2017: A (Really Late) Personal Theological and Philosophical Recap

The last time I wrote on this blog, I wrote an entry by the same title for the 2016 year. At then end of 2017, I was ready to write again, but felt hesitant to publish what I had written. I might as well just make this a 2018 recap at this point, but this is loosely based on what I originally wrote, so here it is. Honestly, wisdom dictates that I was better off not posting anything at the time anyways. I will say from the outset that if this post upsets anyone, I do not have that intention. If you find these thoughts unpolished or insulting, I am certain that I am to blame, so I accept any criticisms on the thoughts I present here.

In my personal life, two of my beloved Grandparents passed away in Christ. During these times, my changing theology and spirituality was especially important to me (especially the communion of Saints). My daughter also turned 3. She is full of life and energy, and I began making more specific efforts to foster her first experiences of knowing and following Jesus.

Theologically, I will say from the outset that I did leave the Baptist tradition during 2017, and considered leaving Protestantism. In 2018 my family started to move over to an Anglican parish near our house (St. Matthew’s, Anglican Catholic Church), and we have been enjoying it. We love the liturgy, the focus on Word and Table, and the inclusion of our little one in the spiritual life of the church. This change has caused me to reflect on my journey. It’s easy for me to say what caused me to leave the tradition I was in (honestly, those stories are pretty played out these days), but I also learned a lot from other traditions along the way, so I want to recognize the people God used in my life (in no particular order):

  • I was Baptized into a non-denominational Baptist church. I later had a conditional baptism (they don’t call them that, but that is what it was), in a Southern Baptist Church.
  • I started following Jesus obediently as an adult in a Southern Baptist Church.
  • I initially learned theology, biblical theology, and biblical languages from Reformed Baptists, Southern Baptists, and Presbyterians.
  • The Reformed tradition was my entry into the concept of liturgy and historic orthodoxy and tradition.
  • I learned how to preach from Baptists and Presbyterians.
  • I learned about historic liturgy and sacramental theology from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writers.
  • I learned about Evangelism and Missions from Baptists, especially those in the SBC.
  • Most of my friends are in the Baptist tradition.
  • I learned about loving God personally and authentically from Evangelicals.

Most people, from this point, wonder what led me down this road. Some of my current theology is at odds with what I so strongly believed in previous years (how is that for eating your own words?). Here are a few things that led to this change. These aren’t all the reasons, but they are some of the ones that sparked my interest early on. I am not going to defend any of these points in great detail, because that would be an overly long post. I just want to give an idea of the thoughts that led to my studying these topics in greater detail:

  1. Modernity/Enlightenment has radically changed the way people read the Bible and practice faith formation. This is the beginning of my journey. This opened my eyes to the fact that what is obvious to the average person in our culture is often at odds with Classical Christianity. Churches now have altered their faith and practice in serious ways to attract people formed by Modernity. This is why the notion that orthodox Christianity has to subscribe to a theological method of Scripture alone without any guide from Church Tradition is so suspect. In practice, following the Bible alone now means that we read the Bible through Modernity and get whatever modern people want, ignoring how the Bible undermines so much in Modernity. Practically, some Evangelicals pay tribute to Tradition when referencing Doctrines they have decided to believe (Trinity, Christology, etc.), but they refuse to accept Tradition when it goes at odds with modern sensibilities concerning the Sacraments and Ecclesiology. There are claims from the Bible made, but in the end, everyone has an interpretation, and everyone is trying to use the Bible to prove they are right. I did feel that Evangelicals and many Protestants selectively reference the Bible quite a bit to get what they want out of it.
  2. Considering early church tradition, it is unlikely that Baptists/evangelicals represent the earliest Apostolic tradition. The early church transitioned from the Apostolic Era into the Episcopal model, and liturgy and sacramental theology was highly developed very quickly. All of this was done by disciples of the Apostles during the first few generations after they passed away. It has been hard for me to imagine that the early church would be so united in something that went against the clear teachings of the Apostles. This is the narrative that Protestants have to make sense of, and don’t seem to be able to explain (with the exception of some Anglicans and Lutherans). At the very least there would have been serious debate, and there was not. While there was diversity, there was a surprising amount of unity concerning many doctrines that many Protestants (especially Evangelicals) reject.
  3. Scripture and tradition teach a doctrine of ordination that only makes sense in the context of Apostolic Succession. 1 Timothy teaches that ordination is a gift received by the laying on of hands from church leadership. It makes logical sense that an manual succession would be required to carry on this biblical mandate, because someone cannot ordain themselves. However, this is precisely what most Protestants do. Anyone can call themselves a pastor and claim to be ordained, then they claim to ordain someone else, but it is nowhere clear where this ordination is coming from.
  4.  Infant Baptism was debated in the early church, but everyone we see discussing it agreed that they were valid; the debated reasons were always related to post-baptismal sin, not whether they were valid baptisms. Many Evangelicals and Protestants also baptize children. Even your average Baptist church is baptizing children who can barely keep their heads above water, so this was a small point for me.
  5. The canon of Scripture works with the authority and tradition of the church, and Scripture itself affirms the oral authority of tradition from the Apostles and nowhere claims to be the sole authority of church practice and doctrine. This often scares people, like this means that Scripture has no authority, but at its core this affirmation merely points out that not a single person on planet earth can interpret the Bible in a vacuum. People who claim they “just believe/teach the Bible” are either lying or they are confused, because none of us can use Scripture without some kind of received and propagated tradition. The early church immediately recognized this when they pointed out that heretical cult groups were also using the Bible to ‘prove’ that they were right. Further, the historical details of canonization are hard to dispute. The church didn’t even fully canonize the NT until the fourth century, and there were writings that did not make it into the Canon that were used in public worship and instruction (Didache, 1 Clement, et. al.) Neither Jesus or the Apostles left a list of books with the Church. They left an oral tradition empowered by the Holy Spirit. Scripture is supposed to work with tradition and is itself the product of it, and denying this is just to obscure what is already happening when we interpret the Bible anyways, an act that is always heavy laden with received tradition. In this sense, the Bible was received as proving the traditions of the church received from the Apostles, not teaching on its own a body of faith and practice without guidance. Acknowledging the authority and importance of tradition is at its core merely a recognition that there is no such thing as an objective reading of the Biblical text. The text itself is fully authoritative, but only in its meaning, not in its mere existence. That being said, I do think that much of the biblical text is clearly more consistent with the faith and practice of the early church. Two good examples of this would be the Eucharist and Absolution, both practices that make most sense of the biblical text: John 6:51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 20:22-23 “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
  6. Scripture itself lifts up and describes the highly ritualistic and ceremonial worship of Israel, and understands it as commanded by and given by God. The issue was their hearts, not the liturgy of Israel that culminated in the coming of the Messiah. If anything, Scripture offers a picture of worship that is highly ceremonial, especially when we see into heaven in the book of Revelation and see liturgical worship. This lead me to accept that all worship involve ritual and ceremony, the question is what they are forming in us over time. Modern worship is mostly about what modern people “feel” like church should be like, not what the church wishes to form in missional, holy, communities. Even churches that claim a version of the regulative principle leave out clear postures of worship found in Scripture (like kneeling, incense, raised hands, etc.) merely because their notion of reverence requires ‘orderliness’ that is a version of the modern milieu and not following Scripture and tradition. Evangelicals start with what people want, and form worship around preferences, even those who claim to follow only Scripture. Orthodox Catholic liturgy requires me to submit not to what I prefer, but what is best for my body and soul, even if it ‘feels’ out of touch with modern sensibilities. I kneel whether I feel like it or not, the music is about worship (not preferences or entertainment), the Eucharist is a reverent moment drawing me into the presence of Christs’ sacrifice.
  7. The most plain reading of Scripture reveals that the Lord’s Supper is a deep communion with the body and blood of Jesus: His real presence. This was never doubted by the church for 1500 years until radical reformation groups were formed. The advent of modernity made a rejection of sacramental theology the status quo for most people in the western world. Even a cursory reading of basic passages on this reveals more than Evangelicals are willing to admit.
  8. It really appears that the Reformation was a series of bad schisms that went out of control. The Medieval Catholic church had many problems, but the reforms against the Roman Catholic Church became overly reactionary and based on being as different from the RCC as possible. Once one becomes ‘more catholic,’ it honestly becomes hard to talk about it with Protestants. People have been lied to a lot by pastors trying to demonize traditional catholic faith (RCC, EO, Anglo-Catholic, some Lutherans). I won’t say that I think the Reformation was evil, because it was full of political and theological complexities, but I do not think it is something we should celebrate in toto.

If anyone is interested in studying some of these ideas, here are some great books (and one podcast) that vary in difficulty but were important to me. I categorized them by the issues I was researching:

Anglican Studies Podcast (EXCELLENT!) 

Modernity:

  • How (not) to be Secular, James K.A. Smith (A summary of A Secular Age by Charles Taylor which is far too large for most people to read)
  • Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith
    • You Are What You Love is more accessible, but I think a little less explicit about all the problems in Modernity that he covers in greater detail in other works.

Tradition:

Church Government:

Liturgy and Public Worship:

Spirituality:

Bible Interpretation:

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2016: A Personal Theological and Philosophical Recap

2016 has been a strange year for me. I spent more time at home with my daughter than in 2015, and far less time on academic pursuits. I spent less time writing papers on theological issues and more time thinking about my faith in general. I spent more time thinking about what the Lord would have me do and less time being sure about what I though he was calling me to do. In short, this year was a year of changes. We changed churches, my workplace changed locations, my career goals changed (or, perhaps, were merely shaken up), and I changed/challenged a great number of my views regarding theology and philosophy, especially as they relate to my practice of the Christian faith. I wanted to share some of the ideas that I’ve been working through this year as a sort of theological and philosophical recap of 2016. These aren’t settled issues for me, so feel free to comment or challenge these things. If anything, I hold some of my more specific views with a much more open hand than in the past, and most of them I’m not even going to defend here. I just want to throw these things out there for friends and family. If you know me, then you know that these are big changes from where I have been in the past. These are listed more or less by how impactful they were on my thinking.

  1. I became less comfortable with Modern Evangelicalism in general, while becoming more comfortable with older expressions of the Christian faith. This is probably the biggest shift in my theology this year. In fact, most of the ideas I wrestled with this year are subheadings of this central theme. For me, this began years ago when I was digesting the work of James K.A. Smith, but it has issued into a deep disillusionment over the state of the American church. I’m more confident in the gospel then I have ever been, but I am less confident in the abilities of historically illiterate evangelical clergy to know how to worship and interpret Scripture according to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. It seems to me that biblicism has failed our churches, because it’s rooted in a strange view of early church history that the canon somehow dropped down from the sky from Jesus himself instead of through the traditions of the early church and the Apostolic fathers. I can’t ignore that the early church had different views of worship and theology than the churches we go to today, and many of them were following traditions handed down directly from the Apostles. I need to do more work in this area to know what all of this means. It might just mean that I decide that they were wrong about some things and right about others. It also might mean that I am more charitable toward other expressions of the Christian faith that match certain elements of early church worship, and that is always good. However, it might mean that I find my own traditions to be too much at odds with ancient Christianity, in which case I will have to make some hard decisions about my own ecclesiology and theology in general. Though, for now, I am comfortable in the Reformed evangelical expression of Christianity.
  2. I embraced a tendency toward high liturgy. This goes along with my comments above, but I don’t see any advantages to low-church liturgy. I tend to agree with Anglican/Catholic apologists that call Southern Baptist churches Gnostics who believe in the incarnation. Everything is just ‘spiritual,’ and apparently the whole OT is just full of bad theology that God gave them. Christian theology without a sacramental view of creation seems to introduce a soteriological dualism into theology that is more modern than traditionally Christian. This means that I am reading more about sacramental theology to see where I stand on it. At the very least, I think the Lord’s Supper and Baptism need to play a more central role in Christian worship along with other embodied spiritual practices like confession, kneeling, the Christian church year, etc. What James Smith calls “smells and bells.”
  3. I practiced more embodied spiritual formations. I have started using prayer beads this year, and the BCP. I use protestant/Anglican prayer beads and the Pater Noster prayer rope. I have found that submitting to more ancient rules of practice have been more robustly biblical than the evangelical focus on “devotionals,” most of which treat Christians as either mystics or brains on a stick. Incidentally, the contemplative prayer books contain more scripture than other ways of prayer.
  4. I challenged my received Southern Baptist tradition. This probably goes without saying after reading the above comments. So far, I see all my shifts in theology as consistent with my tradition. Believe it or not, liturgical Baptists do exist, and many baptists are becoming more concerned with retrieval theology and reformed catholicity. The theological interpretation of scripture movement is also encouraging on this front. My concern is that most of the traditions that I am learning from are paedo-baptist, so fitting all of these pieces together is not easy. I don’t see myself ever shifting on my view of baptism, however, so it is probably easiest to say that I will remain Baptist for the foreseeable future.
  5. I thought more about cross-cultural theology and philosophy. I see all of my theology as necessarily missional. The gospel is about incarnation. It lives and breaths in specific cultures, because that is what Jesus did when he took on flesh and lived with sinners. If some theological belief is more a product of a specific culture and not rooted in a higher authority, I am more unsure about it. That is not always easy to discern, since even the Apostolic tradition was handed down from its own milieu, but it is a good thing to bear in mind.
  6. I cared more about politics and political theology, but was less affiliated with any specific party in the United States. I don’t think this needs much explanation. The 2016 election rocketed the millennial generation into sudden political concern, but it separated us from other conservative in the old guard. The lack of work in political theology has not been good for the church. That much is clear, I think.
  7.  I stayed just as concerned about Modernity as in 2015, and I saw how liberal/secular even conservatives are when it comes to their faith and practice. The just of it is this: conservatives believe the gospel, but they assume the philosophy of secularism. Radical individualism, Cartesian epistemology, materialism, obsession with the ‘new’, et. al., are all staples of even conservative churches now. To give one example, I literally had a pastor and professor this year tell me that he couldn’t read the OT like the Apostles because “they were inspired and I’m not.” In other words, they got to read the OT the way Christ taught them, and we get to read the OT the way SBL tells us to read it (Sorry for the sarcasm). Clearly I think that such thinking is not even remotely orthodox. And, I don’t think this will be changing any time soon in churches, sadly. This is so broad, however, that I don’t even know what to do with it yet. Give me 2-30 years.

Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election

KarlBarth-750x330-1427395209When I took historical theology during my B.A. degree, our professor had a family emergency and asked if I would teach one of the class sections. The topic was election and predestination, and being an all-knowing Calvinists (I know, not true at all) I felt more than up to the task. I mean, why spend all those hours studying the topic, if not for this moment? (cue “eye of the tiger”!) It was easy enough, since my primary task was just to walk through the class notes and to prepare the class for that portion of the exam. In that class period we covered the three broad beliefs on the topic throughout church history: Arminianism, Calvinism, and Barthianism.We covered the Arminian teaching (easy), then we covered the Augustinian/Calvinist teaching (double easy, and super right), and then I announced the Barthian view:  Jesus was the elect God and the elect man. I shrugged my shoulders as if to say “weird, right?,” and we moved on to other discussions. That’s right, we gave one of the greatest theologians in history, like, 45 seconds of thought. After that class, I had the profound sense that I had no idea what Barth meant, and I that I had shortchanged my classmates. During my masters degree I meant to change that, and have since then come to appreciate his view. If only I had know more about this for that class lecture! This is the fruit of my study so far. (Hint: it’s all about Jesus, even if you aren’t sure what he is talking about)

Barth situates the doctrine of election within his doctrine of God, especially with Jesus Christ. To him, the doctrine of election must be considered as an essential aspect of the reality of God, not as a mere work that he does: “[Election] is part of the doctrine of God because originally God’s election of man is a predestination not merely of man but of himself.”[1] However, Barth does not stop there. He also considers election as “the sum of the Gospel…” because “it is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ…”[2] Barth’s thinking here goes back to his Christological method and his disdain for natural theology. Nothing other than Christ can be “the beginning and the end of all our thoughts.”[3] Who could dislike that? This is why Barth does not begin the discussion of election with any discussion that does not revolve around Christology. Barth layers his approach to the doctrine into three discussions: The Election of Jesus Christ, The Election of the Community, and The Election of the Individual. Each section will show how Barth’s radically Christ-centered method works itself out in the doctrine of election.

The Election of Jesus Christ

This section represents the most important aspect of Barth’s doctrine of election. He sums up the doctrine in an unprecedented manner:

“In its simplest and most comprehensive form the dogma of predestination consists, then, in the assertion that the divine predestination is the election of Jesus Christ.”

Barth’s divergence with historic Reformed theology comes at this point. He admits that “…it is hard to put Jesus Christ higher or to give greater prominence to His central and teleological office than did Calvin or in his own way Thomas Aquinas.” However, he goes on: “Where the parting of the ways comes is in the question of the relationship between predestination and Christology.”[4] This is the point where Barth distinguishes his Christological focus with other traditions. Other traditions have made Christ the focus and end of election, but Barth makes election itself all about Christ. If one asks him what election is, he will answer that it is Christ as the elect God and the elect man. Calvin expresses this doctrine quite differently:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. [5]

This appears to place election primarily as a mysterious decree within the Godhead wherein Jesus is the goal of election insofar as life is to be found in him by the elect. Barth recoils from this notion, and he criticizes Calvin on this point: “All the dubious features of Calvin’s doctrine result from the basic failing that in the last analysis he separates God and Jesus Christ, thinking that what was in the beginning with God must be sought elsewhere than in Jesus Christ.”[6]

Barth founds this critique on his exegesis and application of John 1:1-2. Barth’s exegesis here is not particularly groundbreaking. First, Jesus is Ἐν ἀρχῇ (in the beginning), and “the Word as such is before and above all created realities.”[7] Also, Jesus is πρὸς τὸν θεόν (with God) in “that there was, in fact, no being ‘in the beginning’ in this sense except in and with God.”[8] Third, Jesus (ὁ λόγος) is God. Barth applies his Trinitarian theology here when he describes this relationship: “The mode of being, and being, of a second ‘He,’ the Logos, is identified with the mode of being and being of the first ‘He,’ God.”[9] To Barth, this identifies Jesus as the subject, or elector, in the doctrine of election. If he is with God, and if he is God, then he is the electing God. Barth also considers the temporality of the divine Logos. The use of ἦν three times “points to an eternal happening and to a temporal: to an eternal in the form of time, and to a temporal with the content of eternity.”[10] This temporal eternity in the divine logos is self-authenticating. “It is something which we can read but not comprehend.”[11] Barth’s dialectic shows through here particularly through his understanding of the eternal temporal nature of the Logos. He exists in time, but he does not exist in time without the content of the eternal Godhead. He “was” (vv. 1, ἦν) the Logos in a manner that we do not quite understand from a merely temporal perspective. This dialectic is not contradictory, but holds in tension the eternal temporality of Jesus, the Divine Logos.

The important conclusion for Barth here is that election does not exist in a vacuum apart from the person of Jesus. If Jesus, as the logos asarkos (word without flesh), exists in the beginning with God, then how can Jesus be removed from the teaching of election? If the Logos is the revelation of God, then how is he not the revelation of election, of God’s being for humanity? Here is Barth’s conclusion:

If that is true, then in the name and person of Jesus Christ we are called upon the recognize the Word of God, the decree of God and the election of God at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of our own begin and thinking, at the basis of our faith in the ways and works of God. Or, to put it the other way, in this person we are called upon to recognize the beginning of the Word and decree and election of God, the conclusive and absolute authority in respect of the aim and origin of all things.[12]

So it is that from this essential Christological text that Barth connects Jesus Christ to the doctrine of election.

So how does this differ from the traditional doctrine of election? Barth argues from here that this doctrine must shift its focus entirely away from discussions regarding God’s will and the process of election apart from Jesus as the choosing and the chosen. To Barth, the traditional Reformed doctrine appears to “think of this sphere as at once empty and undetermined.”[13] Furthermore, in this instruction “…election is absolutely unconditioned, or is conditioned only by the Subject in and for itself and as such.”[14] This is the decretum absolutum (absolute decree). Barth’s problem with this is that it does not appear to take into consideration the person and work of Christ for humanity. The elect become an amorphous number instead of those who are in the true elect God-man, Jesus Christ.

So, for Barth, “There is no such thing as a decretum absolutum. There is no such thing as a will of God apart from the will of Jesus Christ.”[15]

It is important to notice how this places the ontological and epistemological side-by-side in the person of Christ. The being of God is revealed in the person of Christ, and in this, indeed only in this, we know God’s election.[16]Of course, the election of God is not only in the logoas asarkos but also in the logos incarnadus (Word made flash). The election of God is the electing of Jesus Christ as incarnate God and man for humanity. This includes the complete work of Jesus Christ on earth. This is all included in his eternal election. So “we have to see our own election in that of the man Jesus because His election includes our within itself and because ours is grounded in His.”[17] These are controversial thoughts, but they bear considerable weight if taken seriously. I, for one, think that the traditional Reformed doctrine of election needs to take this more seriously.

The Election of the Community

Barth complains that traditional election was too quick to discuss individual election. From his perspective, “if we keep to Holy Scripture, we find that unlike the classical doctrine of predestination it is in no hurry to busy itself with the ‘many’ men elected in Jesus Christ.”[18] So, this elect community acts as “a mediate and mediating election.”[19] This section speaks of two inner-related congregations in Israel and the Church, a relationship that cannot be dealt with adequately in this essay. Barth connects the community to the doctrine of Christ through “Circles of Election.”[20] There is an inner and an outer circle. The election of the community (Israel and the church) is “…the inner circle of the ‘other’ election which has taken place (and takes place) in and with the election of Jesus Christ.”[21] For Barth then, the inner circle of election is election with Jesus. The outer circle are those who are not in the Church or Israel.

During Barth’s discussion of the outer circle, he inserts a single phrase that sums up his view of the importance of the church and its mission to the world: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus [outside the church there is no salvation].”[22] This section clears up certain potential misunderstandings regarding Barth’s potential universalism. Michael O’Neil helpfully points out that one might expect “that the people represented by him would include the entire race.”[23] However, Barth does not insist upon the entire human race being represented by Christ in the way that the congregation is. It appears here that Barth intends for the world to be elect in an un-actualized mode whereas the church is election in an actualized mode. The church is the “primary object of the election which has taken place and takes place in Jesus Christ,” so the community of Israel and the Church “is one.”[24]

In Barth’s earlier discussion on the election of Jesus he dealt with the issue of double predestination, but in this section he exegetes Romans 9-11 and speaks more on the doctrine itself. This can only be dealt with in a brief manner, but, Barth’s essential argument is that this section teases out his earlier assertion that the humanity (distributively) is elect in Christ but has yet to actualize it. To Barth, this is no truer than with Israel. So, Barth sees these passages as dealing primarily with Israel’s refusal to actualize (i.e., accept) their election in Christ which therefore leaves them as God’s chosen people to display his judgement: “When Israel becomes obedient to its election – coming to life and living on in the church – it then becomes the guarantee that this (the negative) side of the Church’s message remains actual until the end of the world.”[25] This aspect of Barth’s exegesis here reveals his understanding of double predestination in a nutshell. Because Christ is both rejected and accepted in the eternal plan of the ontological trinity and in his economic person and work, so also is the world and God’s community rejected in Christ. Jesus is the only reprobate, whereas we are only secondarily so. God’s community knows that God, by the decree He made in the beginning of all His works and ways, has taken upon himself the rejection merited by the man isolated in relation to Him; that on the basis of this decree the only true rejected man is His own son.[26]

So, the salvation of the individual within the community appears to be, as Oliver Crisp notes, “an epistemic change, that is, a coming to realize something about [ones] forensic and/or moral status before God that I did not previously understand.”[27] However, this focus begs questions about individual election, so we now turn to Barth’s understanding of it.

The Election of the Individual

In CD II/2, this section boasts the highest page count out of the three sections on election. Barth is certainly not seeking to avoid it. However, his perspective on it does not radically change what he has said before. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only give three basic details from this section.

First, Barth contends that our individual status remains somewhat clouded in the person of Christ. In the most important sense, “there is another individuality of man which is negated in Jesus Christ.”[28] What results is that the state of “godlessness” is “null.”[29] Barth’s dialectic of evil shows through here as he describes the godless man choosing “…what he cannot choose.”[30] This precise point insinuates universalism, but that will be dealt with more below.

The second contour of Barth’s thinking here is the focus on mission and evangelism. Barth’s primary worry here is that those who do not believe would be merely condemned and left without hope: “This, then, is the message with which the elect community (as the circumference of the elect man, Jesus of Nazareth) has to approach every man – the promise, that he, too, is an elect man.”[31] This shows again how Barth equates the conversion as acknowledging ones elect status in Jesus Christ. The church testifies to this “as men potentially rejected – in Jesus Christ alone not rejected – they must know and confess themselves to be in solidarity with the godless, although separated from them because of their unbelief.”[32]

Third, while universalism is insinuated by Barth, he does deny it as a reality. He does not want to limit the election of God: “We cannot consider their number as closed, for we can never find any reason for such a limitation in Jesus Christ.”[33] However, he does admit that “nowhere does the New Testament say that the world is saved, nor can we say that it is without doing violence to the New Testament.”[34] This does not mean, however, that Barth does not in some way see universalism as a necessary aspect of theology and missionary endeavors. To Barth, failure to preach a universalistic gospel is the supremacy of law over gospel. Otto Weber offers this insight:

We shall be able to appreciate this all the more as a particularly pregnant utterance, clarifying the dogmatic relations, now that Barth has expressed himself in almost the same way in his letter to the 1949 meeting of the Convention of Reformed Ministers. He wrote that it is much more advisable ‘to preach a quickening gospel’ at the ‘risk’ (of the error relative to apokatastasis) ‘than to preach a law that kills without this risk’ (Ref. Kirchenzeitung, 1949, p. 150).[35]

So, while Barth does not want to teach a real universalism, he does include it in his exposition for a real reason, and one that he finds quite central to the Great Commission. Thus Barth ends this section in a truly dialectic fashion, maintaining every tension that he has spent so many pages reinforcing: “[God] wills that the rejected should believe, and that as a believer he should become a rejected man elected.”[36]

Assessment

Barth’s doctrine of election requires more than an essay to truly reveal its many nuances, but even a short essay reveals the profoundly Christological nature of his doctrine of election. Further study would only reveal that this was Barth’s focus throughout the Church Dogmatics. Consequently, there is much to commend in Barth’s analysis. His focus on Christ as the purpose and basis for election is much needed. The tendency of the doctrine to obscure Christ in discussions of who is elect is well taken.  His emphasis on election as being prior to all other acts (even creation) is also an important reminder for so many theologies that make election about the created order. It is also very important to take Barth’s emphasis on grace found in Jesus Christ alone apart from the law. Too many of us are prepared to condemn those who are evil around us. Barth reminds the church that no one is to be refused access to the gospel.

However, Barth’s view fails in at least several important aspects. First, Barth’s doctrine of the trinity is central to his view of election, and this gives a modalistic flavor to his doctrine of election. Barth considered the Trinity as a single subject, which put him close to the notion of modalism; therefore, Michael Ovey observes that “If Jesus is both the subject of election and its object, and if this depends on Barth’s idea of a single subject acting reflexively [a subject acting on itself], and if this understanding is modalist within patristic definitions, as I have shown, then one must ask whether Barth’s doctrine of election is not likewise modalist.”[37] This critique appears to be well-founded in at least the respect that Barth has little room for the Trinity in his discussion of the doctrine of election. Jesus Christ become almost the sole subject and object of it all. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is least present of all here, which may or may not be correct. This leads to another concern regarding the temporality of the doctrine. Eternity become the only real time that matters. That is, how election plays out in time and space is not entirely clear. So also, the notion that God is working with people to actualize their election almost lends itself toward open theism. Indeed, these critiques are broad and probably open to critique of their own, but these are certainly concerns to be thought of before one attaches to this view hook, line, and sinker.

Conclusion

With the complexities and length of Barth’s writings, why should the church listen to him? Certainly there are few conservative pastors that take the time to engage him. There appears to be at least one reason that pastors should engage with Barth throughout their life: his focus on Christ. No one agrees with Barth on everything, and he would not approve of us doing so, but he so confidently and continually points the reader to Jesus Christ as the alpha and omega of theology. This is so consistently true, that one cannot help but think that he is good for us. He engages with Scripture theologically and seriously, and he leaves his readers with a greater view of the grand panorama of theology. In a very real sense, Barth is trying to make us theologians of Jesus who bear witness to him without shame or apology. It is for this reason that each generation will come back to him again and again to see what he has to say to them.

[1] CD II/2, 3.

[2] CD II/2, 3.

[3] CD II/2, 5.

[4] CD II/2, 149.

[5] John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 534.

[6] CD II/2, 111.

[7] CD II/2, 95.

[8] CD II/2, 95.

[9] Ibid., 96.

[10] CD II/2, 97.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 99.

[13] CD II/2, 100.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 115.

[16] O’Neil, 313-314.

[17] CD II/2, 120.

[18] CD II/2, 195.

[19] Ibid., 196.

[20] Michael O’Neil, 2004, “Karl Barth’s doctrine of election,” Evangelical Quarterly Oct 2004: Christian Periodical Index, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2015), 316.

[21] CD II/2, 196.

[22] Ibid., 197.

[23] Michael O’Neil, “Karl Barth’s doctrine of election,” 316.

[24] CD II/2, 197.

[25] Ibid., 207.

[26] Ibid., 319.

[27] David Gibson and Daniel Strange, eds., Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, 306.

[28] CD II/2, 315.

[29] Ibid., 316.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., 318.

[32] CD II/2, 348.

[33] Ibid., 422.

[34] Ibid., 423.

[35] Otto Weber, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introductory Report on Volumes I:I to III:4, Translated by Arthur C. Cochrane (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), 102.

[36] CD II/2, 506.

[37] David Gibson and Daniel Strange, eds., Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, 231.

What is Biblical Theology?

Biblical theology (hereafter “BT”) is a discipline that is at its foundation the practice of being biblical. To be more specific, it is the practice of being biblical within the parameters of the whole biblical canon and on the Bible’s own terms. So, properly speaking, both the exegesis of individual passages (biblical studies) and the use of the Bible to answer contemporary questions (systematic theology) are both disciplines that are related to but distinct from the work of BT. Thus, BT is a comprehensive study of the Bible that is more expansive than mere exegesis and more biblically directed than systematic theology. Of course, defining BT through negation will not precisely define it. Something more is necessary. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines BT this way:

Biblical theology may be defined as theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyse and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.[1]

There are certainly other definitions, including some that are more compact, but this definition helpfully gives several important dimensions to the work of BT. In order to expand on this, each clause of this definition will be briefly considered.

First, BT is “theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church.”[2] This means that it involves “biblical interpretation oriented to the knowledge of God.”[3] Or, in other words, it attends to the theology of the Bible and not to any one tradition, even though those traditions are considered valuable to the knowledge of God. BT is a demanding interpretive discipline that takes both the interpreter and the object of study seriously. This differs from exegesis in that hermeneutics are not just a means for knowing the text but also for knowing the God of Scripture. Furthermore, the Biblical Theologian is part of a church community and works for the church community. Much of BT has focused on the academy, but this trend has often sold out the faith of the church, leaving lay-people largely confused and unaided in their own faith. This is not the proper setting for BT.

Secondly, BT “proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity.”[4] This clarifies the exegetical and hermeneutical task of BT. Historical criticism and biblical studies play a key role in the discipline. Furthermore, studies of genre, literature, and linguistics all have a voice in BT. It is not a hollow Biblicism. Such an approach would not take the Bible seriously via its own self-attestation.

Thirdly, it “seeks to analyse and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms.”[5] Analysis refers to the work of exegesis, primarily as inductive study. This involves all the hermeneutical and analytical work of the exegete. However, the work of synthesis spans the whole canon. In this way, BT is canonical, redemptive historical, and exegetical. This means that BT cannot be anything but pan-biblical. BT is de facto whole-Bible theology.

Finally, BT maintains “sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.”[6] This speaks to the basic content of Scripture. It contains diversity in its materials, but unity in its narrative and movement toward the person and work of Christ. If these elements are lost, BT loses all sense of unity and breaks down into fragmented diversity.

Ultimately, BT works as a sort of bridge between exegesis and systematic theology. Of course, systematics and exegesis both feed back into BT as it feeds into them. There is an organic unity between them that should not be broken down. If anything, BT is the task of bringing unity back to biblical studies. There was a time when theologians simply did theology, without any extreme specialization to speak of. BT seeks to bring together the best of systematic and exegetical theology in service of the church and its mission.

[1] T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, eds., The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) 10.

[2] Ibid.

[3]Kevin Vanhoozer, ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005) 24.

[4] T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, eds., The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 10.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Introduction to Aristotle’s Metaphysics

“Metaphysics” is a term used in Philosophy that is very important. It could be used to block lay-philosophers out of discussion (big words are often used by self-important people in this way) but that need not be the case. The term comes from Metaphysics, a work by Aristotle from the 4th century B.C., and the concepts that he discusses are foundational to theology and philosophy.

The work is his attempt to move past particulars (an apple) to universals (all the apples, and why we call them all apples) and the first cause of all things. Because of his training at Plato’s academy, it makes sense that much of this work would be a response to (and a movement ‘past’) Platonic thought. Several sections deal directly with the philosophy of Plato, and Aristotle expresses his discontent with Plato’s conclusions at length in book I. However, Aristotle also responds to previous philosophers, showing his knowledge of and interaction with those who had come before him. This work seeks to explain the existence, being, and origin or the material world (“metaphysics”). Aristotle reasons that there must be something that is motionless but causing motion. This first cause is the essence of beauty, pure energy, independence, simplicity, infinity, and transcendence.

BOOK I

Aristotle begins: “All human beings by nature stretch themselves out toward knowing” (980a). He begins this way in order to discuss the nature of knowing, experience, art (τεχνη or ‘craftsmanship’), and the relationships thereof with particulars and universals. “Experience is familiarity of things that are particular, but art with those that are universal, while actions and all becoming are concerned with what is particular” (981a15-20). Furthermore, “people with experience know the what, but do not know the why, but the others are acquainted with the why and the cause” (981a30). “Cause,” to Aristotle, is about more than sense perception: “We consider none of the senses to be wisdom, even though they are the most authoritative ways of knowing particulars; but they do not pick out the why of anything, such as why fire is hot, but only that it is hot” (981b10). Aristotle considers this question of causes and origins to be a matter of wisdom, because all people consider craftsman with understanding and skill regarding cause and effect in their craft to be wise (981b30). Additionally, the wise “know all things…things that are difficult…[and] has more precision and is more able to teach” (982a10). And what could be more difficult, all encompassing, and requiring of more precision than “universal knowledge?” (982a20).

Having established the need for studying universals (i.e., first causes), Aristotle establishes “four causes” (983a25). The first is “thinghood, or what it is for something to be” (983a25-30). This is the “first why [which] is a cause and source” (983a25-30). The second cause “is the material or underlying thing, [the] third [cause] is that from which the source of motion is, and the fourth [cause] is the cause opposite to that one, that for the sake of which or the good…” (983a25-30). Before discussing these four causes further, Aristotle looks to the history of philosophy for other possibilities of a first cause. He concludes, “of those who first engaged in philosophy, most thought that the only sources of all things were of the species of material” (983b5). This is not helpful because “no matter how much ever coming-into-being and destruction is out of some one or more kinds of material, why does this happen and what is its cause?” (984a20). In short, if there is continuity of being and movement, what is the first cause? If it is material, then what results is a vicious circle wherein material is moving because it made itself move. Instead, Aristotle reasons that “something else is responsible for the change” (984a25). He hints at an initial answer when discussing Anaxagoras: “when someone said an intellect was present, just as in animals, also in nature as the cause of the cosmos and of all order, he looked like a sober man next to people who had been speaking incoherently beforehand” (984b15). Here, one is reaching out toward something immaterial as the first cause, but “Anaxagoras uses the intellect as a makeshift contrivance for cosmos production…” (985a20). Thus, Anaxagoras uses the intellect as more of a theory of the gaps than anything else more consistent to being itself.

After considering Anaxagoras, Empedoctles, Hesiod, and several other previous philosophers in passing, Aristotle deals with Platonic philosophy. Plato, according to Aristotle, adopts from Heraclitus and Cratylus “that all sensible things are always in flux and that there is no knowledge of them” (987b). Plato then “sought the universal and was the first to be skilled at thinking about definitions” (987b5). However, with regards to defining particulars, “common definitions of any of the perceptible things [were impossible] since they were always changing” (987a5). With regards to this impasse, Plato conceives of the forms from which all particulars are “spoken of derivatively from these” (987b10). Aristotle also discusses Plato’s understanding “that numbers were the causes of thinghood” (987b25). Aristotle does not find this to be “reasonable” (988a). This is because Plato “used only two causes, the one that is responsible for the what-it-is and the one that results from material” (988a10). This is problematic because it doesn’t take into account the first cause as in the continual existence of secondary causes (988a5-10). Further, Aristotle takes into account the infinite regress of the “third man” effect that accompanies the forms; that is, that there is the form, a thing with a shared characteristic, and third thing with a shared characteristic of the first two, and, so on into infinity.[1] On top of this, and getting to the heart of Aristotle’s critique, the forms do not seem “responsible for any motion of change that belongs to [things]” (991a10). Also, “if the forms are numbers, how would they be causes?” (991b10).

BOOK XII

Book XII of Metaphysics deals more positively with Aristotle’s own formulations. Instead of critiquing contemporary philosophical history, he proposes “three kinds of thinghood, two of them natural and one motionless” (1071b). This motionless “thinghood…is necessary for there to be some everlasting motionless independent thing” (1071b5). Aristotle reasons that if any being is motionless then it is destructible, always existing, and not a first cause “capable of moving and producing things” (1071b10). This is important to Aristotle because “there is no benefit even if we adopt everlasting independent things, as do those who bring in the forms, unless there is in them some source capable of producing change” (1071b15). This motionless ‘form’ must be of “the thinghood of…being-at-work…without material…and everlasting, if indeed anything else is everlasting” (1071b20). This “being-at-work” is pure energy since “all being is being-at-work, and…anything inert would cease to be”[2] This conception of pure energy is of an energy that requires no beginning, “for how will tings have been set in motion, if there were not some responsible thing at work?” (1071b30). Furthermore, Aristotle prioritizes “being-at-work” over “potency” by pointing out the former’s everlasting motion and the latter’s mere potential for motion (1072a1-15). Because Aristotle conceives of a cyclical material world “it is necessary for something to persist always at work in the same way” (1042a10).

Aristotle now moves to desire and thought: “something that causes motion without being in motion” (1072a25). From here he develops simplicity as an attribute. First, since thoughts and desires “not being in motion, cause motion,” then we are looking at something unlike material things. Instead we are seeing that one is drawn to desire “because of the way it seems, rather than its seeming so because we desire it” (1072a30). Such a thing is called by Aristotle “that-for-the-sake-of-which,” and he requires that it be “simple and at work” (1072b). Simplicity is not oneness in a measured sense, but “is itself a certain way” (1072b). From here Aristotle begins to make connections with the motionless nature of thought and desire and the being-at-work. Since being-at-work is motionless as well, and because that-for-the-sake-of-which relates to desire towards something that is in itself beautiful, so also this first cause is “thinking that is just thinking by itself…a thinking of what is best just as itself and especially so with what is so most of all” (1072b20). So, it would seem, this “divine being” is always thinking of that which is ultimate, which is itself. This is important because Pythagoreans and Speusippus place beauty in the material things instead of some first thing (1072b30). At this point Aristotle gives a helpful summary of what thing he has described: An “independent thing that is everlasting, motionless, and separate from perceptible things…no magnitude…without part and indivisible…[and not] affected or altered, since all other motions are derivative from change of place…” (1073a1-10).

After establishing these basic premises, Aristotle considers the number of independent things. Aristotle considers this in light of astronomy and the motion of the stars: “the nature of the stars is for each to be an everlasting independent thing, while the mover is everlasting and takes precedence over the thing moved, and what takes precedence over an independent thing much be an independent thing” (1073a35). Since it would seem that there are many stars, “it is reasonable to assume that the number of independent things which are motionless sources is also that many” (1074a15). The essence of his argument against many independent things is that “there is one heaven…for if there were a plurality of heavens, as there is of human beings, there would be one kind of source for each one, but many of them in number,” and such a plurality of sources would place them in the category of the many, which are material (1074a30-35).

The final portion relates to intellect and the first cause. Aristotle sees a problem with saying that it does not think, but he also has concerns about its thinking. With regards to intellect, if it does not think then “it would be just like someone sleeping…but if it does think, but something else has power over it, then, since it is not thinking but potency that is the thinghood of it, it could not be the best independent thing, for it is on account of its act of thinking that its place of honor belongs to it” (1074b20). His final conclusion is worth quoting in full:

…thinking and the activity of thinking would belong even to something that thinks the worst thing, and if this is to be avoided (for it can even be more advantageous not to see some things than to see them), then the activity of thinking would not be the best thing. Therefore what it thinks is itself, if it is the most excellent thing, and its thinking is a thinking of thinking.

Therefore, Aristotle concludes that it thinks of itself because it is the highest existence, and that it is not merely “sleeping”.

Aristotle’s Metaphysics is an intriguing and important work. If you read this far, I almost feel sorry for you. His work is both deep and painfully difficult. If you think this post was hard to read, try reading his whole work.

In Christian theology, his notion of the “unmoved mover” is shockingly close to what theists have asserted with regards to being and first cause. Additionally, much of what he attributes to this motionless mover is consistent with what Christians have said about the God: undivided, eternal, invisible, immutable, and independent. However, it is interesting to note that there are also many differences as well, such as a cyclical notion of the material world and the impersonal nature of the unmoved mover. Furthermore, if a Christian conceives of God as being utterly separate from material things, then the doctrines of the incarnation and hypostatic union will no doubt come under fire. Nevertheless, Aristotle offers a way of thinking that is important, and even necessary, for Christians to consider and respond to thoughtfully.

Quotes from Forrest E. Baird, ed. From Plato to Derrida, 6th Ed . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011.

Calvin on “Ancient” Reformation Doctrine

During the Reformation, the so-called Protestant Church was vehemently attacked by the Roman Catholic Church. While there were many arguments made against the Protestants’ doctrines, one of them remains common today, and it is the product of many conversions from the protestant church to Roman Catholicism. Calvin remarks on this critique in his letter to Francis I, King of France:

…they cease not to assail our doctrine, and to accuse and defame it in what terms they may, in order to render it either hated or suspected. They call it new of recent birth; they carp at it as doubtful and uncertain…they ask if it be fair to receive it against the consent of so many holy fathers and the most ancient custom; they urge us to confess either that it is schismatical in giving battle to the church, or that the church must have been without life during the many centuries in which nothing of the kind was heard.

The accusation was that the doctrine of the Reformers was new. Anyone having a discussion with an Easter Orthodox or Roman Catholic devotee will hear this argument almost immediately. To these criticisms, Calvin has at least five responses:

  1. That which is biblical may be considered “new” if sinful teachers twist and fall from the truth, but biblical teaching is ancient because it is the Apostolic teaching. “That it long lay buried and unknown is the guilty consequence of man’s impiety; but now when, by the kindness of God, it is restored to us, it ought to resume its antiquity just as the returning citizen resumes his rights.”
  2. This doctrine is shown to be neither doubtful or uncertain by those who are confident in it and willing to die for it. “…however they may sport with its uncertainty, had they to seal their own doctrine with their blood, and at the expense of life, it would be seen what value they put upon it.”
  3. The church fathers got many things correct, but they were also open to error, contradiction, and ignorance of Scripture. Furthermore, the Catholic Church ignores or twists a great many of their teachings in order to appear more ancient. This is the strongest attack that Calvin makes against appeals to church fathers for doctrinal purity and authority. For two pages he lists contradictions between church fathers and the Roman Catholic church. One sample gives an idea of what Calvin was arguing: “Among the Fathers there were two, the one (Acatius) of whom said, ‘Our God neither eats nor drinks, and therefore has no need of chalices and salvers;’ and the other (Ambrose), ‘Sacred rites do not require gold, and things which are not bought with gold, please not by gold.’ They step beyond the boundary, therefore, when in sacred matters they are so much delighted with gold, silver, ivory, marble, gems, and silks, that unless everything is overlaid with costly show, or rather insane luxury, they think God is not duly worshiped.”
  4. Customs are not the bar for what is correct. The majority is not typically the best crowd to follow. “…human affairs have scarcely ever been so happily constituted as that the better course pleased the greater number. Hence the private vices of the multitude have generally resulted in public error…” And later: “In short, depraved custom is just a kind of general pestilence in which men perish not the less that they fall in a crowd.”
  5. The Roman Catholic Church’s mistaken understanding of the visible church leads them to think that rejection of it means that there were no true Christians; this is a false assumption. “The hinges on which the controversy turns are these: first, in their contending that the form of the Church is always visible and apparent; and, secondly, in their placing this form in the see of the Church of Rome and its hierarchy. We, on the contrary, maintain, both that the Church may exist without any apparent form, and, moreover, that the form is not ascertained by that external splendour which they foolishly admire, but by a very different mark, namely, by the pure preaching of the word of God, and the due administration of the sacraments.”

Calvin was anything but opposed to tradition or creed. In fact, he wrote catechisms for teaching adults and children. He even thought that the true ancient doctrines lay not in the Roman church but in the protestant. That is why protestants still claim Augustine as their own, even though he is the cornerstone of many Catholic doctrines. What Calvin really promoted was a way of doing theology that was historically aware but ultimately bound to biblical authority. So he was able to take the very best insights from church fathers while rejecting that which was clearly against Scripture. Even today, this is an important insight for Protestants to hear. The Reformers didn’t fight to reject tradition, they fought to regulate tradition by the authority of Scripture.

“Little Things Please Great Minds”

“There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” So begins G.K. Chesterton’s discussion of the beauty of “little things.” Here Chesterton points out a truth that perhaps only a poet or artist might discover: that beauty is not adorning objects that are simple with qualities that do not exist; rather it is discovering qualities in “simple” objects that we should have seen all along. He uses the example of the stop light:

A great many people talk as if this claim of ours, that all things are poetical, were a mere literary ingenuity, a play on words. Precisely the contrary is true. It is the idea that some things are not poetical which is literary, which is a mere product of words. The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death.

This strikes me as a very biblical concept. We so immerse ourselves in never-ending stimuli, that we fail to see the sheer beauty of the things around us, and, in the end, we miss out on the sheer wonder of our great Triune God. Jesus sees the sparrow, and sees a God who provides our necessities (Matt. 6:26). The wisdom literature sees the tiny common ant and, instead of kicking over his pile of sand, praises his hard work to the slothful fool (Prov. 6:6-11). Too often we reveal our mental weakness and our ungrateful posture before God when we ignore the small things in favor of that which is tantalizing. Perhaps, the strong mind is not the mind which points out that which is obviously beautiful, but the man who sees the beautiful in that which is small, downcast, and ordinary.

It seems to me that the modern evangelical church is missing this quality. Crowds are gathered in order to itch their senses with elaborate shows and finely tuned “conversations.” Sadly, the irony is that all of this ends up being dull as mud, because this sets us up for boredom in every other arena of life, showing not the shortcomings of our lives, but, perhaps, the shortcomings of our souls.

The Necessary Gift Needed for Godliness

I found this quote on page 9 of Walter Marshall’s 1692 treatise, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. This reminded me of our daily need for grace, and for the necessity of regeneration. His language here is strikingly true and poetic.

“The Duties of the law are of such a nature that they cannot possibly be performed while there is wholly an aversion or mere indifferency of the heart to the performance of them, and no good inclination and propensity towards the practice of them, because the chief of all the commandments is to love the Lord with our whole heart, might and soul; to love everything that is in Him; to love his will, and all his ways, and to like them as good. And all duties must be sweeter to us than the honey or honeycomb (Ps. 40:8; Job 23:12; Ps. 63:1; 119:20;19:10) And this love, liking, delight, longing, thirsting, sweet relishing must be continued until the end; and the first indeliberate motion of lust must be regulated by love to God and our neighbor; and sin must be lusted against (Gal. 5:17), and abhorred (Ps. 36:4). If it where true obedience (as some would have it) to love our duty only as a market man loves foul ways to the market, or as a sick man loves an unpleasant medicinal potion, or as a captive slave loves his hard work for fear of a greater evil – then is might be performed with averseness, or want of incination; but we must love it, as the market man gain, as the sick man heath, as pleasant meat and drink, as the captive liberty. Doubtless there can be no power in the will for this kind of service without an agreeableness of our inclination to the will of God, a heart according to His own heart, an aversion of our hearts from sin and a kind of antipathy against sin; for we know the proverb, ‘like loveth like.’ There must be an agreeableness in the person or thing beloved to the disposition of the lover. Love to God must flow from a clean heart (1 Tim. 1:5), a heart cleaned from evil propensities and inclination. And reason will tell us that the first motions of lust which fall not under our choice and deliberations cannot be avoided without a fixed propensity of the heart to holiness.”

Philosophic Classics: Euthyphro

           Euthyphro is a dialogue between Socrates and a man named Euthyphro in “The Hall of the King” (Baird, 8). The discourse draws one to contemplate the nature of justice, piety, and epistemology. At the beginning of the discourse Euthyphro approaches Socrates in the hall (2a). Socrates informs Euthyphro that he is there because he is being prosecuted for “[corrupting] the youth…[and] inventing new gods and not believing in the old ones” (3a-b). Euthyphro is there prosecuting his own father for murdering a murderer (4d) To this Euthyphro proposes that it makes no difference “whether the murdered man were a relative or a stranger” (4b). Euthyphro finds himself completely just and pious in his actions and unbiased in his prosecution. Socrates asks Euthyphro five basic questions. Continue reading

Philosophic Classics

One of the opportunities of higher education is extended seasons of writing. So, this semester I will be writing a series of posts from my class writing on the early History of Philosophy. I will begin in Plato/Socrates (Plato wrote everything we know about Socrates), and I will end with St. Aquinas. Each post will be small and should take only 5 minutes or so to read. I hope this will better orient people to the history of philosophy and philosophical thinking in general. If you are interested in reading along over the next 4 months or so, I will be selecting these works out of this Philosophic Reader. Each post will have a small Christian addendum at the end to provoke some thought, but mostly I will just be presenting the works as best as I can in a small space. Christians should think about and read these important figures who have shaped the western world, so I hope you will benefit from my posts as I read these dense works of philosophy.