Friday, December 13, 2013

Calvin's prefatory remarks on the Trinity and the Incarnation as the Paradigm of Divine Accommodation

In the opening section of Calvin's chapter on the Trinity (Book 1, chapter 13), he claims that two doctrines set forth in Scripture concerning God's being protect against both the dreams of the vulgar and the subtleties of profane philosophy.

One doctrine is the immensity of God and the other is the spirituality of God. The immensity of God curbs the human mind's natural inclination to measure by our senses, while the spirituality keeps us mindful that God cannot be equated with physical analogies (of which he says more a bit later). It seems as well that the immensity of God prevents human intellect from imagining that it can, by increasing knowledge of God, gain mastery over Him or circumscribe His limits.

Rather, knowledge of God, so far from enabling man to exert power over the object of knowledge, transforms the man into a fuller, or more perfect iteration of his nature. That is to say, since God has made man as His image, and insofar as Christ is the express image of God, as man grows in his knowledge of God, he also grows up into a more complete image of Christ.

Additionally, Calvin speaks of God's accommodation toward man, particularly in the language of Scripture's descriptions of God. While described as having hands, eyes, fingers, and so on, God is not essentially possessed of any of these physical aspects, but rather these physical descriptions as "lisps" as a nurse to a babe. God accommodates the immensity of His nature to man by describing Himself in  terms of the physical, sensate elements by which man experiences much of his own existence.

One could ask what undergirds the doctrine of accommodation, or rather, whether the language of Scripture is the only relevant aspect of God's accommodation. The response could easily be that it is rather that the language of Scripture is an image of the Greater Accommodation God makes to man in the Incarnation of the Son of God. In making Himself known to man, God became a man, and in so doing has made it possible for man to become like God in a way that otherwise man could not.

It is a topic sometimes (and more frequently today, perhaps) speculated upon, whether Adam, had he not sinned, would have received eternal life, or whether he would have remained under a requirement of perpetual obedience, yet mutable (able to sin). Such speculations, it seems to me, miss the larger point. Adam could not have earned divinity except through union with the divine, and insofar as union with the divine is most fully manifest in the hypostatic union, the Incarnation is essential to the proper raising of man into his full nature. Only by the Eternal Son of God joining Himself to a human nature could human nature reach culmination.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pascal on belief

Pascal once coined a phrase that has become a rather popular maxim used in answer to those who would question why people choose to love as they love: "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."

However, the original context of the phrase is notably different:

"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing: we know this in countless ways. I say that it is natural for the heart to love the universal being or itself, according to its allegiance, and it hardens itself against either as it chooses. You have rejected one and kept the other. Is it reason that makes you love yourself?"

In other words, it is not by some rational demonstration that one's will or affections are directed at one thing or another, though it is possible (in some cases) to provide a rational demonstration of what follows from that initial choice.

Man's first principle is always a choice between believing in himself, or in something infinitely greater than himself, and he cannot, out of the stores of his own rationality, demonstrate why he chooses himself rather than the Infinite.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Thought Experiment: Emulating Sparta

Occasionally I have the opportunity to listen to lectures online, and I've been progressing slowly, sporadically, but enjoyably through the free Yale lecture series on Ancient Greece. Today I was listening to the lecture by Dr. Kagan on Sparta, which was and remains famous for its intensive, rigorous, dedication to their polis; as well as their militaristic methods for maintaining it.

It is difficult to not be at once both impressed and appalled by the Spartans. It is impressive that a people would be so unified in mind and purpose to organize their entire society around such a distinct and vividly portrayed ideal. It is appalling when you see some of the lengths to which they went, and some of the strange results that were reported to have occurred.

For instance, Dr. Kagan relates a story told by one of the ancient historians about a Spartan youth. Spartans in training were fed only enough to survive and be fit for their tasks, but no more. They often sought to hunt and steal food, but if caught were severely punished. Once, a Spartan youth had caught a ferret and was preparing to kill it, but at the same moment the call to forms ranks was sounded. The boy, rather than lose his meal, stuffed the ferret into his cloak and joined the ranks. As the boy stood motionless awaiting inspection, the ferret began to eat into the boy's side. The boy, trained to ignore pain for whatever mental purpose was required, remained motionless. Eventually the ferret chewed his way to one of the boy's vital organs, and the boy dropped dead in the ranks.

Whether or not such a story is true, it is striking portrait of the mastery of mind over body that results from the rigorous training program through which each Spartan boy was made to pass. It is also a striking portrait of the strange abominations that can result from rigorous devotion to a misplaced ideal. The Spartan youth had been trained to care so little for his flesh as to allow it to be destroyed for the sake of what eventually cost him that which he would preserve. Whether the fault is in the boy or the training is less my present concern that the potential good consequences of a rigorous devotion to a set of ideals, which is accompanied by training equal to the task.

What would it look like for the Church of God to be so zealously committed to the cause of reconciling the world to Christ the King of Kings that every implementation of their collective effort was designed to realize that ideal?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Grace of Faith and Covenant Children

I recently had the opportunity to discuss a delicate subject with a relative of mine, namely, the status of children of parents who are confessing Christians. My relative is a baptist and devotee of John MacArthur, whose views are neither mainstream baptist, nor reformed baptist; are in some ways Calvinistic in soteriology, but with some important divergences. For example, MacArthur, and my relative, would argue that God has unconditionally elected from eternity all those who will be saved, and yet also argue that God loves all men and offers them salvation. Another oddity is the "age of accountability," which several well-respected theologians have affirmed, including MacArthur, and nineteenth century presbyterian theologian, A.A. Hodge. The "age of accountability" is what my relative advanced in a discussion on the topic of children's status in God's covenant.

My relative asked me what I believed concerning my children's salvation, and I told him that I believed they were saved and possessed full entitlements to the benefits and responsibilities of the covenant according to their age and maturity. He was, being a baptist, hung up on this because he did not believe that children could possess saving faith. Why not? Because he believes that saving faith requires cognitive abilities that children lack. I asked him about invalids and other mentally handicapped people, and he agreed that such could possess saving faith, though he said the elders often had to make a judgment call on whether to admit such into membership and the Table of the Lord's Supper. I assume that he would consider those incapable of understanding to fall into a similar category as children under the supposed, "age of accountability." When I mentioned that I thought my six year old might have a better understanding of the gospel than a recent convert who had lived a life of complete paganism prior to conversion, he said that with such new converts (who had a credible profession) might be asked to demonstrate their profession through the bearing of fruit before being admitted into membership. When I pointed out that this contradicted the principle of a credible profession being all that is required for membership into the covenant, he admitted as much, though it went no further.

We had our conversation cut short, but it has been on my mind ever since. There is a great confusion, it seems to me, among baptists and many presbyterians of our day, as to just what are the varieties of faith, and what is actually required as the Biblical standard for regarding anyone as a member of the Covenant. What follows is my attempt to lay out that standard, and demonstrate why all professing Christians have good reason to consider their children as members and heirs with Christ.

First in order are a few definitions, to which I think MacArthur baptists would agree with historic Calvinism upon.

1. Saving faith is a gift of God not arising from within the individual by his own merit or ability, but wholly supplied by the Holy Spirit in regeneration (Eph. 2:8, WCF 14.1).

2. The exercise of faith requires understanding and assent, which result in trust in the object of faith.

If any objection is to be raised with the above definitions, it would be in the second, where one might quibble that exercise of faith should really be faith itself as well as its exercise. However, I would disagree that faith itself, rather than its exercise, requires understanding, assent, and trust. Why? For faith is something that one may possess without cognitive awareness or exercise of the understanding or will. For example, when one is sleeping, one is not required to understand and assent to propositions concerning Christ in order to maintain his status in the Covenant. Thus, the exercise of faith (which we may call, believing) is distinguished from faith itself as a quality one may possess.

It is this distinction that I believe is the bane of much current theological understanding of faith. By failing to make a distinction between faith and its exercise, one confuses the two to the detriment of both. Chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith makes this distinction clear, saying, "The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts. . ." The grace of faith provided by the Holy Spirit of Christ is that which enables the elect to believe, but is not itself a belief. It is a condition or quality--in Biblical language it is a new heart, a new creation, a new man.

When we consider faith as the condition or quality that enables the elect to believe, we begin to understand why it is that children and invalids can possess saving faith without necessarily possessing the ability to articulate it verbally, or demonstrate it to the same degree as a normally functioning adult, but rather, according to the measure of faith given to them by God (Rom. 12:3).

Let us consider a common scenario. An infant, which we will assume lacks the ability to exercise understanding, assent, and trust in the Word of God according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit could nonetheless be given a new nature with all the capacity for the exercise of faith when that nature had been grown up into the maturity whereby such understanding, assent, and trust could be exercised. Baptists and some Presbyterians makes the categorical error of equating action with nature, or at least of reversing the proper order and making the action prior to the nature required for such action. Everyone who is not an existentialist recognizes that a dog barks because it is his nature to do so, and they do not think that the dog becomes "that which barks" only when the dog first exhibits the sound of barking. Likewise, those who possess saving faith possess it by the Spirit's gift of a new nature and not by the exhibition of those actions consistent with that nature.

Very well. One may at this point grant the distinction and admit that infants may possess saving faith, even prior to their ability to exercise it. But, what reason does Scripture give us for believing that the children of Christian parents are given the grace of faith in infancy or even in early childhood, prior to their ability to exhibit any discernible fruit?

Admittedly, this brings us to the definition and nature of God's covenant, and where MacArthur baptists are going to have the greatest difficulty, due to their generally dispensationalist convictions. If the New Covenant is radically different from the Old Covenant, there being almost no continuity between the two, then it is difficult to build a Biblical case, since much of the evidence is rejected from the beginning by virtue of its being applicable only to Old Covenant Ethnic Israel. Thankfully, I think an irrefutable argument refuting the Baptist view of the covenant has already been made elsewhere, by my friend Ron DiGiacomo.

Let me just say that, for Christian parents, the Biblical claim is that the children of those who are faithful to God's covenant are themselves heirs of the covenant (Deut. 7:9). A similar claim of covenant fidelity and inheritance is repeated in the New Testament by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:39). The consistent portrait of salvation from Abraham to Christ has been familial in nature--there is an understanding that households are one unit and function in solidarity. There are exceptions, but this is the generalization that establishes the rule against which the exceptions would otherwise make no sense.

Having defined the terms and advanced reasons for considering children of believing parents as members of the covenant, I want to close by addressing the age of accountability that come up with some Baptists.

The "age of accountability" is problematic for two reasons. First, it fails to grasp the above distinction between faith and its exercise. Second, it contradicts original sin and the federal headship that is required for Christ's atoning work to apply to the elect.

How does the "age of accountability" violate original sin? First, some theologians who accept the doctrine assert that where there is no knowledge of sin, no sin exists. Again, my friend Ron DiGiacomo demonstrates how this argument rests upon a logical blunder in the exegesis of Romans 1. Second, some consider children to be innocent while still possessing original sin. Unfortunately, in order to maintain that God's grace applies to those possessing original sin, one must either accept that God gives them saving faith (something MacArthur denies), or argue that God extends grace differently to this class of individuals than he does to others. In the second case, in good MacArthur fashion, we must ask, where does the text of Scripture provide evidence of such a distinction? MacArthur only points to two places: 1. David's remarks concerning his son by Bathsheba whom God takes as a payment for David's sin, and 2. the Hebrew word "innocent," as applied to children offered to Molech. He argues that because the word often means legally guiltless, therefore it means that when applied to children. Apart from not being able to find where the Bible refers to children offered to Molech as "innocent," it does not prove that this innocence implies guiltlessness from the wrath of God against sin. The same word applies to the poor and to those who are not guilty before certain legal stipulations in the Mosaic law. At most one could argue that children were exempted from guiltiness under the legal code of Moses, but not of original sin. 

As for David's thoughts concerning his son, the text gives no indication of what was the exact reason David considered his son would be in heaven. In other words, MacArthur and other baptists commit the fallacy of petitio principii, assuming what must be proven, by saying that David is considering the age of accountability. Indeed, David could be assuming the child's salvation upon the basis of the child's covenant status as a child of believing parents!

The Bible does not provide a distinction between children and adults in terms of their guilt under Adam because none exists, rather, all men are guilty in Adam without distinction, whether they sin in the likeness of Adam or not (Rom. 5:14). Indeed, if children we accounted innocent of the imputed sin of Adam until an age of accountability God's justice would seem to require that their lives be spared, for the wages of sin is death, but those who are not held guilty of sin ought not to receive its penalty, unless that penalty is taken by another (i.e. Christ). But if the children who are held guiltless have their sin debt paid for by Christ, in what sense are they not possessors of a regenerate nature, by virtue of Christ's atoning work!?

In short, the Baptist has no true recourse, and the age of accountability is neither stated in Scripture nor consistent with other explicit statements.

There is both comfort and a hard truth here. The comfort is for Christian parents, for they ought to hope in their children's salvation upon the basis of God's promise to them in Christ, and that hope ought to spur them on to train their children in the truths of Scripture in order that the seed of faith might grow strong and bear much fruit as early as possible. The hard truth is that there is no hope offered for children born into sin, whose parents have not placed their hope in Christ alone for salvation. All the more should Christians proclaim the absolute necessity of Christ's atoning work as the one and only means by which men may be saved from the wrath of God that comes upon all sin.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Childishness

One claim that I have heard advanced is that children, while being capable of sin, are more often guilty of childishness than disobedience and rebellion.

While it is probably often the case that children are frequently childish, and less frequently sinful, the ability to discern the difference is important. Perhaps more important is the responsibility of parents to address childishness rather than use it as an excuse.

Let us take an example of a situation that doesn't involve sin, per se, but simply childishness that a parent ought to be working toward removing in an effort toward maturing the child. Children are perpetually running, laughing, being loud, and being relatively unobservant of whatever else is going on unrelated to their immediate desire. All of these things are obviously childish, and often in a way that is healthy and worth encouraging, as opposed to unwise or unbecoming. However, there are many situations where children ought not to be running, laughing, being loud, or being unobservant of their surroundings. Some of those situations involve the safety of the child (let us say, playing near a busy street) while others involve showing courtesy and loving consideration of others (let us say, prior to church when people are entering and greeting one another).

Suppose little Johnny comes into church with Mom and Dad and begins to tear away from them in order to go run around with Billy whom he sees across the foyer full of people in the midst of conversations. Johnny doesn't ask permission to leave, but runs across the room, brushing past some and bumping into others until he reaches his destination. Along the way he begins yelling at Billy at the top of his lungs in order to get Billy's attention. Everyone hears Johnny, most see him, and several are physically bombarded by his presence. Is Johnny being disobedient or rebellious, or is he just being childish?

The answer is, it depends. It depends upon what the parents have done to prepare Johnny for the situation in which he finds himself. Have Johnny's parents taken thought of what they want Johnny to look like when they enter the building where the church meets? Have they communicated that picture to Johnny and practiced it with him in order to train him for success when he enters into that situation? Have they reminded him prior to entering the building of what they expect from him? If the answer to any of these questions is, "no," then Johnny's actions bear more upon his parents' wisdom than upon his own. However, if Johnny's parents have diligently trained him and given him what he needs to succeed in the situation, and Johnny allows his passions to rule over his parents' training, it is more likely that Johnny is disobedient rather than simply childish.

And it is here where the explanation of childishness tends to be used as an excuse for parental foolishness, or even outright parental abdication and sin. God has placed Johnny in his parents' home in order for those parents to prepare Johnny to think and act wisely in the world. Not only wisely, but in a manner that pleases God, which, at its core, involves putting the needs and goods of others before the needs and goods of oneself. By allowing Johnny to run roughshod through the church, interrupting numerous conversations, and putting himself and others at mild risk of injury demonstrates a lack of foresight at best, and willful negligence at worst. In other words, the parents who witness such behavior and take no steps towards growing Johnny into the maturity to handle the situation wisely are parents who are hating Johnny rather than loving him. Moreover, they are parents who are despising the gift that God has given to them to invest well, as a talent, we might say.

Parenting for those who have little experience, poor teaching, no real training, and a host of other likelihoods in our present day and age is an embarrassing endeavor. All the better for those who are willing to be humbled by embarrassment rather than pridefully excuse it with recourse to their children's natural immaturity. My wife and I have witnessed far more situations where we have failed to think ahead and prepare our children well than we have situations where we've succeeded with flying colors. More to our shame is the fact that we've grown angry and blamed our children for what is really our own foolishness, and at times, sinful omission. Failures have become opportunities in themselves to model repentance, pleas for God's pardon, and receiving forgiveness and restoration. They've also been instructive on where our own thinking, training, and doing require sanctification.

It should be stated that the process of training a child for any situation is just that, a process. And because it is a process that involves the messiness of sinners on both the side of the trainers and the trainees, there are lots of opportunities for grace and forgiveness to be shown, as well as discipline and confession of sin. If a married man and woman will often have moments where communication is difficult, or understanding is lost, how much more so parents with little developing minds of children. Nevertheless it is incumbent upon parents to be always thinking of ways in which to prepare their children for full maturity. Our own propensity toward inertia almost insures that they'll spend far more time being childish (in the good way) than they will be getting trained for maturity. Those parents who have a great measure of faith will find ways to make the training so much fun that the children don't even notice that they're being prepared for life as a responsible and capable human being.

Behind the preparation of children lies the principle that hard work in the right ways brings dividends of great and long-lasting proportions. Training a child how to see basic needs around the house and take care of them without being asked doesn't just make a child a good child. It will make him a great husband, or her a great wife. It will make him a great boss, or her a great coworker. Teaching a child how to listen well the first time doesn't just make parenting easier, but it makes for an adult who is less likely to make mistakes and more likely to lead others well.

It will be a culture on the path to great harmony and prosperity that recognizes childishness as something to be fashioned and directed, rather than something to be excused and smiled at as an inconvenient, but naturally outgrown set of attitudes and behaviors.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Luther on "grace" and "gift"; with a homily on electing love

Between grace and gift there is this difference. Grace means properly God's favor, or the good-will God bears us, by which He is disposed to give us Christ and to pour into us the Holy Ghost, with His gifts. This is clear from chapter 5 [of Romans], where He speaks of "the grace and gift in Christ." The gifts and the Spirit increase in us every day, though they are not yet perfect, and there remain in us the evil lust and sin that war against the Spirit, as Paul says in Romans 7 and Galatians 5, and the quarrel between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is foretold in Genesis 3. Nevertheless, grace does so much that we are accounted wholly righteous before God. For His grace is not divided or broken up, as are the gifts, but it takes us entirely into favor, for the sake of Christ our Intercessor and Mediator, and because of that the gifts are begun in us.

What follows is one part appreciation for Luther's quote, and many parts tangential appreciation for something a bit different.

Martin Luther provides a helpful distinction between grace, defined as God's favor, and gift, which is an expression (but not the entire expression) of that same favor. An analogous distinction could be made between Law, defined as God's order, and precept, which is the expression (but not the entire expression) of God's order.

Apart from being an excellent distinction between grace and gift, Luther's quotation provokes an interesting question: How is it that God's grace--the electing grace of which Luther speaks here--how is it that this grace is distributed equally and universally to all saints, whereas God's gifts are distributed unequally and particularly? The answer, I think, exhibits the harmony of unity and diversity, of the One and the Many. Grace is the unifying principle, the One Thing that binds all of God's redemptive activity toward Creation; and gift is the distributive principle, the Many Things that declare in innumerable ways the multi-faceted, varied character of God's redemptive activity toward Creation. The summary term for all of these details concerning grace and gift is Electing Love.

We have access to God's gifts by God's grace, and our access to God's grace is through our union with Christ, who is Himself the Elect Son of God, and the Elect Man of God, from before the foundation of the world.

There is a sense in which there are only two individuals considered in the decree of predestination and election. There is the First Man, Adam, in whom the decree of reprobation is represented (whether or not the individual man, Adam, is elect or reprobate; since Adam's own representation need not remain in himself, though it remains in those who follow from him by natural generation), and the Last Man, Christ, in whom the decree of redemption is represented (whether or not the individual man, Christ, requires redemption, since his own representative status does not depend upon--indeed, rather would be destroyed by--his own possession of the condition of sin).

Now it is quite true that every human being has been decreed unto reprobation or redemption, individually. However, one of the key issues that people have with election is that it occurs apart from any individual's own contribution (we might say, his own merit). How is it, it is asked, that any one person should be redeemed or reprobated apart from consideration of his or her own choices, which make up his or her identity? Must not the individual be free from any compulsion, so that, by one's own choosing, he or she may love the God who gave His Son to redeem man from sin?

The unquestioned assumption in the question is that one's own identity is something determined by one's own choices. This is the Existentialist philosophy of "Existence precedes Essence," or "I am what I do," or "I am that I choose." Rather, we should recognize that an individual's choices are a result of his or her identity, not a cause of it. An empirical examination does not seem to justify this claim, since we often discover that who we thought we were is different than what we think as a result of some choice or action. "I never though I could do X" seems to support the idea that my choices determine what I am. However, our identity is not made up of our self-knowledge, for, as the Apostle John declares, "we do not yet know what we will be" (1 Jn. 3:2). That our choices reveal to us an identity that heretofore was unknown does not prove that choice determines identity, but rather it shows the limitations of human knowledge. We may know ourselves truly, yet not completely--our identity is being shaped, but not by our choices.

What then shapes our individual identities, of which our choices are but partial revelations?

God's omnipotence entails that no power, indeed, not even the power of an individual human will, is constituted or made effectual apart from God's will. What I choose, what you choose, what anyone chooses according to the liberty of our highest affection, depends upon the exertion of God's power entirely. What I choose on the basis of, that is, my identity, rests entirely upon the favorable or disfavorable willing of God. God wills unto one's good, or one's ill, and the choices one makes reveal to himself and the world whether he or she has God's favor or not (though the full revelation of individuals is obscured in large part until the consummation of the Age and the Return of the Son in Judgment).

On what basis then does God constitute Those Favored and Those Unfavored?

Since it is God's will that constitutes these two groups, there is no higher standard to which God could appeal, no standard upon which He could examine whether to choose X for reprobation and Y for redemption. Since no individual human will can act upon from God prior determination of that will, it is by God's will alone that any subsequent will, wills. Therefore God's will alone factors in the equation. The choice, for God, is arbitrary without being capricious. That is, God is free to choose without doing injustice in however He chooses.

Despite the arbitrary nature of God's constituting the reprobate and the redeemed, there is another factor that liberates God from the charge of injustice, or even of unmitigated self-interest. The decree to elect and reprobate is not undirected, but has its end in the honoring of the Eternally Begotten Son. The Eternal Father desires to offer His Eternal Son an inheritance, therefore He elects unto the Son a people for Him to provide for, protect, and to glorify into His own image, just as the Eternal Son is the image of the Eternal Father. The Father is reproducing in giving His Son an inheritance what the Son will reproduce in His that inheritance--an honorable, glorifying imitation, which is the essence of divine love, which is the Holy Spirit (so much more could be said to unravel this seamless garment!).

The glorification of the Son, and consequently of the Father, is such that there must be an Enemy; an Enemy who possesses his own people to become an unholy imitation of his blasphemous nature. Such unholy anti-love is but the antithesis, the contrastive highlighting, of Divine Love. The darker the shadow of Satanic opposition, the brighter the light of the Son's glorification.

The failure to appreciate the beauty of election is not due to any lack of aesthetic sensibility or faculty of recognition--for in nature, in artistic imitation, the use and appreciation for contrast is so universal as to be an unmistakable principle of beauty, even when it is not considered the sum and whole. No painter can achieve plays of light apart from contrasts in darkness. No musician can achieve the heights of a major tone apart from the lows of a minor. There can be no "is" without there also being an "is not."

No, the rejection of God's electing love (which include reprobation) stems from the universal recognition of one's own status as one of the condemned. Each convict rails against the Just Judge, not because the convict can ultimately deny the justice of the verdict, or the power of the Judge to execute the sentence, but rather from the convict's own dissatisfaction that he, the convict, cannot be, himself, the Judge. That motive characterizes the "old man," "the flesh," the child of darkness, the Satanic being--a motive that can only accuse the Maker of All Things of not doing everything according to the command of the Made.

But to those who have been constituted in Christ, and have been realized as such in history (i.e. the Spirit of adoption has testified to their spirit that they are indeed, sons of God with the Son), there is all of joy and marvel at the beauty of God's electing Love--that He would include such lowly and dependent creatures in the glorification of the Most Exalted and Eternal Son! Had God wanted to, it would have been enough for Him to have allowed all humanity to enjoy the few years of pleasure on this most magnificent orb of joyous beauty--even that much would be more than we deserve as His enemies. Yet even the joys of earth were not enough an expression of the Love of Our Great God, who was neither so mean nor so impoverished as to keep even the most self-debasing and rebellious of His creatures from participating, after their own creaturely fashion, in the Divine nature.

Christian, what can you but do than exclaim, "Marvelous! Wonderful! All Too High and Lofty Design! O, Beauty and Love Immeasurable Great! Worthy, Worthy, O Most Worthy God; Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen!"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Edwards on Affections and Passions

It is my opinion that a significant number of those who admire Jonathan Edwards have sorely mistaken him on the nature of the affections. The modern admirer tends to equate the affections with the passions, as if such effects upon the individual bore no distinctions whatsoever. But Edwards was a master of careful distinctions, and no less so in distinguishing affections and passions.

A lengthy quotation provides the relevant data:

The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties; the affections are not
essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will, and
inclination of the soul, but only in the liveliness and sensibleness of exercise. 

It must be confessed, that language is here somewhat imperfect, and the meaning of words
in a considerable measure loose and unfixed, and not precisely limited by custom, which governs the use of language. In some sense, the affection of the soul differs nothing at all from the will and inclination, and the will never is in any exercise any further than it is affected; it is not moved out of a state of perfect indifference, any otherwise than as it is affected one way or other, and acts nothing any further. But yet there are many actings of the will and inclination, that are not so commonly called affections: in everything we do, wherein we act voluntarily, there is an exercise of the will and inclination; it is our inclination that governs us in our actions; but all the actings of the inclination and will, in all our common actions of life, are not ordinarily called affections. Yet,what are commonly called affections are not essentially different from them, but only in the degree and manner of exercise. In every act of the will whatsoever, the soul either likes or dislikes, is either inclined or disinclined to what is in view: these are not essentially different from those affections of love and hatred: that liking or inclination of the soul to a thing, if it be in a high degree, and be vigorous and lively, is the very same thing with the affection of love; and that disliking and disinclining, if in a greater degree, is the very same with hatred. In every act of the will for, or towards something not present, the soul is in some degree inclined to that thing; and that inclination, if in a considerable degree, is the very same with the affection of desire. And in every degree of the act of the will, wherein the soul approves of something present, there is a degree of pleasedness; and that pleasedness, if it be in a considerable degree, is the very same with the affections of joy or delight. And if the will disapproves of what is present, the soul is in some degree displeased, and if that displeasedness be great, it is the very same with the affection of grief or sorrow.

Such seems to be our nature, and such the laws of the union of soul and body, that there
never is in any case whatsoever, any lively and vigorous exercise of the will or inclination of the soul, without some effect upon the body, in some alteration of the motion of its fluids, and especially of the animal spirits. And, on the other hand, from the same laws of the union of the soul and body, the constitution of the body, and the motion of its fluids, may promote the exercise of the affections. But yet it is not the body, but the mind only, that is the proper seat of the affections. The body of man is no more capable of being really the subject of love or hatred, joy or sorrow, fear or hope, than the body of a tree, or than the same body of man is capable of thinking and understanding. As it is the soul only that has ideas, so it is the soul only that is pleased or displeased with its ideas. As it is the soul only that thinks, so it is the soul only that loves or hates, rejoices or is grieved at what it thinks of. Nor are these motions of the animal spirits, and fluids of the body, anything properly belonging to the nature of the affections, though they always accompany them, in the present state; but are only effects or concomitants of the affections that are entirely distinct from the affections themselves, and no way essential to them; so that an unbodied spirit may be as capable of love and hatred, joy or sorrow, hope or fear, or other affections, as one that is united to a body.

Edwards defines affection as an inclination of the will. He does not equate affection and inclination, however. Any desire of the will that leads to an effect is an inclination, but an affection is an inclination of a higher degree resulting in a more pronounced effect. The key elements of an affection, however, is that it originates in the will as an inclination and is properly understood as being properly seated in the mind or soul (which includes the will).

Edwards then distinguishes affections from passions:

The affections and passions are frequently spoken of as the same; and yet in the more
common use of speech, there is in some respect a difference; and affection is a word that in its ordinary signification, seems to be something more extensive than passion, being used for all vigorous lively actings of the will or inclination; but passion for those that are more sudden, and whose effects on the animal spirits are more violent, and the mind more overpowered, and less in its own command.

Edwards' distinction is not simply one of intensity (though there is that), but also of kind--whereas the affections are seated in the mind, it is the passions that are exhibited more violently in the body to the overpowering of the mind. Although Edwards does not explicitly say so in his treatise on the Religious Affections, the implication of the above quote would be that whereas affections originate in the mind as an inclination of the will, passions circumvent the mind and incline the will toward carnal, bodily ("animal spirits") satisfaction. It seems to be these very same passions, just so defined, that Paul says God gave up corrupted men and women unto the influence of in Romans 1:26, which dominated those under the power of the flesh (Rom. 7:5) and which Christ, through our union with him in crucifixion, has crucified (Gal. 5:24). Indeed, it seems to be the passions that James says, "wage war among in your members" (4:1) and are the source of quarrels and conflicts among the brethren.

For Edwards, then, the affections are not those bodily effects that overpower the mind, circumventing or "surpassing" reason and understanding. Rather, the affections are the inclinations of the will reacting to the truths that are impressed upon the mind and exert the will in affections (such as love, hatred, joy, gratitude, grief, fear, zeal, and so on) that culminate in the right worship of God in accordance with the truth that the mind grasps.

A good, though not infallible, test is to ask oneself whether, in the aftermath of an "emotional experience," whether or not one was aware of any thought. Many times we act out of a strong inclination and reflect, saying, "I don't know what I was thinking!?" Such an answer is more accurate than we may realize, since it probably reveals the working of passions rather than the affections of which Edwards speaks. If one can articulate a reason (and the reason is true rather than pretended) for the inclination and its subsequent action (think here of David's dancing exuberantly down the streets of Jerusalem when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the city), then it is more probably an affection arising from the soul's exultation in the truth than of a bodily or carnal passion.

In any case, reading Edwards correctly on the affections should motivate more skepticism toward the current state of religious expression in our land than serve as justification for much of what passes for a proper expression of worship.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing and Studying History

Eugene White, a one-time professor and scholar of rhetoric, wrote a book in 1972 entitled, Puritan Rhetoric. The subtitle, The Issue of Emotion in Religion, was a gesture toward his own circumstances in the early seventies. Two passages from his introductory chapter indicate his perspective upon history, and thus provide an sense of how he thinks one ought to construct and study history. Apart from being an enjoyable way of studying history, it shows how the study of history can be instructive for the present day, or "relevant," as is the popular word at present.

Until recently, the popular view has considered the founding Puritan to be a singularly unattractive ancestral relic, better forgotten than remembered. Especially in the last two or three decades, however, much careful research has gradually removed enough of the encrusted fictions and distortions to expose a more realistic—and somewhat more likeable—image of the Puritan. Instead of the utterly drab, stony, and inhibited figure of myth, the "restored" Puritan upon occasion could laugh, wear "bright" clothes, resort to alcoholic as well as divine spirits, and enjoy marital sex. Instead of being stolid and unimaginative, the "restored'' Puritan was nervously sensitive and at least as cerebral in his approach to life as today's American. Although inevitably bound by his inherited conceptions of the authority of God and the nature of man and of the social order, the "restored" Puritan was far from being anti-intellectual. He was sensitively aware of the problems of his emerging society and he struggled with considerable inventiveness to solve them. 

Most importantly, recent research has demonstrated that our own self-interest will not permit the "restored" Puritan to be consigned to the esoteric limbo of the Colonial specialist. The value judgments, the decisions, and the successful—as well as the abortive—attempts of the Puritans to solve their personal and societal problems exerted an immense influence upon the flow of history. Our society today is different because of the Puritans. More than this, some of the basic problems with which we now grapple are refractions of the predicaments which confronted the Puritans and which, having been modified by the Puritan personality and character, were passed along unsolved to succeeding generations. (3)

One of the problems of our contemporary society is the conflict between the emotions and the intellect, between the intellectual—who seeks satisfaction as well as practical answers in the exercise of the mind, and the anti-intellectual—who sanctifies intuitive wisdom or emotive empathy, minimizes the usefulness of knowledge, and suspects as potentially dangerous the unrestricted operation of the rational intellect. If space permitted, the antagonism between mind and feeling could be traced backward—from recent episodes such as the campus protests of anti-intellectual students who consider social ends rather than advancement of learning to be the objective of a university and the rejection of reason by many youths who seek liberation of the non-rational aspects of their nature by means of drugs, mysticism, and aberrant dress and behavior—through the McCarthy era, Progressivism, Populism, the Darwinian controversy, Southern parochialism, transcendentalism, the Jacksonian period, the Jeffersonian triumph of 1800, and the Revolutionary War—to the Great Awakening. (4)

Although I am sure that Dr. White's conclusions will be too reductive for my opinion of the Puritans, he nonetheless attempts to see the influence of their culture "downstream," which is a much wiser approach than a crass or careless dismissal.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A poem: Aftermath of Order

Piled high leaves; A squirrel is plying there,

Does she see another watching?

Slide, slip down; she is seeking there,

Does she hear the red bird, chirping?

World opened wide; A bit of raking there,

I did not see them watching.

I did not hear them waiting.

Drip, drop, fall; a few drops here and there,

She leaves by leaps ascending,

Her tail tugging my thoughts,

Of this aftermath of order.

Monday, June 24, 2013

History & Historiography

Gordon Clark's, Historiography Secular and Religious, is not a typical historiography, insofar as it does not provide a comprehensive analysis of approaches to history. Rather, it treats of several kinds of secular historiography, showing their deficiencies--not historical in nature, but rather philosophical. For instance, any sort of ethical judgment requires the establishment of an epistemology that forms the basis of ethical norms. Clark shows the inability of secular historians to provide such an epistemological basis.

On the positive side, Clark provides a brief exposition of Augustine's view of history as the representative Christian historiography. Borrowing from Collingwood, Clark addresses four aspects of the Christian concept of history: 1) it is universal, 2) it is providential, 3) it is apocalyptic, and 4) it is periodized.

The first aspect of universal history is easily granted, Clark says, as a necessary consequence of basic theism: "If God is the creator of the universe and exercises omniscient providential control, the theory must embrace all nations in some way or other, no matter how little we may know of them" (221). Augustine, according to Clark, asserts that, "Since the time of Christ the geographical or national center of gravity [for universal history] has been replaced by a spiritual center, the church. The City of God and the worldly city no doubt produce history by conflict, but the whole process is for the good of the City of God" (222). Whereas Collingwood argues that any center of gravity is destroyed by the universal aspect of Christian history, Clark shows that the opposite is the case: it is not that the center of gravity is destroyed, but it is transformed from the geographically localized, to the geographically dispersed; and from the spiritually diverse and changing to the spiritually unified and constant.

The second aspect of divine providence also follows from Christian theism, and the entirety of Jewish history up to the time of Christ is an exposition of God's providential ordering of history for the arrival of His Messiah from among the Jews. Clark quotes Daniel 4:35 as a representative OT acknowledgement of Providence: "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say, What doest Thou?" (222). It is not the agency of men, or of sociological forces, or dialectical materialism, or any other combination that history is assuredly accomplished, but rather by preordained Providence working through any and all immediate and intermediate powers. Whether by the wisdom or by the folly of men God works all according to His purpose. Collingwood's attribution of providence eschewing the wisdom of men is therefore misleading, and deficient, though not entirely incorrect. Providence uses all means, and no means are free from God's power and purpose.

As for the apocalyptic aspect, Clark agrees that Collingwood rightly identifies the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the central events of divinely ordained history, but Collingwood leaves out significant future details. That all history looks back to the death and resurrection should not obscure the also forward-looking hope of the culmination of history in the return of the Lord at the end of the age (a hint toward periodization). Thus, while Collingwood is deficient on the future orientation of the apocalypic aspect, he still scores well on the point itself, as well as the consequence of periodization, which in the most general of levels would include those times before the event of Christ's death and resurrection, and those following.

To Collingwood's four aspects Clark adds a fifth, borrowing from Herbert Butterfield; it is the methodological significance of revelation (224). The Scriptures are continually on the mouth of Augustine as he unfolds the history of the two cities, and Augustine is not implicit in his use of them, saying, "We must lay down holy scriptures first as the foundation of our following structure (XX, 1)" (224). Butterfield makes the important distinction, according to Clark, "that historical research might prove that Jesus Christ actually lived at a certain date; and such a conclusion of research, like any other properly obtained, would have to be accepted by Christian, Marxist, or Mohammedan. But the divinity of Christ or the rightness of the Reformation is not susceptible of historical proof" (224). Such claim are theological in nature, but indispensable for understanding the course of history within the Christian concept. Clark concludes on this matter, "To cast the results of historical research into the framework of a providential view, one must come to history with Christian ideas already in mind, and this requires revelation as a methodological principle" (225). If Clark is right, and I think he is, the most important knowledge the Christian historian must possess is a knowledge of Scripture, and its own self-revelatory philosophy of history. Without it, the Christian cannot provide a Christian account of history, no matter how comprehensive and erudite his historical research.

Clark concludes the chapter on Augustine by examining some of Karl Popper's claims about Christianity, first by quoting Popper's acknowledgment that one must come to history with a point of view already in mind, and second by an extended refutation of Popper's criticisms of Christian historicism.

The upshot of Clark's exposition and defense of the Augustinian view of history, which is, perhaps, as close as we've yet come to the Biblical view of history, is of enormous importance to the task of educating Christians in matters historical. If the Christian teacher of history does not provide his students with the Scriptural methodology; if he does not continually use the ideas of universality, providence, and the two-fold culminations of death and resurrection and consummation at the end of the age along with its basic periodization, then the Christian teacher does not provide a Christian view of history. At worst he will adopt a secular structure and methodology for viewing history, and at best he will provide a skeptical view of all structures and methodologies, which leaves the Christian without foundation for positive historical claims. Certainly the necessary skepticism toward secular history is without fruit unless the roots of Scriptural history have travelled deeply into the soil of students' minds. Let us hope that more rather than less Christian teachers and scholars of history are making good use of the Scriptures so that this indispensable aspect of Christian doctrine and its applications isn't lost upon future generations.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

T. Desmond Alexander’s book, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, is a concise introduction to Biblical Theology. It reads more like a series of topical articles, which have been pieced together than a self-contained book, but that doesn’t hinder the flow of the book in my opinion. In ways similar to what David Chilton does in his book, Paradise Regained, Alexander provides typological elements from the Old Testament that are continually revisited, grown, and brought into brightest clarity in the New Testament. Another similarity that Alexander’s book bears is to the book of Michael Williams, Far as the Curse is Found. Both books begin with something later in order to talk about beginnings. Williams begins with the resurrection in order to discuss redemptive history, and Alexander begins with Revelation 20-22, the vision of New Jerusalem in the New Heavens and New Earth, in order to discuss the various typologies that comprise his introduction to Biblical Theology. His aim is to paint in, “broad brush strokes designed to show the general shape of the meta-story” (11). How well does he do?
The opening chapter talks about the Garden of Eden and the Holy City of Revelation as places God established for the purpose of communing with Man—they are dwelling places shared by God and Man. After the Fall, there is no longer a garden, but God does commune through the tabernacle and the temple. Eventually God “tabernacles” in Man himself by way of the Incarnation, and by His Spirit in every one of His people, but manifestly in the people as a whole; the Church. Alexander points to many details that correspond to one another in each of these places of communion, showing how they are related and developed across the redemptive history portrayed in the Scriptures. Much of the material is of great supplementary value for a class that is covering redemptive history.
Chapter two examines the authority of God and Man as revealed in the ideas of Kingship, Kingdom, and (the typological element of) the throne. The prominent focus of Alexander is the vicegerency of Man in God’s economy; how it was given, lost, managed in the loss, and regained in Christ. Chapter three handles the enemy, Satan (the serpent, the devil) across the redemptive history of Scripture. Chapter four examines the slaughter of the lamb as accomplishing redemption. Chapter five discusses the tree of life and the redemption of people from every nation. Chapter seven summarizes the whole under the discussion of the two opposing cities; that of God, and that of Babylon.

Alexander’s book is riveting for all of its interesting connections and possibilities, but it is of best value in the classroom as a supplemental text to use in portions of a course on Redemptive History or Biblical Theology where the teacher wants to highlight some of the same things that Alexander discusses. It is a bit more technical and scholarly than the typical high school student would be prepared for, but not out of bounds for the limited use indicated above.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Book Review: Far as the Curse is Found

Far as the Curse is Found, by Michael Williams, is, as its subtitle indicates, an introduction to the "covenant story of redemption." One of the best features of the book is how it begins with the most important aspect of the story, the Resurrection. There are two reasons why I like this approach. First, as Williams argues, the whole story is about the triumph of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, and therefore to introduce Him at the beginning seems a fitting way to highlight His prominence in the story. Second, I am glad that Williams chooses the Resurrection rather than the Crucifixion as his starting point, for that is both the emphasis of the New Testament writers, and it is the point at which Jesus' triumph is made manifest to the onlooking Creation--God's raising Christ from the dead was a vindication of His Covenantal status and favor; His righteousness before God and man.

There is another curious feature about Williams' organization of the book. After beginning with the high point of the story, he does not retreat back to the beginning of the Bible, but rather to the beginning of what he calls the "pattern of redemption," which is found in the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt. Again, this makes good sense insofar as Williams is telling the story of redemption. We have the principle actor, Jesus, in the opening chapter following by the principle pattern of the story in chapter two. He argues that we need to know God as redeemer prior to knowing Him as Creator, and that this is evident in the original context of the Scriptures themselves, since the first audience of Moses' accounts in the Pentateuch was a freshly delivered-from-bondage Israel. The remaining chapters follow redemptive history from the Fall through the Eschaton, or renewal of all things.

There are many things that are familiar in Williams' account, such as the federal headship of Adam and Christ, the covenantal community (Church) as the principle object of salvation (i.e. securing a Bride for the Christ), the cosmological import of salvation, promise-fulfillment, and so on.

There are two refreshing aspects in Williams' book that have not always been emphasized in the modern Reformed tradition. The first is the emphasis upon the graciousness of God's covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden--the so-called covenant of works. Williams comes out strongly in his emphasis upon Adam total reliance upon God's grace, though he is given a command that promises a reward for obedience. The second is Williams' emphasis upon the graciousness of the Law at Sinai, or Calvin's famous third use of the Law as a guide to believers. He provides a robust and positive treatment of the relevance of the Law for contemporary Christians, which is welcome.

Overall this book is a great resource for a brief, bite-sized introduction to redemptive history and to biblical theology. I'm enthusiastic about the opportunity to use the book as our primary text in the eighth grade theology class for next year.