Wednesday, June 29, 2011

William Ames and Proto R2KT

There has been a lot of discussion in the past year or two over the resurgence of natural law theory and two-kingdom theology in Reformed theological studies and many folks have spilled ink on whether or not the new proponents of two-kingdom theology, mostly based out of Westminster Seminary in California, are consistent with the two-kingdom theology of Calvin and those following in his stead. Some opponents have dubbed the new two-kingdom position R2KT, or Radical Two Kingdom Theology, because they see in its a radical departure from Calvin's two-kingdom view. Lutheranism is pointed to as a more appropriate modern day identification for these new two-kingdom advocates.

I've recently re-read William Ames' short treatise on the encyclopedia of knowledge, entitled Technometry. William Ames was a Puritan whose influence was great both on the Continent, but especially in the American colonies, where his Marrow of Theology became THE systematic theology text of the New England Puritans. The Technometry is a special treatise for two reasons: 1) It was the last work that Ames sought to complete his system of thought, and 2) as such it stands as Ames' definitive view on the relation and purpose of knowledge as pursued by the liberal arts.

The relevance of Ames to the two-kingdom debate comes in his discussion of the placement of certain topics of study under the more general classifications of art. Ames begins by defining art as "the idea of eupraxia or good action, methodically delineated by universal rules." Eupraxia is, for God, one unique and simple act, but is manifold and divided in the perception of human reason (thesis 15). After several more necessary distinctions, Ames arrives at teleology of the arts, which he identifies as the glory of God (thesis 60). The understanding of the created order was perfect prior to the fall, in which it was made obscure, but is once more rendered clear in the Scriptures (theses 61-62). He goes on to discuss the virtues of pagan writing, and concludes: "With the exception of goodness, the type of things still conveys perfectly enough the remaining principles; but these remaining principles are to be inwardly seen and gathered only by those penetrating by untiring analysis the inner aspects of type" (thesis 66). The upshot of this section is that perception of the principles governing the natural world is possible by investigation of their inherent properties (i.e. their God-given natures), excepting the perception of goodness. This thesis destroys all confidence in the natural law, insofar as the natural law is supposed to perceive what is the good for man before God and within society. Ames continues in his discussion of pagan study of nature and draws several conclusions, one of which is, "that in theology and jurisprudence. . .the opinions of Christians are to be adhered to rather than those of the impious, even when very many" (thesis 76) and clarifies this statement in the next thesis by saying that Plato and Aristotle are good testing grounds, but only in subjection to truth, which he has already annexed to Scripture.

When Ames does get to discussion the liberal arts, he identifies six (dialectic, grammar, rhetoric, theology, mathematics, physics). In discussing theology, it is immediately apparent the great extent to which it governs all the others arts. "Theology alone homogeneously transmits (2) the universal teaching of virtues (i.e., of honesty, law, and equity). Theology alone homogeneously delivers the whole revealed will of God for directing our morals, will, and life. This whole revealed will of God alone is that right reason--if absolute rectitude be looked toward, as it must be looked toward here--in which alone, by the consensus of all who are of sound mind, the norm or rule of honesty, law, and equity (and therefore of virtues) is constituted" (thesis 113). As if this wasn't a clear enough statement that just laws are derived from Scripture, Ames follows in thesis 114 with, "Therefore, although there may be some usefulness and necessity of household economy and politics for jurisprudence, the principal usefulness and necessity is nevertheless theology's. Theology abundantly supplies most distinctly and most perfectly the general rules, the first principles, and all the foundations of law; household economy and politics convey to jurisprudence only some general rules and first principles that have been accommodated to their own uses."

Then Ames moves into an attack on what may be called the proto R2KT advocates. Thesis 115 says, "There is clearly no usefulness and necessity of ethics for jurisprudence. For ethics may properly contain nothing except imperfection, while all the remaining things have been borrowed from theology." Continuing in 116 with refutations of of ethicists:

"Notwithstanding, the pretexts of the ethicists have thus now been often rewoven. The principal pretexts of the ethicists are as follows. (1) They distinguish civil and moral happiness from supernatural and eternal happiness. Nevertheless, (a) supernatural and eternal happiness, considered with respect to the civil and political society in which we live, is civil and moral. (b) That which they call civil and moral (in contradistinction to that which is supernatural) ought not deservedly to be called "natural," that is, that which proceeds from corrupted nature, but rather "above nature," flowing from those vestiges of the integral state that remain through divine grace and have also been established and increased in a certain manner in the wiser pagans. (c) The proper good, the happiness or end of man, is not manifold. (d) That is not true virtue that may not lead man to his end and highest good. (2) They say that the object of theology is the inner man and piety, while the object of ethics is external morals and uprightness (probitatem). Nevertheless, external morals and uprightness are equally the object of theology, which commands external as much as internal obedience, as Keckermann also acknowledges in canon 10, "Concerning the End of Ethics," in General Precognitions of the System of Ethics. Ethics, no less that theology, claims for itself, the reform of man according to the image of God by prescribing the precepts of virtues and by calling away from vices. This is why prudence does not refuse to hear of ruling the will and appetite. (3) They add to that ethical virtues are confined to the limits of this life, while theological virtues are extended to the future life. But first, if something should therefore immediately cease to be theological because it is confined to the limits of this life, many things that are truly theological would cease to be theological, such as the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, etc. Secondly, they will never be able to prove that any virtue in its essence is about to cease with this life, although in some particular individuals the likenesses of certain virtues may be about to cease. (4) They say that the subject of ethics is the upright, good, and honest man; while the subject of theology is the religious and pious man. That which has been said with respect to the second reason above applies here also. And they respond otherwise with respect to the first part of this assertion when they affirm that ethics teaches to live piously. With respect to the latter part of this assertion, according to Titus 2:12, Paul manifestly says that theology also teaches to live temperately and justly, that is, uprightly and honestly. (5) The difference between ethical and theological virtues is excellently set forth in Matthew 5:20 and also in chapters 6 and 7. Nothing appears in these texts except that, for the sake of virtue, no one ought to propose for himself private usefulness and glory but honesty alone. Likewise, more than has been recognized, that which the ethicists say about their virtues also appears here. For they are unwilling that freedom, riches, honors, and health are regarded by their ethicist only to the extent that they are a help and instrument for exercising more conveniently and more easily the actions of virtue. But if ethics should transmit hypocrisy and pharisaism, of what further mention is made here, who, I ask, will be its auditor? The difference between ethical and theological virtues is excellently set forth secondly according to Romans 1 and 2. Nothing ethical is considered here, unless perhaps they wish the ethicist to communicate the catalogue of vices at the end of the first chapter. But by means of what front? The purpose (scopus) of the apostle elsewhere in these two chapters is to make it clear that all men are transgressors of the divine law and thus deserters of theological virtues."

Ethicists here is referring to those in the church who were followers of Aristotle, the philosopher who put a great deal of emphasis upon politics as the supreme practical science. In other words, Aristotle is the grandfather of natural law theory, and his Christian follows sought to carve out a non-theological realm of ethical principles and norms for directing law and society. To put the cap on Ames' position, one needs only to understand what he means by jurisprudence: "The higher faculties are as follows. . .the juridical, for proclaiming law and administering justice" (thesis 123).

For Ames, as for any consistent Reformed position, the lower faculties of politics, law, medicine, etc. all find their governing principles and purposes in theology, and theology as it is primarily revealed in the Scriptures (containing the truths by which the order of God revealed in creation may be properly discerned).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baptist Inconsistency

I had the pleasure of spending a five hour road trip with a Reformed Baptist. As we talked of many things, our differences with regard to the baptism of children arose. Being a paedobaptist, I pointed out to him an inconsistency that helped to change my view from credobaptism when I had been first studying the matter closely. He was, to my surprise, convinced and we spoke of many more examples that supported the basic contention. I thought it might be helpful just to post the basic claim that started the ball rolling. I think one thing that particularly helped our conversation was that we had been listening to Voddie Baucham, a Reformed Baptist who has a very high view of family and of covenantal discipline of children. The stark contrast was made even starker by this background.

I'm going to try and put the argument into a valid form with assumptions laid bare.

1. Being precedes doing.
2. Our being Christian precedes our doing Christianity.
3. God's power alone recreates the being "unbeliever" into the being "Christian" (this is regeneration)
4. Only regenerate beings can do what God commands in willing obedience.
5. The Bible commands elders and fathers to train their children in obedience to God's commands (Deut. 6, 1 Tim. & Titus).
6. The Bible states the God is faithful unto the thousandth generation of children of those who are faithful to His commands (Deut. 7).
7. Given 4-6 children of believing parents must be regarded as Christians in order to consistently fulfill the command of God to disciple them in obedience.

Upon what basis does the father or elder have for believing that his children will be obedient to God's commands? The father or elder is considered disobedient and unfit should his children not obey God's commands, yet it is clear that obedience is only obedience when it comes from the heart, which means a heart that has been made new through regeneration. Since the baptist does not believe that regeneration can occur apart from an understanding, and that the blessings and cursings of the covenant can only be enabled once a profession has been made, there is no basis for the parent of the unbaptized, unprofessing child to expect that their obedience is in accordance with God's commands. Not only is their no basis for expecting genuine obedience, there is no basis for discipleship, since only a regenerate mind can receive the truth of Scripture. In order to be consistent, a Baptist must evangelize, not instruct, and he can only apply the law apart from the gospel promises to his child. But what father who has taught his child to obey his word joyfully expects that the child's joyful obedience to his command is anything but genuine? And is this not obeying the fifth commandment, as a good father is teaching his child to obey, in accordance with Deut. 6? But under the baptist position, all of these efforts are in spite of what the baptist believes his child to be--a fallen, blind, and unregenerate sinner.

While the father cannot know the child's regeneration, he can regard the child as such on the basis of God's stated Word for children of believing parents--a Word that the baptist has rejected the truth of, and cannot claim consistently. The father may raise his child in accordance with Deut. 6 and the elder may be evaluated on the basis of his children's obedience because his children are under the blessings and cursings of the covenant and can be expected to obey from the heart the commands which they are given. And because the paedobaptist has the promise of God that his child shall continue in the obedience in which he is taught, he has a foundation upon which to discipline the child, since God can make known to the child what an unregenerate heart cannot know by definition--namely, that "I am a Christian and must honor my father and mother in the Lord." The baptist child can only be expected to know that "I am an unbeliever and must honor my father and mother by my own standard."

To the extent that baptist elders expect their children to follow in their instruction concerning the Lord's commands in the same way that they expect a newly converted adult to do so, there is also inconsistency. And if the baptist expects the child to obey only superficially, i.e. not from understanding AND willingness, then he is actively training hypocrisy rather than obedience. The only consistently baptist father would treat his child as an unbeliever--continually proclaiming his unbelief and separated status while refraining from the sort of fellowship in which only Christians may participate. Yet what father expects that in raising his child there is not a unity of mind? After all, what is filling the child's mind with propositions to believe and act upon if not the father? What father expects his child to be able to articulate a profession of faith that they believe the father's word is true and should be obeyed? Even Voddie Baucham mentioned a verse in the Old Testament where the daughter's vow to the Lord may be overturned if the father invalidates it--thus the Lord subjects the daughter's vow to the word of the parent, thereby allowing the father to cover the iniquity of the daughter. How else could this be unless children under the headship of the father and mother were sanctified and under the covenant stipulations? What else does Paul mean when saying that a child of even one believing parent is considered holy?

Once one accepts the basic inconsistency of the credobaptist position on this point, one's eyes are opened to see the pervasive assumption regarding the place of children of believing parents in the Covenant of Christ. "Let the little children come unto me," and "Whoever causes the least of these to stumble," are reflective of the ideas laid down in the Old Testament regarding the chosen status of children and the high standard required of parents to be to their children as God is to His children.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

What is rhetoric?

People working in the academic discipline of Rhetoric & Public Affairs occasionally joke about having to explain to their family and friends outside of their profession what it is exactly that they study and or "do." Several answers I've heard are quite straightforward ("I study the history of public address") to those a bit more sophisticated ("I do rhetorical history; I study how speech shapes the progress of cultures and societies") and many variations along the spectrum.

Having studied rhetoric through an undergraduate, masters, and doctorate program (still working on the last) I continue to reflect upon just how "diverse" and sporadic is the field of rhetoric. Many people in the field like it this way, some would prefer more definite boundaries, and others wish for even more diversity and "out of the box" thinking and applications. Of course, for the Christian scholar, there should be a desire and an attempt to integrate rhetoric into its proper relationship to glorifying God.

One of the puritans I've come across in studied for my dissertation sought to relate all of the liberal arts under one overarching philosophy of life, with theology heading them all as the art of living well. Rhetoric was one of the liberal arts, and was defined as the art of speaking ornately, revealing a view of rhetoric as predominantly style, delivery, or eloquence of expression. Dialectic was the art of discoursing well, which essentially meant how to think logically and arrange expression logically. Although some scholar lament taking away from rhetoric the canons of invention, arrangement, and memory (leaving only delivery and style), I think they miss the point of the Ramist approach to the liberal arts, which the Puritans followed (though not always with strict rigidity). It was never Ramus' intent to divorce any one of the liberal arts from the other, but rather to avoid superficial repetitions of content, duplication of methods, and general confusion of terms and their meanings. By streamlining dialectic and rhetoric in the way he did, Ramus was not seeking to take away from rhetoric what was traditionally its own elements, but to organize it in relation to dialectic in such a way that they would operate (with grammar) as true counterparts as Aristotle had originally organized them.

It is true that Ramus and his followers understood dialectic differently than did Aristotle, for while Aristotle distinguished "scientific" discourse (i.e. rigorous logical development from assumed or unquestioned axioms) and "dialectical" discourse (i.e. rigorous logical development from generally believed or well accepted opinions) the Ramist dialectic only sought to consider universal premises that had the status of Aristotle's "scientific" epistemological quality. In other words, opinions had to be argued back to universal and established truths, as opposed to being argued on their own foundations. The perceptive reader will recognize the underlying philosophical assumptions behind these differences. For Aristotle, the epistemological standards were quite different than for Calvinistic Protestants of which Ramus became a convert and whom followed Ramus in his attempts to bring all knowledge and education under the epistemological authority of Christian revelation--the Bible or Word of God and natural revelation as understood through premises set for in that Word.

Rhetoric does not operate apart from dialectic, but rather in coordination with it--in a way not altogether different from Augustine's approach in On Christian Doctrine. In that treatise, Augustine used the tools of rhetoric as a means for interpreting the Scriptures accurately, and then conveying them or arguing them persuasively and clearly to Christians and non-Christian as required. The Puritans allowed the analytical elements of rhetoric to be considered under the head of dialectic, and kept for rhetoric the attention to style, which Augustine treated in book four of his treatise (completed almost a generation after the first three books had been written). Because the truth is given to be discovered in Scripture, the invention and arrangement aspects of rhetoric from the classical approach are more clearly and narrowly circumscribed. One may, but need not, look to human authorities, beautiful literature, or cultural norms to gather materials for persuasion. One needs only to discern what the Scriptures teach and adapt them appropriate to the consciences of the immediate audience. Style and delivery, even for Aristotle, were more closely linked to the psychological considerations of rhetoric--how does this or that rhythm, this or that metaphor, this or that gesture, etc. touch upon, move, or otherwise impact the consciences of the audience? Arguments obviously have this component as well, but on a much more abstract level--since one's first concern is with discerning the truth, or the logical consistency of claims, prior to consideration of how persuasive an audience will find them.

All this is not to say that the Puritans had the right definition and approach to rhetoric. It is open to debate whether or not their divisions accomplished what they hoped for in terms of integrating the liberal arts under theology, or the authority of Scripture. What is of importance for the present concern is that their general philosophy set the agenda for how rhetoric was to be defined. Nothing profound there. What is more interesting, and what will take more time to tease out (my studies remain incomplete and inconclusive) is to what extent proximate aims or emphases (what some rhetorical scholars have called "exigences" and "constraints" of the situation that requires speech for its resolution) remain consistent with the general philosophy, and to what extent their view of rhetoric is affected by, or affects the whole exchange. Does the classical view of Aristotle--that rhetoric is governed by the historical, changing, particular constraints--outweigh the more dialectical approach of the Puritans and later Calvinists I'm studying?

It is a question that may prove uninteresting and fruitless for the larger dissertation, but it does interest me, and aligns with the normative considerations of how we ought to define what is rhetoric.