Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Requiescat In Pacem – shanewilkins.blogspot.com

Dear friends,

Today is, indeed, a sad day. After contributing significantly to the theological and philosophical blogospheres, my esteemed philosopher colleague has terminated his creative participation – at least for the time being. His absence will be sorely missed by those of us left to carry on.

Let us all observe a moment of silence for http://shanewilkins.blogspot.com

REQUIESCAT IN PACEM

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.6-8

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1 Peter 2.6-8

[6] For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” [7] Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” [8] and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for.

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COMMENTARY:

Calvin’s comments on this material have to do mostly with the following notions: “Salvation in Christ,” “Ecclesiology,” and “The Rock.” Of course, the first two of these things are tied together, and this is something that Calvin clearly sees. We have evidence of this when he writes, “there is no building up of the Church without Christ; for there is no other foundation but he.” But, language being linear, we will treat them sequentially. The latter is just an interesting tidbit.

Salvation in Christ

“[A]ll our salvation is found only in him,” declares Calvin. This is clearly Calvin the Protestant speaking. Justification by grace through faith alone is central to Calvin’s thought, even if it isn’t at the head of the Institutes and even if he puts his discussion of Regeneration ahead of it in book 3 of the Institutes. Historically speaking, it is this doctrine that demanded one’s breaking with Rome. Problems of systemic decay can be addressed from within, but if the proclamation of the way of salvation is incorrect, you best get off the sinking ship!

Of course, this is tied into Luther’s burning existential question of how one is to find a gracious God. Under the Roman system of the time as commonly perceived, and on bad days actively taught, one’s salvation depended upon whether one could confess and do penance for all of one’s sins. If you forgot something, you were in trouble. In this sense, one’s salvation depended on one’s own ability to make use of the sacerdotal system. This discussion has to do with some technicalities surrounding the notions of condign and congruent grace, but I don’t really feel like getting into all that. The point is that the reformers wanted to ground our salvation not on our action, but on Christ. Thus, Calvin can say this: “And it is a valuable truth, that relying on Christ, we are beyond the danger of falling.”

The logic behind how all of this works depends upon how one thinks of Christ’s value for salvation. Does it depend solely on himself, or does it depend on what we do with him? The former is the more Reformational, and the latter is the more Roman of the time (although, the case could be made that latter Protestants fell into this trap as well). Calvin is clearly in the first camp on this issue:
“Christ is a precious stone in the sight of God; then he is such to the faithful. It is faith alone which reveals to us the value and excellency of Christ. But…the Apostle…adds another clause respecting the unbelieving, that by rejecting Christ, they do not take away the honour granted him by the Father”
End result? Christ and the value of Christ, though only seen through faith, is independent of our faith. Our salvation is firmly established in him, whether we realize it or not.

Ecclesiology

I don’t have much that I want to highlight here, even though Calvin discusses more than I will mention. What strikes me is the issue of how to understand the relation between divine and human agency with reference to the church. Calvin argues that “God…alone forms and plans his own Church…He, indeed, employs the labour and ministry of men in building it; but this is not inconsistent with the truth that it is his own work.” How can human persons participate in God’s work? Is it by making use of a system of grace made available, in parallel to what we saw in our discussion of salvation? Unlikely, since Calvin falls so squarely against such notions in his understanding of salvation. So, how should we parse this? If I were feeling more energetic I would likely come up with some way to bring Barth in here, but I’m not going to. I will say, however, that though Calvin ultimately ends up determinist (my own personal conviction), on some of his better days he could sound like he might go in Barth’s direction on the relation between divine and human agency (not the Barth of the second section in CD IV/4). This is a passage where it isn’t clear which way Calvin can / will go. But, the solution is nicely charted even though the details aren’t filled in.

The Rock
“For as the firmness and stability of Christ is such that it can sustain all who by faith recumb on him; so his hardness is so great that it will break and tear in pieces all who resist him. For there is no medium between these two things – we must either build on him, or be dashed against him.”

Friday, January 26, 2007

I have a neighbor...

I have a neighbor who just completed his first of six semesters in the MDiv program here at Princeton Theological Seminary. Conversely, I just finished my fifth.

On another note, I’ll be spending the weekend reading about German romanticism / idealism. If you have any insights into these matters, feel free to share!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Excepts from the Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence (2)

Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 (James D Smart, trans.; Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964).
“What a field this is…It is astonishing, and becomes ever more so, with what unshakable confidence all these battlers, using the cleverest means, try to besiege, to ambush, to encompass, and to catch the ‘historical Jesus.’ And now with the so-called ‘form criticism’ a quite new campaign, the most cunning of all, has begun, which will probably somehow make all the early N.T. theologies and introductions out of date, but – meanwhile this historical Jesus is a phantom and these historians have little suspicion of the real and much more astonishing riddle that the New Testament embodies…The krypsis [hiddenness] and kenosis [self-emptying] are greater still by far than they imagine.” (104; Thurneysen to Barth, 6.16.1922)
“In regard to Zwingli it is to be noted that the curve of reflection toward the end has bent round once more in his favor without altering the total picture. Especially in respect to his De Providentia I had to whistle through my teeth a bit and pay my respects to this thunderously audacious eastern Swiss, before the battle of Kappel unavoidably broke in, the battle report with all its details, and also a final summing-up in which I stated that this ‘Providence’ will not do, that Zwingli is an incorrigible Aristotelian who is to be set in direct line with Thomas and Schleiermacher.” (136-7; Barth to Thurneysen, 2.28.1923)
“I am often quite troubled about the crops which seem to be growing from our seed. It is hard to get others, such as young pastors, to do really serious work themselves, each on his own field. Instead, there seem to be no end of fools who have now subscribed to Zwischen den Zeiten and wait for each issue ot appear to see what kind of new, resounding hammer-blows will perhaps be struck against the familiar closed doors…Really, unless Zw. D. Z. becomes a broad field cultivated by many serious workers, we shall before long have to let it drop again.” (146-7; Thurneysen to Barth, 6.21.1923)
“[Speaking of Schleiermacher]…I have the man in my gunsights now and on the whole I see what is going on there. Things are unfortunately even worse than I had expected, at least so far as the research up to this point has indicated. Schl. does intelligently, instructively, and on a grand scale what the useless people of the later time do stupidly, clumsily, inconsistently, and timidly. If one wants a modern Chrsitianity, then it would perhaps be best to stay by Schl. through thick and thin where the thing is at least new and has some go to it; because that certainly is not to be denied him; in almost all that he undertakes he is a man of competence before whom one must lift one’s hat even when one would like to take him by the throat! The manner in which he takes hold of and develops the ethical problems especially is simply brilliant. I fully understand how in his relation with both pietism and the enlightenment he could be regarded as the fullness of the times, and still can – everywhere that men see themselves not basically obstructed in this seizing and developing.” (158-9; Barth to Thurneysen, 12.20.1923)
“Your last special letter was worth a great deal to me. It cannot be otherwise than that our ship nolens volens approaches the doctrine of the church as though it were a new continent; I, too, see it no differently and actually it must be so, for we cruised about in the waters of the third article of the creed since the beginning; there, one might say, lie our home port and ancient coaling station, for the ‘Holy Spirit’ was perhaps somehow our starting point; only we cannot remain spiritualists with Kutter and Ragaz and perhaps also the younger Blumhardt but have to push on further to the point from which the Holy Spirit comes: to the church as the bearer with its doctrine and Scriptures.” (217-8; Thurneysen to Barth, 3.26.1925)

Friday, January 19, 2007

What Am I Reading? Eberhard Jüngel

Eberhard Jüngel, God’s Being is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth (John Webster, trans; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001).

It is a point of shame for me that I have only lately read this book for the first time. Jüngel is an important personage in contemporary theology, and I really should have paid him greater attention sooner (I’m still hopelessly derelict in studying Jenson). However, I procured a copy of this work from Amazon at a particularly comely price, and figured that I should give it a quick read through.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I read this book in the space of about 3 hours. That is easily 1/10 of the time that one would need to spend with this volume in order to sufficiently plumb its depths. So, while I feel as though I have a sufficient grasp of the broad movements of the argument, I am by no means an expert on Jüngel or on this volume.

If one thing can be said about Jüngel, it is that he is a careful reader of Barth. Of course, as he readily admits, he does not seek simply to repeat Barth, but to learn from Barth and bring that learning to bear on further problems as they arise. This is explicit in the volume in question in that it is written to mediate in an argument between Gollwitzer and Herbert Braun, a Barthian and a Bultmannian respectively. Jüngel’s primary line of explicit critique falls upon Gollwitzer, whom he thinks has argued for a being of God that is quite static and detached from the world and, thus, abstract in nature. Critique of Braun and Bultmann, though present, seems to be more implicit.

It should be said about Jüngel is that, while he is a careful and penetrating reader of Barth, he has also drunk deeply from the streams of Fuchs, Bultmann and Ebeling – not to mention Luther. This means that some of the modes of thought through which Jüngel interprets Barth’s work are provided from a tradition other than that which most demanded Barth’s loyalties, namely, the Reformed tradition.

As much as I try not to gripe about respected theological figures, I feel as though I must add that I find Jüngel to be very vague in many cases. This has to do not only with his style, but with what we might call his theological genre, which Webster describes as “philosophical theology, or – perhaps better – philosophical dogmatics” (x). Webster’s point in this construction is that, while Jüngel goes about things in a very philosophical and philosophically aware manner, he endeavors to let dogmatic content control philosophical expression. One can come to one’s own conclusions as to the benefit of this type of theological work. As for me and my house, we will do dogmatics proper! It is interesting to note in this respect what Webster says a bit later – “the work which in Jüngel’s theology is undertaken by hermeneutics [read also, ‘philosophy’] tends in Barth’s theology to be undertaken by doctrines” (xxi). To me, this raises profound questions about Jüngel’s project.

In any case, what follows will be something of a hop-skip-and-jump tour of the volume organized by a few quotes or thoughts that I found to be interested, or that I think certain of my conversation partners would find interesting. Hopefully, it will be informative for others as well.

Theological Argument

I have a philosopher colleague who is currently disaffected with the state of the theoblogosphere. Particularly, he wonders about the dearth of actual argument. He has written on Six Propositions on What Makes Good Theology, and has been engaged in a similar discussion with Kim Fabricius and Ben Myers (Aside: I recently met Ben while he was doing research here in Princeton and he is an upstanding guy) in the comments section of Kim’s set of propositions on what it means to be human. Jüngel got upset about these things too. He writes in the 1975 Epilogue to the work in question:
“Theological anxiety about the use of the word ‘ontological’ needs more exact analysis, which cannot be undertaken here. But this is the place to protest against the way in which mere denunciation of a concept replaces argument.”
May we all remember to actually argue, for and against, rather than simply opining.

Theological Ontology

In my discussion above I mentioned my aversion to “philosophical dogmatics.” Ontology is a discussion of being, and insofar as we must discuss being, we should do so theologically. Thus, theological ontology. However, think about the grammatical structure of that statement – theological ontology. In the English language, an adjective modifies a noun, and in that sense the noun is the primary thing, and the adjective secondary. Thus, ‘theological’ comes off as the secondary thing, while ‘ontology’ is grammatically primary. This is not the relation that dogmaticians who do ontology are after, and Jüngel certainly wants to make dogmatics primary. But, if one is doing ontology, no matter how much one tries to do it theologically, there is grave danger for imbalance.

Now, to clarify, I’m not against doing something like “ontological theology.” In this sense, we are not doing ontology in a theologically conditioned way, but doing theology in an ontologically conditioned way. Here, when theological expression strains under ontological imprecision, a theologian may need to do a little ontology / make some good ontological distinctions. But, ontology is in this sense clearly being done in the service of advancing cogent theological argument.

I recognize that, in many ways, this is a very subtle difference. But, I think it is an important one. And, I would like to furthermore make it very clear that I love a good distinction – ontological or otherwise.

Hegel

It should be obvious as to why Jüngel might be accused of Hegelianism. The title, God’s Being is in Becoming, certainly points in this direction. But, it should also be noted that Jüngel is very explicit in making it clear that he is not pursuing a Hegelian doctrine of the Trinity, referencing his critical treatment of Hegel (cf. 128). Furthermore, Jüngel mentions that he has lectured for years under the title “God’s being is in coming” (129), which detracts significantly – I think – from the worry about Hegel. If Jüngel is equally satisfied with the notion of “coming” to express that which he sought to express under the term “becoming,” this forces us to interpret “becoming” in a certain direction. Indeed, I think that “coming” would be a more accurate term for what Jüngel is on about. It is not that God goes through a process of “becoming” that which God is not. Rather, Jüngel wants to affirm that the God we meet in salvation history (specifically in the incarnation), the economic Trinity, corresponds accurately to God’s being in and for God’s own self, the immanent Trinity. And that, because this correspondences is God’s own self-repetition or self-reiteration, that God’s being includes all that we see in the economic Trinity, including the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Picking Some Nits

Perichoresis and the Trinity: “Through this mutual participation, the three modes of being become concretely united to one another” (44). Jüngel comes a little too close for comfort to establishing the oneness of God on the basis of God’s threeness. Moltmann makes this move explicitly, as do many social Trinitarians. This move is to be rejected as it basically, if not explicitly, affirms tritheism. However, I don’t think that this is what Jüngel is doing. If we remember about that ‘becoming’ can be exchanged for ‘coming,’ then what we have here is simply an actualization of the divine being / ousia. God’s oneness is an event of this perichoretic threeness. This is fine, so long as it is noted as well that God’s threeness is an event of this perichoretic oneness, or something similar. In any case, the foundational dogmatic considerations on this point tend to get lost behind Jüngel’s ontological / hermeneutical / philosophical language, making the dogmatic content hard to get a fix on.

Constitution and Definition: Jüngel likes to talk of how God’s activity constitutes God’s being. This is, I think, unfortunate. As best as I can tell, the word “defines” could be substituted for “constitutes,’ in keeping with some of the themes explored above. Jüngel’s primary concern seems to be that the economic Trinity we meet in revelation accurately corresponds to the immanent Trinity. For this it would be enough to affirm that the economic Trinity defines (on the human side) or manifests, etc. Besides, Jüngel talks about God being “defined concretely” (85), so it all seems to be moving in this direction. For a couple of instances of where this word-usage issue occurs, cf. 81 and 89.

God’s Verbal Being: Jüngel writes that “God’s being…is in itself verbal, and in precisely this way historical” (111). Fine. It makes sense in the argument, etc. But, does it seem weird to anyone else to say that God’s being is verbal? It’s just a funny construction, and one that seems more inclined to German philosophical dialogue than to Christian theology, at least outside of the Lutheran tradition. Things like this just frustrate me, and – when you put a lot of them together – lead me to feel as though Jüngel is a bit vague.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

T. F. Torrance on Baptism

The following is the "payoff paragraph" of TFT's essay entitled "The One Baptism Common to Christ and His Church," which can be found in Theology in Reconciliation. If I were granted one wish that I could spend on things of an academic nature, I would use it to find out how Barth would respond this this paragraph. I guess I'll ask once I get to the next life.
On the ground of what Christ has done for us and in accordance with his promise, we are presented before God as subjects of his saving activity, and are initiated into a mutual relation between the act of the Spirit and the response of faith. Faith arises as the gift of the Spirit, while it is through faith that we may continue to receive the Spirit, and it is in the Spirit that God continues to act creatively upon us, uniting us to Christ so that his atoning reconciliation bears fruit in us, and lifting us up to share in the very life and love of God, in the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is thus not a sacrament of what we do but of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, in whom he has bound himself to us and bound us to himself, before ever we could respond to him. But it is also the sacrament of what God now does in us by his Spirit, uniting us with Christ in his faithfulness and obedience to the Father and making that the ground of our faith. As an act done to us, baptism tells us that it is not upon our act of faith or on our own faithfulness that we rely, but upon Christ alone and his vicarious faithfulness; it also tells us that in the freedom of his Spirit God makes himself present to us and binds us creatively to himself in such marvelous ways that not only is faith called forth from us as our own spontaneous response to the grace of God in Christ, but it is undergirded and supported by Christ and enclosed with his own faithfulness, and thus grounded in the mutual relation between the incarnate Son and the heavenly Father.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Excepts from the Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence (1)

Revolutionary Theology in the Making: Barth-Thurneysen Correspondence, 1914-1925 (James D Smart, trans.; Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964).
“What have you to say concerning Peace Sunday and the fine prayers? The prayer by the Pope is really just as good. Yesterday, I had a great snowball fight with the boys of my confirmation class. I do that for them every year in order to improve the general joyousness.” (28; Barth to Thurneysen, 2.5.1915)
“The idea of reading the Bible together had already occurred to me, too. Could not something of the kind be done in the Aargau? But Bader is right: one must regularly, and indeed frequently and preferably for a whole morning, make oneself available for it. At least that would be a way in which one could get ahead, and almost certainly there would be something in it for everyone.” (31-2; Barth to Thurneysen, 9.8.1915)
“If this were ‘pietism,’ we would never again believe that there was even the slightest point of contact between us and the pietists…This is psychologizing in its worst form, just a describing of ‘Christian’ spiritual experiences: here an awakening, a conversion, a sealing, then five different levels of resistance to the Holy Spirit, then the blood of Christ flows as medicine for the soul, and finally everything comes to a climax in the appeal to the ‘awakened’: (a) to visit an after-meeting in the chapel, (b) to pray frequently on their knees, (c) to buy a little book, (d) to subscribe to the magazine, Tabernacle Greeting. Then continually there were the open jaws of hell into which a man could disappear in spite of all these splendors. And over it all brooded an atmosphere of fear as though the ship were sinking and there were no rescue ship for most people anyhow, although the music was playing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ with might and main. No, that really isn’t it.” (40; Barth to Thurneysen, 11.20.1916)
“It is a quite unique new kind of working and speaking, just as absorbing and breathtaking as in the pastorate but – and this I find pleasant – it does not make quite such steep demands as the performance there for which the claim has to be made that it stands in place of the sacrifice in the Catholic mass. Not longer is there the pressure rhetorically somehow to speak impressively of God, but rather it all takes place at a certain good distance from the holy of holies: One tells this or that, one develops, one cites, one celebrates a little Reformed triumph against the Lutherans, one makes a little sortie against Schleiermacher, and, at most once in the hour, or not even that, the finger is raised and ‘Gentlemen!’ rings out to introduce a direct word.” (76; Barth to Thurneysen, 11.18.1921)
“The situation here during the last week was characterized by the awakening of a certain opposition among the students…After an aggressive lecture yesterday the whole afternoon was spent walking with seven men on the Nikolausberg during which time I had to answer question after question without a break: Sir, what do you think of…? How do you know that…! What do you mean when…?…And these are only the torpedo boats of the enemy. How will it be when Romans brings the battleships, the teachers of all these students, into action?” (79; Barth to Thurneysen, 12.11.1921)
“Now when everything is quiet round about me I am much more conscious of my thorn in the flesh, my dreadful theological ignorance, sharpened by my quite miserable memory that constantly retains only quite decisive things. During the term when I keep talking I am able to preserve the sweet illusion that I indeed know something…Oh! If only someone would give me time, time, time, to do everything properly, to read everything at my own tempo, to take it apart and put it together again.” (92-3; Barth to Thurneysen, 3.26.1922)

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Wanderer: U2 / Johnny Cash

This song has been inescapable for me over the past few days. I have known of its existence for some time, I have heard it before, but for some reason when it popped up in my mp3 player the other day (set to "random") it made an impact. Since then I have listened to it probably 40 or more times, and I still haven’t made total sense out of it. In any case, I thought I should share the lyrics and recommend that you get a hold of a copy for yourself and give it a listen. For those who don’t know such things, its on U2’s Zooropa (and shame on you for not knowing that!).
I went out walking through the streets paved with gold
Lifted some stones
Saw the skin and bones
Of a city without a soul
I went out walking under an atomic sky
Where the ground wont turn
And the rain it burns
Like the tears when I said goodbye

Yeah I went with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you
I went wandering

I went drifting through the capitals of tin
Where men cant walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they dont want God in it

I went out riding
Down that ol' eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you

I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents

I went out searching, lookin' for one good man
A spirit who would not bend or break
Who would sit at his fathers right hand
I went out walking with a Bible and a gun
The word of God lay heavy on my heart
I was sure I was the one
Now jesus, dont you wait up
Jesus, Ill be home soon
Yeah I went out for the papers
Told her I'd be back by noon

Yeah I left with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you...
Yeah I left with nothing
Nothing but the thought of you...
I went wandering

Friday, January 05, 2007

Link: N.T. Wright, “Mere Mission”

Lately I have tried to avoid posting links simply for the sake of posting links. This has brought down the volume of posts here at DET quite a bit. But, I believe that it has raise the quality of what I do post. In any case, I’m assuming that most blog readers out there have hopped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, and are therefore not dependent upon stopping by every day to see what is new. In any case, all that is neither here nor there.

The purpose of this post is to alert you all to an interview with N.T. Wright recently published in Christianity Today (they have an RSS feed, which is how I found this). It is called “Mere Mission,” and deals with Wright’s recent book, Simply Christian. There is the usual discussion of how to present the gospel to a postmodern culture, etc., and there are some interesting moments concerning the parallels between Wright’s work and C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, for any of you who are interested in the Oxford don (me, not so much).

But, in the course of the conversation, Wright touches upon something that I have heard George Hunsinger say basically verbatim, and I couldn’t pass up the chance of posting it:
“That's precisely what John says at the end of the prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known. John's provided an exegesis for who God is. And in Colossians 1 as well, he is the image of the invisible God. In other words, don't assume that you've got God taped, and fit Jesus into that. Do it the other way. We all come with some ideas of God. Allow those ideas to be shaped around Jesus. That is the real challenge of New Testament Christology.”
I persistently maintain that Wright is at his best when talking about Jesus.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ethics, a la Calvin, Augustine and Shane

For the background to this post, please see the comments thread in my most recent edition of Reading Scripture with John Calvin and Shane’s post, The mendacious moral pessimism of John Calvin.

In his post, Shane suggested that I try out the phrase, “You know what I love about you babe? Jesus” on my dear wife. Of course, he anticipates “that her reaction will not be gratitude for his piety.” Of course, I don’t need to merely “anticipate” her reaction; I know what it will be (of course, not in the sense of JTB; see Shane’s two posts and my own) My wife would say: “Um…ok….,” all the while thinking, “What the h*ll is wrong with this guy? Why did I marry him?”

But, all joking aside, my saving grace is that my (and I would argue, Calvin’s) position does not necessitate that I make such a move. But, before I get into that, I just want to be clear about who bears the burden of proof in this discussion. I would argue at length and in great detail that my position is in keeping not only with Calvin but also with Augustine. I’m not saying that these two authorities cannot be overthrown, but it is going to take a bit more work on Shane’s part than merely setting out a few propositions, a haphazard collection of definitions, and then cranking up the logical machinery.

Shane makes two key rejections: first, he rejects the notion that “No one can undertake a moral action for the right reason apart from regenerating grace;” second, he rejects “the idea that the only proper motivation for any moral action is love of God.” These two rejections are inextricably linked, and I would contend that it is Shane’s rejection of the second that is driving his rejection of the first. I suspect that this is so on the basis of the rather central place (central to the affective weight of the argument, not the logic) of his statement, “To love something just means to love it for its own sake.” This is precisely the affirmation that lends force to his flights of fancy concerning conversations between my wife and I, a practice – I might add – that some would consider to be in appropriate in so public a forum.

In any case, this sentiment of loving something for its own sake is correct so far as it goes. But, I’m afraid that Shane is missing a rather big piece of the puzzle, namely, that the intrinsic value of all created reality, and especially of human persons, is grounded in God and God’s act of creation. Shane would like you to believe that loving a woman for who she is in herself, and loving a woman on the basis of her nature as a creature of God, are mutually exclusive. I would argue that you do not love a woman for who she is in herself without also loving her on the basis of her nature as a creature of God, for her nature as a creature of God is what grounds her intrinsic worth (and beauty, and what have you).

I will conclude with a brief lesson from Augustine’s De Trinitate, which I will related back to this conversation. First, DT, 12.14:
“What happens is that the soul, loving its own power, slides away from the whole which is common to all into the part which is its own private property. By following God’s directions and being perfectly governed by his laws it could enjoy the whole universe of creation; but by the apostasy of pride…it strives to grab something more than the whole and to govern it by its own laws.”
Augustine is thinking here in terms of turning to try and possess one’s own body for gratification (which is the part) rather than to seek after God and thereby gain the whole creation (which is the whole). But, for our purposes, it is sufficient to note here that if we wish to live properly ordered lives, we must consider things in relation to God, and not as a discreet object which we can in any way possess (or understand, or love?) apart from its relation to God. We now turn to DT, 14.18:
“The human mind, then, is so constructed that it never does not remember itself, never does not understand itself, never does not love itself. But if you hate someone you are dead set on doing him harm, and so it is not unreasonable to talk about the mind of man hating itself when it does itself harm. It does not know it is wishing itself ill while it imagines that what it wants is not to its disadvantage, but in fact it is wishing itself ill when it wants something that is to its disadvantage…So the man who knows how to love himself loves God; and the man who does not love God, even though he loves himself, which is innate in him by nature, can still be said quite reasonably to hate himself when he does that which is against his own interest, and stalks himself as if he were his own enemy.”
Lost in that tangle of words is the notion that, even though it is of the nature of the human person to love his- or her-self, one does in fact not do so when one acts for one’s own harm, which includes the condition of not loving God. If one does not love God, one does not love oneself. But, why should this logic be confined to the self? In relation to our discussion, if one does not love God, one cannot love a woman. More from Augustine in the same chapter:
“But when the mind loves God, and consequently as has been said remembers and understands him, it can rightly be commanded to love its neighbor as itself. For now it loves itself with a straight, not a twisted love, now that it loves God; for sharing in him results not merely in its being that image, but in its being made new and fresh and happy after being old and worn and miserable.”
It is hard for me to comment on this passage because it seems self-evident. One does not love oneself rightly without first loving God; therefore one does not love another rightly without first loving God. (“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the passage behind all this, if you haven’t already guessed.) Consequently, we aren’t only talking about love here. We are also talking about knowledge and understanding, to wit, we cannot know or understand another thing except we know and understand God. Augustine ties all this up into a nice little bundle. Consequently, Calvin does much of the same when he writes in the opening sentence of the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559): “Nearly all the wisdom we posses, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” which are “joined by many bonds.”

SUMMARY:

Proper relation to God is necessary for proper relation to anything else. This goes for love and knowledge and understanding as well. Thus, what is called “love” between a Muslim or Hindu man and his wife is not “love” in the proper sense. Even Christians, although they have been set on the road toward right love / knowledge / understanding / relation, remain always imperfect in this life and thus are deficient in these things as well. However, because of Christ’s work of mediation, the actions of Christians are counted as righteous before God.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.1-5

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1 Peter 2.1-5

(1) Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (2) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, (3) now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (4) As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by human beings, but chosen by God and precious to him – (5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

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COMMENTARY:

This section was not quite as interwoven with interesting themes, at least to my eyes, as the last few section have been. But, there are quite a few intriguing tidbits that I want to place before us. We have seen some of them before, but it is good to get a sense of how different ideas in Calvin keep popping up. Here is what we will cover: Ethics Follows Regeneration, Got Milk?, Mirror, Mirror, One Temple, Acceptable Spiritual Sacrifices.

Ethics Follows Regeneration

I am constantly impressed by the constant presence of this theme in Calvin. It is unthinkable for Calvin that one could be regenerated without a corresponding change in life. However, I’m not feeling particularly inspired in writing about this at the moment, so I’ll simply quote a couple of Calvin’s discussion of the topic found in this passage.
“After having taught the faithful that they had been regenerated by the word of God, he now exhorts them to lead a life corresponding with their birth. For if we live in the Spirit, we ought also to walk in the Spirit, as Paul says. It is not, then sufficient for us to have been once called by the Lord, except we live as new creatures.”
“[Peter], in short, urges this, that new morals ought to follow a new life.”
Got Milk?

When I was growing up, there was s fair bit of discussion in my ecclesiastical circles (I’ll let you figure our what those circles might be) about what the “milk of the word” was. This terminology shows up in a few places, and Calvin notes them in his treatment. He concedes the interpretation that I had always grown up hearing – that the “milk” is simple teaching – as accurate in the other instances of this term. However, he thinks that it is incorrect here. Instead, Calvin writes: “[M]ilk, here, is not elementary doctrine, which one perpetually learns; and never comes to the knowledge of the truth, but a mode of living which has the savour of the new birth, when we surrender ourselves to be brought up by God.” Milk, then, is a manner of life befitting infancy, which Calvin characterizes in this passage as being free from guile, i.e., as innocent. This is the mode of life that comes with new life in Christ.

One interesting corollary to this for Calvin is his discussion of infancy. We tend to think in terms of the life cycle, and therefore we think of infancy as a temporary thing. That is certainly true if milk is elementary doctrine. But, if it is the fitting mode of life for a Christian, then it is not temporary. Thus, Calvin says that “the infancy of the new life is perpetual.” Perpetual infancy? What kind of imagery is this? Well, if I wanted to develop this seed of Calvin’s thought (which I do), I would note that infancy is the beginning of life as innocent. Infants posses nothing. They live only in the present. They recognize no past and no future. This is the mode of life that is befitting a Christian. Possessing nothing, living in the moment of faith with an innocence that is perpetually renewed by the Spirit of God.

Mirror, Mirror

It occurred to me that it might be interesting to keep track of when Calvin uses his mirror metaphor. It shows up here in his discussion of verse 1. It is only a passing reference, and the force is that in the few vices listed in this verse we are meant to see all of our vices as though we were looking into a mirror.

One Temple

This point arises in Calvin’s discussion of the spiritual house that Christians are being built into, a la verse 5. Calvin drives home the fact that, even though Scripture calls each Christian a temple of God in some passages, the point that we find here has to do with the Christian community. It is the community that is being made into this house, this temple. Because we can never hear enough about how the Christian community takes precedence over the Christian individual, I’m going to quote Calvin’s own formulation here.
“Peter no doubt meant to exhort the faithful to consecrate themselves as a spiritual temple to God; for he aptly infers from the design of our calling what our duty is. We must further observe, that he constructs one house from the whole number of the faithful. For though every one of us is said to be the temple of God, yet all are united together in one, and must be joined together by mutual love, so that one temple may be made of all. Then, as it is true that each one is a temple in which God dwells by his Spirit, so all ought to be so fitted together that they may form one universal temple. This is the case when every one, content with his own measure, keeps himself within the limits of his own duty; all have, however, something to do with regard to others.”
Acceptable Spiritual Sacrifices

We often think of Jesus as mediating salvation to us, but we seldom think of Jesus as mediating something from us back to God. But, as TF Torrance and George Hunsinger are quick to point out, Christ mediates both ways. God comes to us through Christ, and we go to God through Christ. Now, I don’t mean to imply that Calvin has this carefully worked out in this section of his commentary, but the pattern of upward mediation is present in Calvin’s discussion of verse 6 and acceptable spiritual sacrifices.

Calvin wants to spur us on to good works. He notes here that this passage is beneficial because it “declares that what is required is acceptable to God, lest fear should make us slothful.” That is, we are required to do something, and to make sure we don’t get lazy because we don’t see the value in doing it, we are assured that God does accept these spiritual sacrifices. But, Calvin also wants to make sure that we don’t get cocky. It isn’t that we can offer acceptable sacrifices to God on the basis of our own capability. If this were the case, there would be no need for Christ – i.e., this would be very close to what commonly passes under the name of Pelagius. Instead, Calvin frames things this way:
“There is never found in our sacrifices such purity, that they are of themselves acceptable to God; our self-denial is never entire and complete, our prayers are never so sincere as they ought to be, we are never so zealous and so diligent in doing good, but that our works are imperfect and mingled with many vices. Nevertheless, Christ procures favour for them…we offer sacrifices through Christ, that they may be acceptable to God.”