Monday, January 31, 2011

The Heidelberg Disputation and the End of Illusions.

I tried to teach the Heidelberg Disputation again today in my Luther class.  I might have mentioned to some of you that tried to do this back in my continuing adult ed. class back in the fall and it didn't work.  I think I made it a little too abstract for them, but this time I worked to make it very concrete this time.  I think I did a good job, but I didn't get a very positive response.  My one Catholic student who tends to be very lively kind of shut down in the middle of the discussion about what Luther's problem is with performative righteousness.  I think I lost him.  It might just be the subject material that creates this bad reaction.  I think I'm presenting it well, but it just seems to leave a bad taste in people's mouths.   

I think at the end of the day, the problem people have with the disputation is that it presents theology in the most stark terms possible.  It makes clear that righteousness as proper performance (whether or not we say said performance is augmented by divine assistance) is an illusion.  If our actions created us as righteous, then we would ourselves been divine and self-creating.  God would be the passive receiver of the good and we would be the omnipotent givers of it.  Ultimately, when we look to the cross and see human nature in ruins and God dead, then performative righteousness is out the window.  Free will and merit are out the window.  Negotiating between the potentialities of grace and nature is an utter bust.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hinlicky and the "Domino" Theory of Biblical Interpretation

More on the Hinlicky post.

Hinlicky attacks Robert Preus (of beloved memory) for holding to the "Domino" theory of biblical interpretation.  What does he mean by this?  The idea is that if you doubt the truth of one portion of Scripture (i.e. seven days of creation, Jonah in the whale, etc.) then you'll end up doubting all of it.  Hinlicky seems to think its a childish way of look at thing.

A couple of points.

First, how does one explain the most recent ELCA decisions without recourse to the fact that as the minds of most laypeople go, this is really how it works?  In other words, once the Bible ceased being an absolute authority in the ELCA (well, actually its processor bodies, to be clear) everything in the minds of the laity was up for grabs.  If you doubt this, listen to some of the debate points made by the liberal opposition during the Church-wide assemblies.  The most telling moment was when a young woman got up to the podium and said "Well, it's all very silly that we wouldn't bless homosexuality because of the teaching of Scripture.  After all, I'm going to become a minister and the Scriptures reject women's ordination as well.  So if we don't take them seriously on that point, then why on homosexuality?"  Now, Hinlicky himself would not follow this line of reason and he considers it to be crass (he's against homosexuality, but for women's ordination- he claims its one of the few things preventing him from becoming Roman Catholic!), but it's hard to deny the logic here.  It's also hard to deny that since the LCMS held the line regarding historical Jonah and 7 day creation back in the 70s, we're not debating homosexuality right now but rather whether or not we want to have contemporary worship.  Granted it's bad that we have to argue about this at all, but its better than the meltdown that the ELCA is facing.

But why does Hinlicky think that there's an alternative?  The main reason is that for modern theology the older Scholastic tradition's idea of the dual principium of God (the essential principle of theology) and his Word (the cognitive principle) have gone out the window.  They have for about 200 years or so.  What's replaced them is an unending search for an "essence" of Christianity.  Particularly for German Protestant dogmatics after Schleiermacher, this takes the form of trying to adduce every article of the Christian faith from the doctrine of Christ.  Depending on one's fancy, this can generally be transferred to the realm of the ethical and so made to serve as the basis for rejecting various practices that one does not like (homosexuality), while validating practices that one does like (women's ordination).  Hence, we can see why he does not think that you totally give up the farm if you get ride of inerrancy- even if there are problems with the scriptural texts, the real "essence" of Christianity remains.  This is why he always appeals in his Seminex-like manner to the "gospel."

There are a number of troubles with this approach, not least of which is that it is extremely arbitrary application.  I would again point out that if one rejects the truth of the Scriptures then one must only have a theology which is probable.  Even if one believes that they have found the true "essence" of Christianity, it is merely their own conjecture.  This is one of my biggest problems with someone like Pannenberg's theology.  Pannenberg says that Christianity is objectively true based on the fact it is provable from universal history.  Nevertheless, even with the data of history (and he is correct that history vindicates Christianity) he can only show that it is probably true based on the historical data- since all historical data can prove is probability.

So, in a sense, Hinlicky is correct.  Yes, Christianity still could be true if every word of Scripture was not true.  Nevertheless, it would only be "probably" true.  And if that were the case, it would not create the "full assurance of faith" (Heb 10) that the New Testament talks about.  

Lastly, Hinlicky's approach simply leads to making things up to fill in the gaps.  When McCain and I asked him about historical Adam and Eve, he answered that Adam and Eve were simply a name for the first humans who evolved to the level to become self-conscious and then were capable of rejecting God.  How does he know this?  In his book, Paths Not Taken, he makes the remark that we need reason and revelation to work in tandem (he posits that they mutually illuminate one another- Zwingli would be pleased!) to figure out things like: Why God killed the Dinosaurs?  He also says that reason shows us that (contrary to Scripture) death is just natural and has nothing do with sin.  This of course then makes total nonsense of the relationship between Christ's death and resurrection.  But again, the question is asked, how does he know this?  In other words, Hinlicky's approach leads to the creation of gaps within the scriptural worldview by trying to hold this worldview together with aspects of the secular-materialist philosophy.  In order to work out the problems created by the incoherence of these two worldview, leads him simply start making things up in order to fill the gaps, like a imaginary theoretical Adam and Eve, which he has no access to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hinlicky and Inerrancy, Again.

Some of you might have seen the latest piece on Lutheran Forum. In it Paul Hinlicky discusses a new book on the Seminex crisis. In discussing the book and the current state of the LCMS, Hinlicky uses Paul McCain and myself as examples of the fact that the LCMS is a kooky Fundamentalist organization. According to Hinlicky, when we started the debate with him we "immediately brought up whether or not there was a historical Adam and Eve." Our belief in Scripture authority and inerrancy apparently shows us how backward we are, thereby vindicating his point.

A couple of observations. First, I didn't immediately bring up the existence of Adam and Eve (though I do believe in them).  In any case, whether or not Adam and Eve existed was not the main issue. In actuality, the article was a piece on the Logia website that I had written concerning the relationship between Scripture and Tradition in Lutheran thought. I was arguing that Hinlicky deviated from the Lutheran "tradition 1" model (to use Oberman's terminology) because he needed Churchly tradition to make up for the fact that he doesn't believe that the Word of God's efficacy and inerrancy. My argument was about as non-Fundamentalist as one could make. In a word, my point was that the Scriptures are a "charter of Christian freedom" (Forde) or "the wedding certificate of the Bride of Christ" (Gerhard, quoting Augustine). If God's promises are true and I have Christian freedom through the blood of the Lamb, then I must believe in the historical facts that make those promises possible. If I say that they are as true and knowable as any other mere historical fact and aren't inerrantly preserved in the Scriptures, then I am saying they are merely "probable." All secular history is merely probable. Hence, if God's promises stand on the foundation of the merely probable, then they too are only probable, and so is my Christian freedom.

Again, Hinlicky doesn't want to engage in this sort of debate because he can't overcome this objection. In fact, I suspect he feels he doesn't have to do so. In a word, no one in his circles would make this objection, so who needs to respond to it? People who claim the Bible is inerrant are Fundamentalists and therefore not worth listening to. So, he simply screams "Fundamentalist" and then claims that he's making a convincing argument.

Another comment that Hinlicky made that I found irksome was his statement that he "read the Bible all the way through" several times in college and then realize how many errors and contradictions there are in it and how his teachers and pastors were just engaging in childish harmnonizations of the text. Then he went to Seminex and dreamed of reconciling Marx with Luther through Tillich. Yeah!

But if he thinks that inerrancy is falsified by our perceiving errors in Scripture, then he is gravely mistaken about the concept. He somehow thinks that inerrancy means that we can just go through the text and then when we find no errors, then it is declared inerrant. Hence, when every discrepancy isn't capable of being worked out by human reason, then you've got to say that the text is errant. This is why he treats his opponents as if they are ignorant. Apparently they haven't gone through the text as thoroughly and discovered how many errors there are!

But this isn't really what the Lutheran scholastics or any of the newer orthodox Lutheran theologians mean by inerrancy (actually as Robert Preus shows in one of his pieces, they were very aware of perceived discrepancies in the text and developed a number of intellectual rigorous ways of dealing with them). Rather, inerrancy is a methodological principle, that because God is trustworthy, his Word is also. This doesn't mean that I can work out every apparent discrepancy out myself. In fact, even if I could, it would not be the basis of me declaring the Word of God inerrant. I am a fallible human being and therefore my own preception of whether or not a thing is inerrant is not a proper basis to declare it as such. Rather I trust God that it is trustworthy and inerrant because God through the Holy Spirit convicts me that it is. Therefore I trust it is, even if I perceive errors.

This is not just fideism, but rather the text understood as trust worthy in light of God's own trust worthiness. I can't know everything, so anything I perceive as a mistake is error in me and not the text. There are many examples in Scripture of things that many generations of earlier scholars thought was an error (Abraham having Camels, etc.) and later evidence vindicated the truth and trustworthiness of the text (Camels were domesticated by that time, just not in super wide use).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ft. Wayne Symposium.

I just returned the day before yesterday from the Ft. Wayne symposium.  It was very nice to see a lot of you there.  If you didn't attend, I would encourage you to look up some of the lectures on the internet (I believe they are posted online).  There were a number of highlights.  Rev. Dr. Ben Mayes gave a well argued reinterpretation of J.A. Grabau's theology of Church and ministry.  I especially admired it because of its careful historical methodology and attention to Grabau's use of certain scholastic terminology which was misunderstood by later generations of scholars.  I was also pleased with David Scaer's lecture this year about the third use of the law.  And of course it was nice to see President Harrison and listen to him preach on the Christological unity of Scripture.

The "Stephanite"'s lecture was for me a bit anti-climatic.  First of all, his lecture style was not really great.  He read his notes with his eyes away from the audience.  Also, his argument wasn't convincing.  The gist of it was something like: "Well, Walther wasn't as good as you thought he was because he tried to kidnap his nephew and niece, and women may have said Stephan slept with them, but the other Church leaders were too quick in their rush to judgment because they were already mad at him for other reasons."  The whole discussion was actually quite psychologizing- which makes sense because the guy was a psychologist.  This had also the unfortunate effect of being a bit speculative also.  Good history doesn't work, in my opinion, by figuring out hidden psychological motives.  I found it somewhat amusing that his book was being sold in Loehe Hall and I don't think I observed a single copy move from the table the entire time I was there.  I unfortunately couldn't stay for the Q & A and the panel, which I think might have been more interesting.  If anyone saw it and it was really something, please post something about it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kenosis and the Historical-Critical Method.

Something from the book.  Chapter 5 in the section on kenosis.

Lastly, contrary to what is commonly claimed, the historical-critical method cannot discredit the Gospels' portrayal of Christ's kenotic self-consciousness.  Historical critics of the New Testament frequently claim the New Testament's portrayals of self-conscious divinity and Messianic identity were created by the later Church after the fact.[1]  Such claims are largely rooted in the presupposition that supernatural revelation is impossible within the closed system of cosmic history.  Not only is this mere conjecture and impossible to prove, but it should be noted that recent studies of the Gospel material have made convincing arguments that the theory of later communal inventions of these materials is false and that in fact the Gospels are products of eye-witness testimony.[2] 

Assuming such conjectures are in some sense scientific, modern theologians have unfortunately put too much stock in them and developed alternative explanations regarding the historicity of the Gospels portrayal of Jesus' kenotic life-form.  In particular, it is often asserted, that after Jesus rose from the dead the later Church read the post-resurrection glory into his earlier existence.[3]  Two points should be made in response to this.  First, as Martin Hengel notes, the resurrection and exaltation cannot have been the basis of the claims that Jesus was the divine Messiah, since the Jews of the Second Temple believed in many exalted Patriarchs (i.e. Enoch, among others) and martyrs whom they never attributed any such role to.[4]  This is especially true of the New Testament's claims of Christ's divinity.  A resurrected man is still a man nonetheless.[5]  To many Jews a single resurrected man might indicate the beginning of the eschaton (as it doubtless did for Jewish-Christian heretics like the Ebionites), but it would not indicate divinity (again, also a conclusion that the Ebionites refused to reach). Indeed all humans would eventually be resurrected and this did not indication that all human beings were divine.  Hence, the resurrection could not have created the exalted claims regarding Jesus identity we find in the New Testament, but rather vindicated ones that already existed (Rom 1:3-4). 

All this suggests that the Disciples must have already believed in Jesus as the divine Messiah in some sense (all be it, an incomplete one) prior to the resurrection, as in fact the Gospels indicate.  Furthermore, if they had this understanding, it cannot be doubted that the source was Jesus himself (as again the Gospels claim), since he very well could have discouraged overly exalted estimations of his person and mission in the space of three years of ministry.  It might be objected that the Gospels also indicate that the Disciples frequently misunderstood Jesus' identity and mission.  Nevertheless, as Peter's confession in the Synoptic Gospels demonstrates, it was not Jesus' identity that they misunderstood, but rather its implications for his mission.  The paradox of one who is God and Messiah but who will also suffer and die is something that was unacceptable to them and therefore they willfully misunderstood Jesus in many instances.  Peter's response of rebuke to the Jesus' Passion predictions immediately following his confession of Jesus' identity clearly reveals this (Mt 16:21-8).  In short, Jesus' exalted identity did not cause offense, since the Disciples eagerly embraced it, thereby believing that they could gain a share in his power and glory (Mk 10:36-40, Lk 9:46-7).  For this reason, it would appear that it was more Jesus' mission than his identity that caused misunderstanding and offense. 

Secondly, from the perspective of the Christian faith, it is especially illegitimate to rule out Jesus' messianic self-consciousness a prior, since as God become man Jesus could have any amount of messianic consciousness that he wished.  In fact, as we observed earlier, such knowledge was essential to his mission.  It is for this reason that we must look to the Gospels themselves to report the shape of Jesus' kenotic self-understanding, rather than relying on secular historical conjecture.  Christian dogmatics is especially reckless and arbitrary when it attempts to split the difference between such pseudo-historical treatments of the Gospel material and the presupposition of orthodoxy, as can be observed in the earlier case of Thomasius.  It in fact accomplishes little more than placing the square peg of a supernaturalistic worldview in the round hole of secularist materialism.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why Contemporary Worship Is Gnostic

More from the article.

In recent decades, liturgical worship has largely been displaced in many section of the American Church by the advent of the church-growth movement.  This is true for both mainline churches and as well as more evangelically oriented denominations.  The influence of these worship practices can also be felt in "mixed" or "blended" services, where so-called "contemporary worship" is combined with otherwise liturgical forms.  Contrary to the claims of many, the forms and structures of worship that the church-growth movement offers do suggest a particular theological orientation.  As we shall argue below, this orientation and the assumptions that the church-growth movement brings to bear on Christian worship, stand at odds with the theological assumptions of Nicene orthodoxy. 

Judged in light of actual practice, for the church-growth movement and its preferred style of worship the operative theological assumption appears to be that the human person's relationship with God is rooted primarily in interior experiences and feelings.  This fact is not surprising in light of the sitz im leben of this theology of worship within the tradition of American individualism.  This experience appears to be primarily brought about by singing songs with a similar structure and cadence to contemporary soft-rock music.  These songs contain biblical-sounding phrases and are often projected onto large overhead screens.  The songs use these biblical-sounding phrases in a repetitive manner.  The goal of their repetitive nature is to actualize a particular experience of God.  Since the words themselves are less than meaningful, the act of worship is intrinsically unstructured by the act of cognitive comprehension.  This makes the act of worship formless, non-determinate, and sub-cognitive even when a certain formality is adopted by worship planners.  Hence, through a sub-cognitive experience of particular emotions, the Spirit is received and the divine-human relationship is facilitated. 

From the perspective of traditional Christian orthodoxy, this is a highly problematic way of understand the divine-human relationship as it is actualized in the Divine Service.  By the abandonment of worship centered on the embodied mediation of Word and sacrament with its attendant historic structures of worship, the God of creation, law, and Incarnation is also abandoned.  Even when sacramental mediation is in some sense retained, it is subordinated to the primary mediation of the experience of the secret Gnostic self.[1]  By the embracing this form of worship, American Christians have steered their worship away from historic creedal Christianity into the territory of Montanus, Marcion, and Valentinus.[2]    Being severed from the embodied means of grace and the situatedness of the created order, the disembodied Gnostic self (implied by contemporary worship) is able to mold itself by its own actions.  Unlike liturgical worship, which centers on the believer reception of him or herself from God's action within embodied forms (i.e, Word and sacrament), the participant in contemporary worship relies primarily on the sub-cognitive experience and activity of "praise" to facilitate the divine-human relationship.  This radically changes the primary focus of the Divine Service from grace induced receptivity to autonomous activity.  If the individual is able to establish his or her own relationship with God and mold its own reality through autonomous action, then the self is necessarily conceived as something self-generating.  This represents a form of autopoiesis,[3] thereby making the individual self something divine.  The reality of the self is no longer the subject of divinely sanctioned determinate freedom lived within boundaries of protology and eschatology, but rather the subject of a non-determinate, divine, self-generating freedom.  Here the Gnostic myth of the divinity of the inner person is given full reign.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Creedal Orthodoxy and the Divine Liturgy.

This is from a new article on liturgy I'm working on.  I plan to try to have it published in Pro Ecclesia.

From its origins, the practice of the historic Christian faith has consistently been tied up with liturgical worship.[1]  Just as the law of prayer is the law of faith (lex orandi, lex credendi), so too the faith that is believed (fides quae creditor) is ultimately expresses itself by the choice of certain worship forms over others.  Prior to the Enlightenment, communions that accepted the presuppositions of Nicene orthodoxy (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed) consistently worshiped according to common liturgical forms and structures. Conversely, those that did not accept the assumptions present in Nicene orthodoxy (the Quakers, [2] for example) did not.  Hence the choice of certain common embodied forms of worship was and remains not merely a holdover from the ancient Church and its roots in Judaism (which, as it should be strongly noted, maintained a liturgical worship in both Temple and Synagogue worship).[3]  Rather, liturgical worship is inherently expressive of certain theological presuppositions embedded in the basic evangelical-catholic ontology and metanarrative as it is set down in the creeds.[4]  Even with the variations between the different communal liturgies, there remains a structure core of similarity between them.  In examining the common structures of liturgical worship, it becomes apparent that the said structures are representative of creedal orthodoxy by the assumptions it bring to bear on the basis of Christian worship.

 First, because God is the almighty creator of original heaven and earth he is also the agent of new creation.  Through his gracious action, God makes “all things new” (Rev 21:5).[5]  He does not do this though by abandoning his previous creative act, but rather by incorporating (we might say, using an Christological analogy, "enhypostatizing"[6]) it in the new action.[7]  Hence, God engages in his act of new creation through the embodied mediums of the old creation, i.e. the signum of the Word and the sacraments, thereby bringing about new and heavenly life.  By structuring Christian worship around the twofold liturgy of the Word and that of the sacrament, liturgical worship is formed by and is centered on the creator God's use of embodied forms as vehicles of the divine-human relationship.

Viewed from this perspective, liturgical worship encompasses and unites the teaching of the first and third articles of the creed.  By enjoying salvation and fellowship with God through certain structured verba and embodied sacramental forms, we both recognize our rootedness in the old creation (first article) in its actualized determinateness, as well as gain a foretaste of the eschatological heavenly feast mediated through them (third article).  

As the "alpha and omega" (Rev 22:13) God the creator encompasses both the protological and the eschatological in his proclamatory and sacramental actions.  Through the proclamatory and sacramental actions of the creator God establishes his verdict as to what he intends for human life in the beginning and also his final judgment regarding the outcome of human life in the end (i.e. the judgment of sin and the justification of the sinner).  As a result of this gift and verdict, we are determined in true freedom, which exercises itself in divine glorification in unity with the heavenly hosts (Isa 6:2-3, Rom 12:1, Heb 13:15, Rev 4-6, 14:1-5, 19).  Human freedom is not self-generated or uncaused, but rather is in accordance with the classical definition of freedom put forth by Augustine  (and Luther) a determinate freedom.  It is human possibility lived within the determining boundaries of God's protological and eschatological act of creation ex nihillo through his Word. 

            Just as liturgical worship expresses the truths of the first and third articles, it unites them in the second article.  Jesus is always the subject of the heavenly and earthly liturgy (Rev 5-6).  Similarly, as embodied worship, liturgical worship that works within certain forms (i.e. the historic liturgy) and also certain created elements (verba, bread, water, wine, etc.).  For this reason, it is intrinsically incarnational.  As incarnational, liturgical worship insists that God the redeemer is embodied and therefore wills not to save apart from created means.  

The incarnational structure of worship expresses the same reality of the unity between the protological and eschatological that we observed in above (Rom 5, 1 Cor 15).  Old creation is incorporated into the act of new creation.  The flesh of the old Adam is incorporated into the person of the new Adam (enhypostasis) in the womb of Mary.  The second Adam actualizes and recapitulates the intended righteousness of the first Adam while also suffering the negative eschatological verdict of God passed on human sin through the cross (2 Cor 5:21).  Having overcome the dark forces of the old creation, he rises to give us access to his eschatological righteousness (Rom 4:25).  Having won freedom from slavery and condemnation, God in Christ, present through Word and sacrament in the monstrance of the liturgical forms incorporates the worshiping community into true, determinate freedom within the boundaries of protological and eschatological promise of grace.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jenson on the Implications of Leoine Christology.

In the UnBaptized God, Robert Jenson makes an interesting observation.  He points out that the Reformed and Roman Catholics basically agree about Christology, with the exception that the "miracle" of the Mass allows Christ to be in more than one place.  Otherwise, Reformed and Catholic more or less agree that Christ is confined to heaven because of a lack of communication between the two natures (just how that is conceptualized is often unclear in their theological works).

This gives the Reformed and Catholics their ecclesiology and sacramental theology.  If Jesus is gone in heaven, then you need a Pope to be Jesus while he's gone (Aquinas says that the Pope literally occupies Christ's office while he is in heaven).  Also, you need a Priest with a special character to make the miracle of the mass happen- that is, to call him down from heaven.  Once you go Reformed though, Jenson observes, you get the rid of the Priesthood and the Papacy.  How is Jesus supposed to come down?  Answer: He doesn't.

For Lutherans things are different though.  Jesus is present in, under, and with the Word.  He is so because possessing the fullness of divine glory he is ruling as God and Man at all places at all times. Since his present, he can rule his Church through the power of his proclaimed Word (no need for the Pope).  In the same manner, he is present in the words of promise in the Lord's Supper.  

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Clavis Is Coming!!!!

Check this out:

The Magdeburg press blog is up and functioning.

Rev. Johnston has been hard at work and the Clavis I am told is on the way. It looks like we're going to get a publication of it at the end of this month or next month. So watch carefully. I highly encourage you to buy a copy!

How Christological are the Psalms?

I was recently reading a piece by Richard Muller on how a particular Puritan author (Ainsworth) dealt with the Psalms and the debate among the Protestant scholastics about how Christological they are.  The question is not, I believe, whether the Psalm are prophetic or Christological.  Jesus tells us that they are and the NT authors do use them as such.  The question is how we construe this and how we interpret their use of the Psalms.

In terms of outright prophecy, I think that from the original context and from the NT usage, one can discern only a somewhat limited number of the Psalms as directly prophetic of Christ.  A short list might be Psalms 2, 16, 22, 68, 89, 110.  I'm certain someone might object and there of course could be more.  My basic point stands though.  For the most part the Psalms read by themselves do not directly refer to Christ, but rather life in ancient Israel.  

This being the case, does not ultimately mean that the rest cannot be read as Christological.  I think that if we understand all salvation history centers on Christ then we can ultimately see all of the Psalms as Christological.  For help with this, we shall use the perspective of Tyconius, who was a Donatist exegete that Augustine drew on liberally.  According to Tyconius, Christ could be discerned in the Scriptures through his threefold form.  His type in the form of ancient Israel, from whom he drew his flesh, his actual historical reality, and then his body the Church.  Ancient Israel as God's "son" anticipated Christ typologically.  In the Incarnation, God the Son incorporated Israel into his own being and made Israel's life and history true of him as well.  This parallels the (yet to be developed at this point in Church history!) enhypostasis-anhypostasis Christology of the fifth ecumenical council.  Israel's history become anhypostasis within the hypostasis of the Son.  The Church then also has a similar relationship to Christ, that Christ does to Israel.  The Church is incorporated into Christ and therefore becomes his body, being part of the "totus Christus"- the "total Christ."  Hence, what one says about Israel can be said in anticipation of Christ (insofar as it serves as Christ's type), and then what one says of Christ, can also said the Church insofar as they are united to Christ by faith.

How does this relate to the Psalms?  Specifically it relates to how we read them in a Christological manner, while recognizing them as the prayers of ancient Israel.  BTW, my suggestion in this regard comes from my old pastor Rev. Dr. Karl Fabrizius- it is not original to me.  I propose that we read the Psalms in a threefold context.  First, the Psalms are the prayers of ancient Israel and should be read in that sitz im leben.  Nevertheless, when the Holy Spirit inspired these prayers and songs, he anticipated that the Son would take take the flesh of Israel in time.  Therefore his intention in their writing was that they might also be the prayers of Jesus.  Since the Psalms were the book of prayer for Second Temple Jews, every Psalm was a prayer of Jesus who literally prayed them.  Therefore, every Psalm should be understood Christologically (not just the actual prophecies of the coming of Christ) since they are all literally the prayers of Christ.  Even the prayers of sin should be, since Christ bore our sins, even if he himself did not actually commit any.  Lastly, since the Church is Christ's body, they must also be read as also referring to the life of the Church in union and solidarity with Christ.  From this we gain a threefold context for reading them that both respects their original historical context and its relationship to Christ, the center of history.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Paul McCain would have a heartattack.

Well, actually, probably not.

But I was in the Calvin College bookstore on Monday and discovered that the reader's edition of The Book of Concord is shelved in the "Reformed Theology" section.

When did Lutherans become Reformed?

What's odd about it is that the Reformed unionistic tendency is radically rejected at Calvin, since only people from the "Christian Reformed" can be profs. I mean only. Not even Accounting professors can be non-CRC people. The Concordia system might look into this- after a while they might find that they actually resemble Lutheran colleges!

Nevertheless, does that mean I can teach at Calvin now? Somehow I'm guessing the answer is still no.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Johann Gerhard's Common-Sense Realist Dogmatics.

Over the holidays I've been reading some more Richard Muller on the structure of Protestant (Lutheran/Reformed) scholasticism.  I've also gone back and looked at Gerhard's book on hermeneutics/dogmatics.  Muller has pointed out that this work was actually one of the first books in the history of Protestant scholasticism to take seriously the systematic development of the prolegomena.  Gerhard was preceded in this by Francis Junius, who was a Reformed theologian at the University of Leiden (interestingly enough he died of plague and Jacobus Arminius replaced him!).

What I think is interesting to observe about Gerhard and most pre-Kantian Protestant dogmatics is that they philosophically take a position of critical-realism and common-sense realism.  This characterization is to an extent something of an anachronism I realize.  Nevertheless I think it is a fair description of their position.

Most important for the structure of dogmatics is that Gerhard and the rest of them take seriously and realistically the concept of "cause" in Aristotle's thought.  According to Aristotle, no effect is without a cause and effects always resemble their causes in some sense.  Hence, I sorta look like my parents and the dent in a car looks a little like the rock that hit it.  Secondly, greater causes bring about effects that are lesser than them and the more a cause is in act, the more causal effect it has.  So, I have more casual effect than do rocks and trees, and God has greater casual effect than, well, anything.

Taken over into the structure of dogmatics, theologians from the 13th century onward described two levels of theology- natural and supernatural.  Natural theology is what can be inferred from the structure of the world.  Since the world was caused by God, it resembles God in some ways (analogia entis).  Since it is an effect of a cause also, that cause must be God- since an infinite chain of causes is impossible.  

The second level is of course supernatural theology, which is based on Holy Scripture.  Holy Scripture is a direct revelation of God and it proper God's own Word.  For this reason it directly resembles God's own being in the form of propositional truth.  As a direct, rather than indirect, revelation of the Triune God, it resembles God's eternal being more closely than does the created order.  It is not only an effect of God's action as creator, but it is a direct action of God himself speaking in human words through the miracle of verbal inspiration.  We can tell that these propositions present in Holy Scripture are the work of God, the highest causal agent, because the authors did miracles.  This means that a causal agent was present and active in the prophets and apostles which was higher than all temporal casual agents, since only the divine casual agent could affect a disruption in them normal temporal casual chain.

In a word, this view of the sources of dogmatics is both common-sense realist and critically-realist.  First, causes and human perceptions of a causal order should not be doubted as a kind of projection of the human mind.  Neither does the human mind have any reason in and of itself to doubt the causal order.  Secondly, our knowledge of God through the Bible is a true knowledge, though it is always an incomplete reflection of God's own knowledge of himself.  That is because it is an effect of God's action on our cognition resembles God, but does not somehow turn our mind into God's own mind itself.  Hence Gerhard distinguishes between "archetypal theology" (God's own self-knowledge) and "echetypal theology" (our derivative knowledge of God).  He gained this distinction from Francis Junius who is reflecting the Scotistic distinction between theologia nostra and theologia in se.  As we can also observe, this also means that theology has a strongly trinitarian dimension as well.  God knows God's self only as Trinity (Father contemplates himself in the Son, through love and unity of the Spirit).  Our knowledge of God is therefore a participation in God's own eternal act of self-knowledge spread among us in the trinitarian economy of salvation.

To me, based on the Biblical revelation, this seems to be a proper way to do Christian dogmatics.  What becomes problematic about doing dogmatics this way is the Kantian revolution in epistemology.  Kant taught that the concept of "cause" was a postulate of "practical" rather than "theoretical" reason.  In other words, in our every day lives, the legal system wouldn't be able to function if we didn't say that the arsonist who burned down the orphanage was responsible for the death of the orphans.  Nevertheless, in and of itself, there's no telling whether "cause" is actually simply a category our mind imposes on reality or whether its real.  Hence, Christian dogmatics cannot be grounded in cause insofar as the category of cause is questionable.  Nevertheless, Kant argued, even if we cannot talk about things in themselves out in the world (ding an sich) we could talk about their effect on our consciousness.  Hence most modern German Protestant dogmatics (following Schleiermacher) has been one long exercise in inferring the "essence" of Christianity from human religious (Schleiermacher) or existential (Bultmann, etc.) experience.  The external casual order cannot be spoken of, but our inner experiences can be.  

There are two odd things about this.  First, how universally Kant's rather questionable epistemic conclusions have been taken over by modern dogmaticians.  Secondly, what a poor reputation the tradition of Christian Aristotelian scholasticism has, even though it operates on incredibly modest and realistic epistemic claims about how God interacts with the world and how we are capable of knowing God.  In fact, I'm somewhat unclear about how one could not accept these postulates regarding God's causal relationship to the world and revelation and still claim to be Christian.