Sunday, May 31, 2015

It's called "Buyer's Remorse."

The PEW studies should be taken with a grain of salt.  I realize that.  But, even if facts do require interpretation and are never neutral, they are still facts at the end of the day and can't be dismissed, either.

I realize the situation is equally grim for Protestants, too, but even then it means something like:

  • Mainline churches are dying and will either merge or simply disappear. They are too old to spend all that money. No one except the executive offices in the PCUSA disputes that.
  • While the PCA and SBC are dwindling, other conservative confessional denominations are holding steady (if not actually growing).
  • I don't know how much stock to put into claims that rural churches are shrinking.  It's hard to have a growing church in a small population without a critical mass.  
  • I think Megachurches have plateaued.  Even if they were biblical they would have to plateau at some point.  No entity can maintain such growth without an ever-increasing growth in a community.
  • With that said, however, low-church traditions will continue to thrive for the simple reason that they allow charismatic (small "c") communicators and organizers a venue to use their gifts.  Granted, there is room for abuse but that's the cost of doing business in a fallen world.  It's in other denominations, too, but their restrictive structures slow down the process. 
  • People say there is no organization in evangelicalism. That's not entirely true.  There might not be episcopalian denominational organization outwardly, but if you go into a sizable Evangelical church, they are highly organized and remarkably well-structured (far more than traditional Presbyterian or episcopalian traditions).  It's not rocket science:  incompetence simply doesn't grow churches.
Of course, none of that means a tradition is right or wrong.  It's simply giving a context.  Further, PEW notes that the percentage of Evangelicals has shrunk, but the overall numbers increased:

And evangelical Protestants, while declining slightly as a percentage of the U.S. public, probably have grown in absolute numbers as the overall U.S. population has continued to expand.

Orthodox Bridge has been running a narrative that there is an inexorable slide of Protestants into the Orthodox Church and that the 21st century is "The Orthodox Century."  Please keep in mind we are not arguing for the truthity or falsity of any particular tradition.  I am simply reporting the facts on the ground.

And while Orthodox Bridge has banned my commenting there, dear reader, if you are interested in Orthodoxy I owe you a favor.  When you read Convertskii blogs it's easy to pretend you are at Nicea, that you are seeing the ancient church as the ancient church (supposedly) was.  No doubt you are pretending to be with Aleksandr Nevsky slaughtering the Teutons at the Battle on the Ice. And if you convert to EO and find yourself living those realities, well-done I say.  You are luckier than most.

I think many, however, reading these narratives and then acting on them, suffer from buyer's remorse. It just isn't telling the story long-term.  If you jump ship, on.  Is this the Orthodox Century?  I refer to the earlier-linked article.

  • Orthodox Christians have one of the lowest rates of retention across Christian and non-Christian denominations.  Only 53% of adults who were raised in the Orthodox Church still identify themselves as Orthodox Christians.  Compare that to Hindus (80%), Jewish (75%), Mormon (64%) and Catholic (59%).

  • Given the relative wealth and household income of Orthodox Christians, why do so many parishes struggle to meet their financial needs?  Communities in even the most affluent parts of the country are struggling to repair roofs, pay bills and keep the parishes fully staffed.
  • Credible sources report that just in the past five years, stewardship membership nationwide has fallen from 250,000 families in 2009 to 159,000 families in 2014. That is a decline of 38% in just five years. Long term survival of any modern institution bearing such drastic decreases in the ranks of its adherents, stewards and members becomes questionable.
  • if we continue to espouse the leadership’s mantra that the Greek Orthodox Church is on track to succeed in the changing religious landscape of today’s America, the reality could indeed be more than we can bear.

Neo-Calvinism: early failures and post-Reflections

This post can be similarly titled, "For and Against Van Til." I've decided not to write this in a strictly logical order. Rather, it will be written in Nietzschean style [bracketed paragraph numbering]. As a side note: I have read William Young's WTJ article on Neo-Calvinism. I have no problem with it. He simply points out that Neo-Calvinism tended to denigrate experiential religion. Perhaps they did. That's an emphasis argument, though, and does not bear on whether other distinctives are true or false. (And almost identically tragic results can be found in the Anglo-Scottish Calvinist tradition).


What would Neo-Calvinism look like without its emphasis on politics? Yeah, I know sphere sovereignty and all that, but let's be honest: among neo-Calvinists what gets talked about the most, the church or politics?


One area where Neo-Calvinism [let's just call it Reformational Theology from now on) actually got right and later generations, even the Banner of Truth men, dropped the ball was in theological prolegomena. If you read Kuyper and Bavinck, they are fighting hard for ectypal theology. Can Together4theGospel say the same thing? Can Banner of Truth?


But theology is more than prolegomena, and the Reformational theology didn't do a great job on anthropology. Wanting a rich creation theology, and fearing gnostic dualisms (both admirable goals), they came very close to rejecting the doctrine of the soul. I've summarized their position here.


The most important aspect of Reformational Theology is that it was a constructive theology. That's very hard to do. It's easy to build a theology of critique, whether Rome or other deviant systems. And that's important, for the battle must be fought in every generation. But a soul (pun intended) cannot live long on a theology of criticism.

Bavinck constructed an entire theology around "New Creation." Yet he never drifted from Reformed Principial theology. This is nothing short of an ultimate triumph. Dooyeweerd's 14 or 15 modalities might sound odd, and I suspect he overdid it, but he simply wanted to outline man-in-the-world and man-in-relation-to-God.

Now for the Criticism of Reformational Theology


The emphasis on politics, at least practically speaking, failed miserably. Amsterdam is Sodom. The American front is slightly different. In America Reformational theology went in two directions. One school, the Toronto school (and with is periphery in the CRC and other Dutch American communities), systematically embraced sphere-sovereignty but with a temptation to more left-wing, socialistic politics. The more conservative appropriating of Kuyper is best seen in the Reconstructionist school and the Christian Right, neither of which is a success today. Recons are on the extreme margin of society (and may they stay there) while the Christian Right/Moral Majority has more or less lost the war.

The Way Forward: What Should We keep and where should we go?


To the degree that the Reformation School sees itself primarily as a Dutch(y) outpost, it is a non-starter. The worst thing that anyone can do is contrast "Amsterdam with x." This prevents Reformational Theology from fully incorporating gains from other traditions.  For example, Nicholas Wolterstorff has suggested commonalities between Bavinck and Reformed Epistemology, which has its roots in the Scottish Common Sense tradition (Wolterstorff, Nicholas. “Herman Bavinck—Proto Reformed Epistemologist.” Calvin Theological Journal 45, no. 1 (2010): 133–46.). This is a major advance in epistemology and only possible because Wolterstorff didn't get blinded by a Dutch ghetto mentality.  


I admit I don't care too much for the "reclaiming politics for Christ" mindset.  Christ makes claims to the political life, to be sure, but I am also reminded of something Don Carson said, "If Kuyper lived in the killing fields of Cambodia, one suspects he would have framed the relationship between Christ and culture differently" (Christ and Culture Revisited, ix). Of course, that doesn't change whether or not Christ owns politics, but it does highlight the tensions--tensions that are already evident in Scripture (see Romans 13 and Revelation 13).  


I like the organic motif.  Some have suspected a latent Hegelianism within the organic motif, but I think that criticism falls short for a couple of reasons.  For one, it's never argued that "organicism necessitates Hegelianism." It's just asserted.  Secondly, Christ himself had no fear of using it because of future Hegelian overtones (John 15).  Thirdly, let's assume it's a valid criticism.  Even then, it doesn't prove what people fear most in Hegel: Pantheism.  If it does prove pantheism, then we need to see an argument for that claim, which would include primary sources from both Dutch Reformed theology and German idealism. A tall order.


But what does Bavinck mean by the organic metaphor?  A full discussion will be found in his Dogmatics, but we can offer a brief one here.  The metaphor  traces the idea of revelation in its form and content and how it correlates with the rest of life (Bavinck, Philosophy of Revelation, 18). Revelation doesn't appear in the abstract. It is always context-ed. God's unfolding drama in history is never a bunch of propositions falling from the sky. Not even Plato can be accused of that crude a view (though many Calvinist critics of Reformational Theology tend hold just that view). It meets Israel at Israel's situation--calling, changing, and challenging that situation.



We can say two things about it:

1) In terms of a Reformed theology for future generations and a Reformed social ethic, Reformational theology failed miserably. 2) In terms of future philosophical reflection, it was a mighty triumph of the highest order. Without neo-Calvinism we would not have Alvin Plantinga. Without Alvin Plantinga, we would not have seen a renaissance in Christian Philosophy.
3) I know a lot of his cultural philosophy borders on the bizarre, but James K. A. Smith is a highly competent philosopher who has done more than anyone today to make Dooyeweerd relevant.

Therefore, we should mine the Reformational theology for insights on the human person and his knowing within his life situation. We should never content ourselves at having arrived--or even worse, having arrived in our ethnic situation. (It's really hard to nail Eastern Orthodoxy's phyletism when we have slogans like "Ain't Dutch, Ain't Much.")

Works Cited

Bavinck, Herman. Philosophy of Revelation.
Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited.
Wolterstorff,  Nicholas. “Herman Bavinck—Proto Reformed Epistemologist.” Calvin Theological Journal 45, no. 1 (2010): 133–46.
Young, William. "Historic Calvinism And Neo-Calvinism." Westminster Theological Journal 36:1 (Fall 1973) p. 49. 
Recommended Websites
Paideia Press.
All of Life Redeemed (probably the classic site).

Recommended Works
Bavinck, Herman.  Reformed Dogmatics 4 volumes.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2008.
Clouser, Roy. The Myth of Religious Neutrality.  Notre Dame Press.
Dooyeweerd, Herman.  New Critique of Theoretical Thought 4 volumes.  Good luck finding it.
Kuyper, Abraham.  Principles of Sacred Theology. Westminster Discount Books.
Spykman, Gordon. Reformational Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.
Plantinga, Alvin. and Wolterstorff, Nicholas. eds. Faith and Rationality. Notre Dame Press, 1983.
Plantinga, Alvin.  God and Other Minds.  Cornell University Press, 1990.
Wolters, Al.  Creation Regained.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005. A beautiful manifesto.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.
--------------. Reason within the Bounds of Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

Neo-Calvinism on the Soul

By Neo-Calvinism I mean the Reformational theology manifested in the Dutch tradition of Bavinck and Kuyper.  I do not mean the pop-resergence of the New Calvinists like Piper, Driscoll, and Mahaney, whatever merits these gentlemen might have.

The most notorious aspect of Neo-Calvinism is that they tend to eclipse the doctrine of the soul in favor of a biblical wholism.  I am sympathetic to that, but I also think the Biblical witness speaks of man's soul in distinction from his body.  Let's evaluate Neo-Calvinism as represented in Berkouwer's summary of the movement (Man the Image of God).

The main contention of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd whether there was a natural immortality based on an essence abstracted from its relation to God, from which we can draw further conclusions, such as the soul’s “indestructibility” (Berkouwer, Man the Image of God, 249). So far, this is fine. The Bible doesn't really posit an immaterial soul as the "real stuff" behind God's creation.

Per Van der Leuw, there is no continued existence of the soul as such after death, “but a continuation of the contact point by God even though death” (Onsterfelijkheid of Opstanding, 25 quoted in Berkouwer 252).  I am not entirely sure what this means. If he is saying the soul has no mental awareness after death, then it is false on both biblical and empirical grounds. I think there is something else, though. The problem of what happens when we die does not involve a purely spiritual salvation but can only be answered in the context of death and the Day of Judgment (Althaus). If all Althaus means is the goal of the soul's life isn't the soul itself but finds its ultimate grounding in the Resurrection, then well and good.

Michael Horton reads Berkouwer as denying the existence of an immaterial soul. I'm not so sure Berkouwer is doing that.

Is immortality of the soul correlative with the substantial dualism of mind-body?  This dichotomy raises substantial (pun?) problems and questions (255):
  • When the “soul” is separated from the body, what activities is it still able to carry out?
  • If the body is the organ of the soul (as in Aquinas), and the soul needs the body to carry out its functions, how can the soul know or do anything after death?
    • Dooyeweerd notes that the psychic functions are indissolubly connected with the total temporal-cosmic relationship of all modal functions and cannot be abstracted from this relationship.
    • Thus, we have a “living soul” which does not live.
    • Rather, with Dooyeweerd we should speak of a duality which is supra-temporal in the religious center of man (heart) and the whole temporal-functional complex.
    • Dooyeweerd does say that the soul continues as a form of existence with an individuality structure (Berkouwer 257n. 33).  

Does Dooyeweerd’s school give us a “psychology without a soul?” No, for Dooyeweerd says we cannot view man’s essence “in itself” and then tack it onto a relation with God.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Derrida strikes back

Whether the exegesis for or against Jesus's kingdom power existing today holds, it seems the more pertinent question is whether kingdom power can exist outside of the "closed canon."  Do miracles happen? Yes, but not today because the canon is closed.  Do demons exist?  Yeah, but only in Scripture--not today, for the canon is closed.

(P1) The miraculous exists only within the Bible.

Of course, this raises some problematic questions for God.  Does God exist within the Bible or also in real life?  Of course, in real life.  The more level-headed cessationists, not wanting to quench the Holy Spirit, will modify the claim:

(P1*) The miraculous exists only within the Bible but God can do what he wants.

What they don't realize is this is the rawest form of postmodernism imaginable:

(P2) Il n'y a pas de horse-text.  ~Jacques Derrida

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Van Til Files

Most of my notes on Van Til, both pro and con. I am not saying whether I think Van Til is right or wrong.  

My non-existent neo-Plantingian Interview

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?
Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.
Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.
A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.
Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?
A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.
Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?
A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.
Q. What do you mean?
A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?
Q. Correct.
A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.

Survey of Christian Epistemology (Full)

Typical van Til book.  Numerous interesting insights on Greek philosophy.  Sort of spirals out of control on Idealism as he (likely) tried to fit his dissertation into three chapters.

Medieval Epistemology
CvT is friendlier to Augustine in this volume than he was in A Christian Theory of Knowledge.   Here he emphasizes the differences between Augustine and Plato and focuses the discussion on the problem of knowledge that Plato raised in the previous chapter: what is the principle of Unity (One) and Diversity (Many)?

For CvT this solution lies in the doctrine of the Trinity.
Without a doctrine of creation, the sense world is seen as an “ultimate” (48).  And if we start with an ultimate plurality, how will we get to unity?  Plato never found unity in the Ideal world, for the Idea of the Good never acquired supremacy over the other ideas, and there remained the problem of the Idea of mud, hair, and filth.

The scholastics accepted the Greek idea of the soul, which parallels the chain of being.   At the lowest level is the vegetative part, then the appetitive, then the cognitive (this also parallels comments made by John of Damascus).

Universals and Paganism
The problem of universals is simply a restatement of the problem of the One and the Many.

Donum Superadditum
Something (image of God) received with man’s being.  The origin of this thought lies in the pagan idea of a material universe with an evil inherent in it existing independently of God (62).  It’s hard to see on this gloss how God could have created man “good” apart from endowing him with a little something extra.

Modern Epistemology: Lutheranism
Luther thought of the image of God in purely moral categories, neglecting such as the will and intellect. Van Til analyzes the Lutheran view of the sacrament as it relates to the person of Christ, and as such to epistemology:  the human can become divine.  It is an intermingling of temporal and eternal (70).  As such, Lutheranism also finds itself facing the same difficulties that Platonism faced.

Original Sin and Representation (78)

Van Til has an illuminating discussion on original sin.  He addresses the common challenge to it:  it is illogical because we can’t be tried for someone else’s actions.   But he points out that this only works if we reject the category of representation.

He says that the principle of representation holds because the members of the Trinity are mutually representational.  That is an interesting suggestion, but I am not sure what he really means by that.  He goes on to say that God creates in representational categories (78-79).  Again, very intriguing but not really that clear.

Modern Epistemology: Arminianism
For Watson finitude involves evil (82).  “No creature can be entirely perfect because he is finite” (Watson, Theological Institutesvol 1, p. 33).  This mutes the distinction between general and special revelation. But as Van Til points out, this is paganism.  It posits a world independent of God.  If God created the world there is no reason why it can’t be perfectly good (Van Til, 82).  Van Til asks the question, “Why [on the Arminian gloss]could not God create a perfect though finite being?”   The only real answer for the Arminian is that there must be laws and conditions above God to which he must answer (90).

Van Til then employs the standard (and in my opinion, devastating) objection to Arminianism:  was it in God’s plan that man should fall into evil?  If he says yes, then he is a Calvinist.  If he says no, then he posits a Platonic man outside the plan and power of God (83).  Like Plato, this posits a world independent (to some degree, anyway) of God.

Van Til then goes on to discuss the Arminian contention that for an ethical act to be truly free, it must occur in an impersonal vacuum (Miley, Systematic Theology, I: 409, quoted in Van Til, 87).  The problem with this is given what we confess about God, and that all facts are in a God-vacuum, then on Miley’s gloss it’s hard to see how any action could occur. Van Til points out this is an anti-theistical position.  He writes, “[this] act could not occur except in the Void” (88).

Modern Epistemology: Calvinism

Van Til links Calvin’s project under the “Covenant” (96).  He notes that we see his “representation” in the Trinity as well.   The persons of the Trinity are exhaustive of one another.  This allows man to find the principles of unity and diversity within the Trinity (and hence, within eternal categories).

If the Trinity is representational, then man, too, thinks in representational categories (97)

Epistemology and non-being participation

Some of this will be my own reflections on CvT’s A Christian Theory of Knowledge and the rest will be towards a construction of anti-scale of being philosophy.  I am not reviewing the whole book because it’s unnecessary.   Why do a review of any CvT work after Bahnsen’s magnum opus?  Further, the last 150 pages of CTK could have been left off and the book would have been better.

While CvT’s critique of Romanism was good, he didn’t integrate his earlier (and fine) critique of Plotinus, Augustine, and being/non-being into his larger critique of Romanism, which likely could have buried Romanism.  Instead, he got sidetracked on showing how Karl Barth is secretly in line with the nouvelle theologie of post-Vatican II theology.  That simply doesn’t wash.   For all of Barth’s problems, he rejected the analogia entis and the substance metaphysics upon which Rome is built.

CvT gives a fairly good summary and critique of the early church fathers.  There is some difficulty in this, since no one, even anchoretic traditions, are entirely clear on who constitutes (and when!) the ECFs.  Even admitting Tertullian is a heretic, I don’t think you will find many exceptions in the ancient world to the epistemology CvT is summarizing.   

The later Palamite epistemology is simply a refinement (and perhaps bungling) of some neo-Platonic themes, so to the degree that CvT accurately summarizes and critiques the being theologies of Augustine, Plotinus, and Eurigena, the criticism applies to Palamas (and Palamas and Augustine are closer than one might suspect).  CvT writes that the early church could not find a Christian view of freedom to coalesce with a Christian view of necessity, with the result the fathers opted for a nonbiblical view of free will.

Non-Christian Continuity and Discontinuity
A non-Christian view of continuity sees an identification of God and man, as seen below:

The higher on the scale, the more real and “true” the thing is.  Van Til notes that Tertullian sees sin as “the opposite of good.”  This sounds correct until we realize that means sin is “lower” on the scale of good.   Sin has “slenderness of being.”
On the principle of continuity it is hard to see how Tertullian (and Justin)’s view of God is different from the Stoics’.  But when he argues against Marcion, he says the Christian God is “Other” than man (107).

Later Platonisms
Moving to the fathers (Origen and Clement) we see the scale of being hardened in place.   CvT quotes Plotinus to the effect, “thought is motion” and this is inferior to ecstasy.   (Rowan Williams has a helpful summary on this point).

Here our chart is modified. God is now seen as hyper-ousia, above ousia.  How does one then get from the highest point on the scale of being to “above being?”   Mysticism, ecstasy.   Van Til can then make the critique that many of these fathers employed both rationalism (scale of being, continuity principle) and irrationalism (ecstasy, mysticism).  In fact, rationalism and irrationalism on this gloss are dialectically correlative.

If man is on the scale of being and participates in good, then consistently we must say he also participates in non-being.

Is Finitude Evil?
This is the key point: on metaphysical accounts (and yes, I used the word “metaphysical”) man is defective because he is finite (he participates lower on the scale of being, even to participating in non-being.   Biblical religion, by contrast, sees man’s problem as ethical:  he is in rebellion to God.   CvT then gives a helpful discussion on “total depravity.”  We are not saying that man’s noetic capacity is ruined.   It is in rebellion.

A Metaphysical Fall from Oneness
Augustine is very clear (City of God section on the Platonists) that One = Truth = Being.   The further away from the One we get, the more irrational we get.   The problem is that historical facts are in the realm of the many (further, since history is contingent).  This is similar to Plato’s problem of learning by experience.  Van Til writes,
When Plato took his line and divided it sharply between eternal being of which there was genuine knowledge or science, and non-being of which there was no knowledge, he was faced with the question of how learning by experience is possible (129).
Back to Augustine:  Eternal Truth and History are dialectical opposites.  If Christ is the Eternal Word (and true) then how could he be historical? If historical, then not eternal, and thus not true, and thus unknown.  This is where one’s onto-epistemology leads.  As Van Til says, “The first option leads to truth without content.”
Van Til has a nice phrase to summarize all of this:  slenderness of being.  (And that is where these traditions find man’s free will).
Other notes:
Rejecting the Augstino-Platonic view of Time:  sheer timeless (moving image of eternity) would swallow up all distinctions.
I almost understand what CvT means when he says pure rationality and pure irrationality demand one another (144).  I wish he would have clarified it.
I understand his criticisms of Barth and some of them are valid.  I don’t think he fully showed how Barth’s actualist ontology is at odds with Rome’s analogia entis.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Outside observations on the front

I watched a number of EO guys go at it on whether or not we should "Americanize" the liturgy.  I won't link to the discussion or even copy/paste the conversations (I did that some years ago with bad backlash).

EDIT: The guy took the discussion down from Facebook. Part of it is relevant to the recent Pew findings on American religion. Also involved are the triumphalistic claims that Protestants are abandoning Protestantism by the droves to enter the Orthodox Church.  A certain website is notorious for that.

Person 1: Here is the truth. If you try to have adult education or serious young adult education in an average parish you are going to piss off the blue law crowd by trampling on some of society's sacred cows-moral relativism, agnosticism, abortion and homosexuality. Parents will complain and you will get judged by secret trial with no chance to explain yourself or face your accusers. Or you'll run into all sorts of kookaboo quackadox stuff, usually of the Dan Brown variety among the adults. If they breath, then they think they are experts in theology and philosophy. The average fundy knows more about Christianity than the average Greek. Zeus would be proud. From my limited experience, the Arab aren't better. Cypriots tho in my experience rock either in devotion or theological interest at least, almost to a fault. They are like the Greek version of Irish Catholics. But such is my experience.

  • Frankly, I have given up even trying. I am content to let people learn the hard way and educate my own children. People, clergy and laity are often more concerned with conveying moralism to their children rather than the Gospel, not to mention doing what is necessary for them to intellectually survive the onslaught that awaits them in college. How these parents think that such moralism can prepare their kids to survive as Christians in the face of David Hume, Kant, Russell and a host of other thinkers across practically every discipline is beyond me. If you object to the conveyance of such moralism or do anything that transgresses it, you are liable to find yourself excommunicated or at least removed from parish education. People do not understand that the task is to get their kids to see it for themselves and to inoculate them before they have a doxastic crisis. No one can see it for them. And because of this pervasive moralism, people think that everything will by and large stay as it is. Children will return to church after “sowing their oats” in college when they get married and have kids, and the culture will by and large stay as it is. Such is not the case and the unpaid bills of the church are coming due soon. But no one listens. So I continue to eat locusts and honey and wear a hair shirt.

  •  Person 1: , oh not yet, but there will be. Give it another 5-10 yrs. I suspect then they will be in panic mode complete with all sorts of stupid gimmicks, everything, except offering Christianity as true, to get people to come back. You see the same panic currently in the UMC with their losses of 270k a year. pass the popcorn.
  •  Person 1, every time I hear some Greek say that we need to try and get the Greek people to come back to the church I throw up a little bit in my mouth. Its beyond absurd. They are utterly clueless.

    The point about english language is not to Americanize the church, but to make it MORE Orthodox

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

John of Damascus (Christology)

15) “But this is what leads heretics astray: they look upon nature and person as the same thing” (III.3)

Communicatio Idiomata

(16) “The Word appropriates to Himself the attributes of humanity” (III.3)

This is good Reformed far.  The attributes of humanity are predicated, not of the divine nature but of the Person.

(16*) … “And he imparts to the flesh his own attributes by way of communication”

And here John sounds like a Lutheran.  The flesh receives the attributes of deity.  John wants to preserve several values:

(16a) The flesh is deified (which as to be the case if his teaching on the Lord’s Supper holds water).
(16b) Divine impassibility is not threatened (which is why the communication appears to be a one-way street).

Does John elucidate upon this problem?  

(17) Essence signifies the common, subsistence (person) the particular (III.4).

This lets John say in III.3 that the flesh receives the Word’s attributes while in III.4 he can claim that the flesh doesn’t receive the properties of divinity.

(18) Conclusion: “Each nature gives to the other its own properties through the identity of the Person and the interpenetration of the parts with one another.”

How are they united?

(19) The Word of God was united to flesh through the medium of mind, which stands midway between purity of God and grossness of flesh (III.6).

(See Bruce McCormack’s lecture on Patristic Christology where he deals with this passage).   Does this work?  It seems like “mind” is acting as a metaphysical placeholder between the two natures.  “The mind is the purest part of the soul, and God the purest part of the mind.”  It looks like this:

(gross matter) body----> soul------>mind ------> better part of soul--->God (Pure Spirit)


“And so the Word was made flesh and yet remained wholly uncircumscribed” (III.7)

John comes back to the question of communication and sounds a Lutheran strain:
(18*) “It [The Divine Nature] imparts to the flesh its own peculiar glories”

Make of it what you will.

From Christology to Liturgy

John demonstrates that Christology informs our liturgy, and gives a defense of the Trisagion
“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” (repeat 3x).  The church learned it when a lad was snatched to heaven and taught the hymn by angels, and so the city averted disaster (III.10).  


Energy is the efficient activity of nature (III.15).  Therefore, Christ has two energies.  John says he works his miracles through the divine energy.  This is false.  He works his miracles because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 12:28: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of god has come upon you.
Acts 10:38: “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power…”
Luke 4:1, 14, 5:17: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness...And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit...and the Power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.”

(19) The flesh acted as the instrument of the divinity (ibid).

John mentions this in passing, but it is at the heart of Orthodox deification soteriology. What does this mean?  A deified flesh is not one that changed its nature, but received the permeation of the divine nature.  

I think we have a potential contradiction at this point.  John is very clear that Christ’s human nature has a human energy, which is its efficient power.  I have no argument with that.  But if the human energy is what John says it is, then what is its relevance in an instrumental humanity?  If humanity is just the instrument of divinity, then why bother speaking of energy at all?  Further, since the subsistence of the Word does everything, then there is no way to say that the human energy of Christ ever activates.

(19*) The flesh received the riches of the divine energies (III.17).  

What is the upshot of all of this?  John says he was able to cleanse the leper because of his divine will.  Will this hold water?  Maybe.  We’ve already established that Christ did his miracles because of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  However, the text elsewhere speaks of Christ’s power going forth from him.  Further, those engaged in deliverance ministries speak of a heightened sense of Christ’s power after they have fasted.  

(19’) The riches of the divine energies heighten the power by which the Holy Spirit works in the believer.

Can John maintain both impassibility and divine suffering?  Maybe.  He has an interesting argument.  

(20) The soul shares in the pain but is itself not changed by the pain (III.26).

John gives an example:  if I cut myself with a knife, my soul feels the pain but the soul, being simple and immaterial, is not cut by the knife.  This is consistent (at least on the first level) with what John said in (19).  If the soul is the medium between God and man, or God’s nature and man’s nature in Christ, then the divine person can be truly present in the suffering without his immaterial nature undergoing change.

This seems to work, but it opens another question:  if the soul participates in the divine nature, and if there is an open street between them, it’s hard to see how the divine nature isn’t also experiencing perturbations.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A new blog for intellectual projects.


Still bloggin here for normal stuff.

I might have been wrong on Edwards and Free will

I am a big fan of Richard Muller and accept his criticism of Jonathan Edwards.  I now see where I might be wrong.

Did he commit the modal fallacy?

Problem of Criterion as a theological key

How do you know?  How do you know that you know?  This is the problem of criterion, and far from being a technical point in epistemology, it is huge for theology and the life of the church.  It runs like this:

How do we decide in any case whether we have knowledge in that case? What are the criteria of knowledge? (Moreland 2007, 123).

To risk a dangerous oversimplification, "How do we know that we know x?"  Here is an example.  If I tell someone that God gave me a word of knowledge, the cessationist will respond, "Yeah, but how do you know that was from God?"

If I say that I have the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit bearing witness that I am a child of God and destined for heaven, the anchorite will ask, "Yeah, but how do you know that without using your own subjective demon-inspired reason?"

It boils down to this:  Before I can legitimately claim knowledge in these areas I must first satisfy the condition of knowing how I know.  Seems fair enough and few people challenge this.

But there is a problem.  Before I can know anything (say P, representing that I have the internum spiritum sanctum), I must know two other things: Q (my criterion for knowledge, which the critic seeks) and R (the fact that P satisfies Q).  But there is no reason to stop here.  One can now ask how I know Q and R, to which the new answer is Q' and R'.  But now I have to give a reason for Q'' and R''.  Further, I must now give a reason for Q''' and R'''.

Said another way:  Before I can know, I must know how I know.  Before I can know how I know, I must know how I know how I know.  And on the nightmare goes.

Best just to dismiss the critic's question. But before that, let's give our own solution. We can start by knowing specific, clear items of knowledge.  We can solve the problem of criterion by beginning with particular cases of knowledge and generalising to formulate a criterion for true belief.  For example, while I know my faculty of reason can be faulty at times, I had to use the faculty of reason to write that sentence (assuming A = ~~A and that my terms meant what they meant).  Using this reason I am able to read texts (and everyone will assume the text is clear at at least one level, otherwise why would you ever appeal to an opponent to read a text like 2 Peter 1:4?).  This immediately falsifies the claim that I can't understand a text unless I am already in a community of text (no one seriously believes this when push comes to shove).  

Moreland, J. P. Kingdom Triangle. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2007.  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Theological Pensee, no. 2

"Speech--God of Word, Act, and Promise and not the god of the ontologians."

We do not ascend a ladder to meet God.  His Word descended and spoke to us (Romans 10).  The above is not a criticism of metaphysics.  Logical and metaphysical tools help us refine what we believe about God.  We can even make a case for ontotheism if we were so inclined.  

Rather, we are attacking chain of being.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Where do angels and demons exist?

Angels and demons do not exist in the Bible.  They exist in real life.  We read about them in the Bible.  We encounter them in real life.

Similarly, spiritual warfare happens in real life, not in a text.  (Funny how conservative Christians become Derrideans at this point!)  2 Corinthians 10 isn't just saying we need to think Christianly (which we do). It is a spiritual warfare text.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh
weapons of our warfare not of the flesh
but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses

We are destroying speculations
AND every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God
AND we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ
AND we are ready to punish all disobedience
Whenever your obedience is complete

Pulling down of fortresses
One commentator writes, “The stronghold (or fortress) is the place where the devil and his forces are entrenched”.  This isn’t too farfetched, I don’t think.  Exactly what are we fighting?  The New Testament is very clear that we are at war against dark forces.  There is no way to demythologize it and still take the New Testament seriously.  

Assuming we are at war, then we need to take the NT’s language seriously.  It says part of our life as disciples is to attack strongholds.  And this raises the question:  “What’s the point of a fortress or stronghold?”  

The Method of our Attack

If we are indeed called to pull down strongholds and fortresses, and we know that Paul doesn’t mean that against literal flesh-and-blood enemies, then we have to ask, “What will this attack look like?”

  • Truth encounter (every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God)
    • The Greek word for lofty thing is “hypsoma.”  It means something like astrological ideas, cosmic powers, and power directed against God.
  • Victory encounter (taking every thought captive)