieving the doing of biblical exegesis and theology (together) from the Patristic and Reformed periods; but in a way that also did the "retrieving" from a particular situation of development itself. So that this "retrieval" of thinking biblical studies and systematic theology together has taken shape with the full realization of all of the interpretive advances made, even in the modern period itself. The result, really, is that theological exegesis should be the only way Christian thinkers and readers engage the text of scripture and their respective thinking of the God revealed in Christ that scripture finds its scope through.