Friday, July 22, 2011

Sincerity of the Universal Call? Now Here's a Good One!

I'm still reading Heppe and have found some more interesting stuff.

This is truly amusing!  

Lutherans have typically argued that the universal call of the gospel cannot be a sincere one for the Reformed (this argument is present in the Formula of Concord).  Why?  Because it is falls on the ears those whom God predestines to damn in hell.  Calvin was therefore quite explicit that the presence of the Word could not actually be a gage of election because not everyone who hears the Word is saved.

What I found reading Heppe is interesting.  The later Reformed scholastics felt the force of this criticism.  Hence they argued that the universality of call was in fact sincere despite the fact that God secretly intended certain people's damnation.  How did they work that one?  Their claim is that the call is sincere insofar as it is truthful.  In other words, God says to everyone "if you repent and believe, then you will be saved."  Now that's true and sincere.  Nevertheless, God only works repentance and faith in the elect and so only they meet these conditions.  

What's more problematic about this claim (beyond it's pure sophistry) is that it basically makes faith into a kind of condition or law, rather than a receptive organ.  In fact the Reformed generally like the idea that the gospel is a sort bilateral covenant.  Calvin and Zwingli both agreed that the word of the gospel was not only a promise, but a command to repent and believe.  Though one does not of course merit salvation through doing these actions, the emphasis definitively falls on the obedience and activity of the human subject rather than the passivity.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Reformed Scholastic Christology: Incarnate Person but not Nature? Huh?

Moving on from our earlier discussion of Reformed scholastic Christology, there is the distinction which the Reformed make between the incarnation of the person vs. the incarnation of the nature.  For the Lutherans, since the person and nature are inseparable, the divine nature is incarnate in Christ.  Moreover, being that the divine nature and the divine attributes are inseparable, the divine essence communicates itself to the human nature and thereby deifies it (genus majestaticum). By contrast, the Reformed scholastics claimed that it is the divine person and not the divine nature which is incarnate.  They argue that for the divine nature to become incarnate would constitute the incarnation of all three persons of the Trinity at once.  Moreover, talk of the "nature" becoming incarnate leads the idea of a fusion of the two natures into a single hybrid essence (Eutychianism).  Of course, this also means that in the hypostatic union there is no real communication of attributes (at least as Lutherans understand it), but merely a functional one (they accept Christ's redemptive mediatorship functions through a single theanthropic action of the God-man).  The major difficulty with this is of course that traditional Trinitarian theology teaches that the whole of the divine essence is present in each hypostasis of the Trinity.  Hence, the divine person of the Son and the whole of the divine essence are identical.  Part of the problem here might be the influence of Nominalism.  According to Nominalist Trinitarian theology, the divine essence is the "name" for what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are together.  This is odd because although the Reformed scholastics were as electric with their use of earlier philosophical traditions as were the Lutherans, they leaned more heavily than Lutheran on Thomism as a source for their ontological thinking.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two REALLY Bad Ideas from Reformed Scholasticism.

I've been reading one of my Christmas presents, Heinrich Heppe's Reformed Dogmatics As Illustrated from the Sources.  It's a compilation of 16th and 17th century Reformed scholastics similar to Heinrich Schmid's Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (which I'm certain many of you are familiar with).  It's very interesting, although he does occasionally make historical interpretations that I'm certain would not entirely please Richard Muller.  In it,  Heppe fleshes out some ideas that I was aware of, but have previous not understood how problematic they were.  They are the following:

1. The Covenant of Works:  This is the idea that prior to the Fall, God set up a covenant between himself and Adam.  Interesting that the Bible never says anything about covenants prior to the Fall!  Anyways, the covenant was that if Adam didn't eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for a certain period of time, then he would go to heaven and have eternal fellowship with God.  In other words, the law in the primal state actually worked as a way of interacting with God.  The gospel is not, therefore, the restoration of the primal relationship of grace, but rather plan B after the law failed.  By contrast, both Luther and more recently David Scaer have described the primal state as one where human were placed in what one might be called the "circle of grace."  Everything was given freely and the law as an external command only existed to give humans a "channel" to express their gratitude for God's goodness.  In other words, the God's grace wasn't something earned and the commands in the garden were not a "test" (a term the Reformed scholastics like to use), but rather the divine-human relationship of grace was already fully actualized.  Of course, it was possible to step outside that circle of grace, just as David Scaer points out (using a kind of weird analogy) it's possible to electrocute one's self if you don't follow the warning label on an electric shaver and you use in the bathtub.  That is to say, you don't achieve the goal of not being electrocuted, you are in that state.  By not following the directions a boundary is crossed.  In the case of Adam and Eve, once one crosses that boundary of grace and enter into the demand and condemnation of the law, they couldn't get back in unless God puts them there.  If you try to get back one your own, then that's self-justification and you simply make yourself more sinful by contradicting God's condemning word against you.

2. Communicable and Incommunicable Divine Attributes:  Interestingly enough I've been eying Michael Horton's systematic theology for a while (I'm presently trying to increase my knowledge of Reformed theology) and one the first chapter is entitled "Communicable and Incommunicable Divine Attributes."  What is the idea here?  The idea here is that God's majesty can only communicate itself to a certain extent to creation.  Whereas creatures can be good, wise, and beautiful, they cannot be omnipotent or omnipresent.  If they were, then God would just made a second God.  This is rooted in the Thomistic concept of the analogy of being.  According to Aquinas, our language about God is based on analogy with our language about creatures.  So, when we say God is "good," we are speaking in analogy to how Coca-Cola, Soft Ball, and Hot Dogs are good.  These things really are ontologically good, but God is infinitely more "good" than these things.  Hence, the goodness we experience in creatures is similar, but not identical to the goodness of God.  There's of course a number of problems with this, but the biggest is that it makes creation into a worse version of God.  Creation is in a sense fallen just by being created along side God as something like his goodness, but inferior to it.  Primarily the Reformed used their idea to reject the Lutheran concept of the communication of the attributes of glory to the man Jesus (genus Majestaticum).  Within their own scheme, Jesus possesses a human nature that is good and wise (among other things), but not omnipotent or omnipresent, etc.  Jesus does not have these qualities because of his participation in the divine person of the Son, but rather according to his humanity he possesses a created similitude to the God.  We can observe then how they misunderstand the Lutheran position.  For the Reformed scholastics, the Lutherans are saying that the human Jesus is transmuted into the divine essence.  Following Aquinas' metaphysics, they can only understand the divine essence as communicating itself through created similitude.  So the Lutheran claim that the fullness of the divine glory being communicated to the human nature must to their ears sounds like the Lutherans are arguing that the human nature is created as a second-second person of the Trinity!  What the Lutherans are of course actually saying is not that at all, but rather because of the unity of the person of Christ, the divine nature which divinizes and saturates the human nature so as to gives it a personal participation in the possibilities of the divine essence.  This continues not to be understood by either them or the Catholics.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sending Book Proposal Off Today!

I'm sending off my book proposal today.  I feel I've made a good case in my written proposal and that the two chapter I'm sending are pretty strong.  Nevertheless, as the Scriptures say, if God does not help, the builder builds in vain.  So prayers would be appreciated!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summary of My Book.

I'm finally finished editing and now I'm writing book proposals.  Here's a short explanation of the premise of my book for Eerdmans.  I thought you all might find it interesting.

"The basic premise of the book is that the biblical category of promise is central to Lutheran understanding of the person and work of Christ.  The speech-act of promise is always an act of self-donation.  A person who unilaterally promises to perform a particular act is now bound to take a particular series of actions to fulfill that promise.  Therefore, by engaging in the speech-act of promise, the individual promisor effectively donates his or her person to the recipient whom he performs these actions in the service of.  Because Scripture tells us that God’s promises stand at the heart of his relationship to creation, the divine-human relationship is fundamentally one of self-donation and human receptivity.  The original narrative of creation is one in which creation passively receives the divine Word’s act of unilateral giving.  Narrative is constitutive of the ontic ground of creation.  Therefore, at its most fundamental ontological level, creation is rooted in the narrative of the first seven days wherein God gracious speaks it forth through an act of fiat.  Humanity falls when it becomes alienated from this narrative and accepts an alternative false narration of reality based on self-deification and self-justification.  This disrupts the passive relationship of humans to God of giving and receiving, and brings about the condemnation of the law.  Redemption is constituted by a divine promise of salvation being given to the first humans in the form of the protevangelium.  As a new and effective word of grace, the promise of a savior begins the process of redemption within which God speaks forth a new narrative of creation.  In this new narrative, God gives himself in an even deeper manner to humanity.  By donating himself through a promise first to the protological humanity and then to Israel, he binds himself to them. This commitment and self-donation grows ever greater throughout the history of salvation to the point that God finally becomes human in act of total surrender.  Through this, God enters into the condemnation of the law, neutralizes it in the cross, and brings about a new creation through his omnipotent word of promise actualized in the resurrection.  Just as the old creation was ontologically grounded in the narrative of the first seven days, the new creation is ontologically grounded in Christ’s new narrative of death and resurrection."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Prayer is NOT a Means of Grace.

I was looking through a series of systematic theologies in Calvin College library recently and found several interesting things in the sections that deal with the sacraments.  First, all of them title the section on the sacraments "The means of grace."  From a Lutheran or Roman Catholic perspective, this is an odd title because for us what the Reformed say they have is precisely not means of grace, but rather visual aids in one form or another (Zwingli vs. Calvin).  Secondly, baptism and the Lord's Supper are not only mentioned, but also prayer.  

Steven Paulson recently gave a talk where he discussed how Augustine characterized prayer in a similar manner.  Faith prays to God for sustaining grace in order to make the distance.  I must be humble and I cannot be certain that I will endure to the end.  Therefore I must constantly pray that God give me sustaining grace.  Notice that the Reformed also think of the life of faith as something that needs to be "sustained" through the "perseverance of the saints"(note the P in TULIP).   This is true for the Reformed, even though they agree with Luther against Augustine on the total assurance of salvation through Christ.

Nevertheless, Paulson states, when faith primarily is expressed through prayer, then it always rest on uncertainty.  Why?  Because prayer is always prayer for something.  Praise does of course occur in prayer, but usually in the context of asking for something.  Praise of God when alone is generally characterized as being just that, praise and not prayer.  If prayer is always asking for something, then it means that it rests on uncertainty.  It humbly asks "if" God will do such and such.  

For this reason, Faith does not rest on prayer and prayer is not a means of grace.  Faith looks to Word and sacrament wherein the promise made by Jesus on the cross is already "yes" and "Amen."  Faith is based on certainty.  It does not have to look ahead for preserving grace (as both Augustine and the Reformed hold), but it looks back to baptism.  Baptism means that my new being of faith coram Deo has already been actualized through dying and rising with Christ.  Everything is done and over.  There is not uncertain, because the deed is done.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

New Flacius Book Published.

My wife and I had a wonderful time yesterday going out with Pr. Wade Johnson and a number of other LCMS, and one ELS pastor for lunch and some beers.  Wade gave my wife and I some copies of the new Flacius volume which my wife helped to copy edit.  These are very handsome volumes with nice illustrations.  They are hard copy as well, and very professional looking.  As I read my copy, I will be certain to report on it.  Here's the advert (as the British say) and a link to the website.  Order today!

Adiaphora and Tyranny:
Matthias Flacius Illyricus on Christian Resistance and Confession in the Adiaphoristic Controversy

Including an introduction by Dr. Oliver Olson

When the Schmalkaldic League was defeated at the Battle of Mühlberg and the Elector Johann Frederick was captured, the Lutheran Reformation's future seemed precarious at best. In order to avoid persecution or further hardship, some theologians were willing to assent to compromise formulas intended to placate the Roman Catholic emperor and princes. A few others, however, especially those gathered in Magdeburg, a city under siege, refused to do so. With Matthias Flacius, they held that "in the situation of confession and incitement to sin, nothing is an adiaphoron." This book includes translations of four of the important works Flacius wrote to buoy his fellow believers in their resistance and to explain what he and his coreligionists considered to be the proper biblical teaching regarding adiaphora.

Price $29.99
If you order now through Magdeburg Press, 
$23.99 (limited time Internet price)
Church orders of 10 or more, $18.99* 
(*Church orders of 10 or more must be placed via email to or by phone at 989-980-2995, and not through Paypal.)


Friday, July 1, 2011

Strobel's Case for Faith and the Origin Age of Accountability.

I've been listening to another Lee Strobel book, this time The Case for Faith.  In this one, he's tackling what he calls the "big 8" problems people have with Christianity.  It's one thing on evolution, then a bunch of theodicy stuff.  Guess how he solves every problem: Free will!  Surprise, surprise.  What's even more annoying is that he seems without fail to interview Baptists, so due to this culture's sentimentality about children (BTW, this comes out the 19th century.  Our idea of childhood as being especially innocent is about 200 years old!) many of his questions go like "how come children have to suffer in hell/or whatever?" His interlocutor without fail brings up the age of accountability and quotes some Bible verses out of context to support it.  This is not to say I like the idea of children suffering or going to hell, what's at issue is whether or not moral accountability of children should be any less than adults.  And I think the answer is: obvious not!  

I have a theory about where the idea of the "age of accountability" comes from.  It's just a theory, I can't prove it.  In part three of the Summa, Aquinas talks about confirmation among the sacraments.  He rationalizes the existence of confirmation at age 13 or so, by claiming that people lack the moral faculties necessary to act as a responsible person within the Christian community up to that point.  The symbolism of the anointing, he claims, is similar to when a person takes a fealty oath to a king or lord.  They publically pledge themselves to actively fight or work for that lord or king.  This is what happens in confirmation.  The person now has the moral and intellectual agency to work to further their own growth in faith and the good of the Christian community.  As children, they lacked capacities for either.  God gives grace in order to augment and active this capacity.   

Now, this is exactly what Baptists say about people who are under 13 or around about that stage in life.  It is interesting that they just happen to choose the time in life  that Aquinas mentions.  They also seem to understand baptism in about the same way that Aquinas understands confirmation: it's about publically declaring your own active choice for Christ and willingness to be an active member of the Church community.  It's broadly speaking, like a public fealty oath.  The difference is that Aquinas thinks that confirmation conveys real grace (augmenting the created and uncreated grace received in baptism), whereas the Baptists consider baptism to be completely symbolic.  Hence, what appears to be an entirely arbitrary scheme of the age of accountability is actually a holdover in the Baptists (without them actually realizing it) from the medieval theology of confirmation.  What they've done is simply transfer the medieval Latin Church's rationale for confirmation over to baptism.

On a side note, confirmation goes back to about the 5th-8th centuries in the west.  Aquinas (like Luther, and unlike Augustine and other medieval theologians) claims that all sacraments must have a dominical command, so he says that Christ promised confirmation to the disciples and that they received it on Pentecost.  In any case, what happened was that a number of rites that the patristic Church associated with baptism (anointing with oil, etc.) were delayed until 13 or so.  Usually the symbolism of these rites was tied up with having completed catechesis and entering the priesthood of all believer (i.e. the oil like the priestly oil of the OT).  Since most of western Europe had been Christianized and there were very few adult converts for the first time, the majority people were getting baptized prior to having catechesis (i.e. as infants).  So just as they delayed catechesis, so they broke off and delayed these extra rites associated with baptism and performed them when catechesis was completed- usually at around age 13.  Hence, confirmation was invented.