Monday, April 30, 2007

TF Torrance on Evangelism and How to Preach the Gospel

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992), 93-95.

When I first read the (rather lengthy) passage that I have included below, I knew that I would be spending a considerable amount of time studying the theology of the man who could so powerfully deconstruct and provide an alternative for how I grew up hearing the ‘gospel’ being preached. Without in any way diminishing the importance of our personal relationship with God in Christ, Torrance shows us how this has been abstracted from its proper dogmatic location. Our relationship with Christ is not the most important thing; the most important thing is Christ’s relationship with us.

I first read this material during my first year of seminary. Now, in my third and final year, with the experience of a full calendar year of church ministry behind me, this passage speaks more loudly than ever. The ramifications of this passage for pastoral care are immense, and it can provide the basis for truly powerful preaching. But, it does this only insofar as it masterfully places Christ before our eyes once again as the truly decisive thing in the relation between God and humankind.

(N.B. Our fellow-blogger Michael Pailthorpe over at Intellectus Fidei posted part of this quote with some of his own comments back in January. The Pontificator and others got involved in the comments, so be sure to check it out.)
"There is, then, an evangelical way to preach the Gospel and an unevangelical way to preach it. The Gospel is preached in an unevangelical way, as happens so often in modern evangelism, when the preach announces: This is what Jesus Christ has done for you, but you will not be saved unless you make your own personal decision for Christ as your Savior. Or: Jesus Christ loved you and gave his life for you on the Cross, but you will be saved only if you give your heart to him. In that event, what is actually coming across to people is not a Gospel of unconditional grace but some other Gospel of conditional grace which belies the essential nature and content of the Gospel as it is in Jesus. It was that subtle legalist twist to the Gospel which worried St Paul so much in his Epistle to the Galatians…To preach the Gospel in that conditional or legalist way has the effect of telling poor sinners that in the last resort the responsibility for their salvation is taken off the shoulders of the Lamb of God and placed upon them – but in that case they feel that they will never be saved. They know perfectly well in their own hearts that if the chain that binds them to God in Jesus Christ has as even one of its links their own feeble act of decision, then the whole chain is as week as that, its weakest link. They are aware that the very self who is being called upon to make such a momentous decision requires to be saved, so that the preaching of the Gospel would not really be good news unless it announced that in his unconditional love and grace Jesus Christ had put that human self, that ego of theirs, on an entirely different basis by being replaced at that crucial point by Jesus Christ himself.

How, then, is the Gospel to be preached in a genuinely evangelical way? Surely in such a way that full and central place is given to the vicarious humanity of Jesus as the all-sufficient human response to the saving love of God which he has freely and unconditionally provided for us. We preach and teach the Gospel evangelically, then, in such a way as this: God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. From beginning to end what Jesus Christ has done for you he has done not only as God but as man. He has acted in your place in the whole range of your human life and activity, including your personal decisions, and your responses to God’s love, and even your acts of faith. He has believed for you, fulfilled your human response to God, even made your personal decision for you, so that he acknowledges you before God as one who has already responded to God in him, who has already believed in God through him, and whose personal decision is already implicated in Christ’s self-offering to the Father, in all of which he has been fully and completely accepted by the Father, so that in Jesus Christ you are already accepted by him. Therefore, renounce yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.

To preach the Gospel of the unconditional grace of God in that unconditional way is to set before people the astonishingly good news of what God has freely provided for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus. To repent and believe in Jesus Christ and commit myself to him on that basis means that I do not need to look over my shoulder all the time to see whether I have really given myself personally to him, whether I really believe and trust him, whether my faith is at all adequate, for in faith it is not upon my faith, my believing or my personal commitment that I rely, but solely upon what Jesus Christ has done for me, in my place and on my behalf, and what he is and always will be as he stands in for me before the face of the Father. That means that I am completely liberated from all ulterior motives in believing or following Jesus Christ, for on the ground of his vicarious human response for me, I am free for spontaneous joyful response and worship and service as I could not otherwise be."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

John Stott to Retire in July

All Souls Church recently announced that John Stott will be retiring from public ministry after a final speaking engagement at the Keswick Convention this coming July. Stott was featured in the “2005 Time 100”. In 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks (author of, among other things, Bobos in Paradise, a book that I highly recommend) wrote that if evangelicals were to chose a ‘pope’, Stott would be the likely choice. Christianity Today has a nice write-up about this.

I have always held a very high opinion of Stott, and it is a testimony to the high regard in which the whole of the evangelical world holds him that he could declare himself in favor of annihilationism and not be summarily ostracized. Stott’s many years of faithful churchmanship are a stark reminder of how seldom such a thing is seen these days. Stott goes into retirement with my best wishes and my deep respect.

If you would like to dip into Stott’s thought, try his Christian Basics. It is a very useful tool for educating new Christians or teenagers in what it means to live life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Requiescat in pace: Robert Webber

A household name to many American evangelicals, Robert Webber died on Friday, April 27, 2007. More information can and will be found here -> http://www.aefcall.org/robertwebber.htm.

UPDATE (4/30/07): Christianity Today has a nice piece on Webber in memory of his life and work. Read it here.

My Most Recent Publication

The Spring issue of the Princeton Theological Review was distributed on the PTS campus this past week, and with its distribution comes the end of my tenure as this august publication’s book review editor. It will be available in your library (if your library is any good!) or online www.princetontheologicalreview.org in a few days.

Be sure to check out my short review of Bonnie L. Pattison’s Poverty in the Theology of John Calvin.

David Congdon penned the prolegomena and wrote a much more substantial piece entitled ”A Pre-Appearance of the Truth”: Toward a Christological Aesthetics that you won’t want to miss.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Comments Brought to Light: Divine, Creational and Human Rationalities (et al)

Shane (and Chris),

When I think about different logics, I don’t mean to imply multiple unrelated self-contained systems of thought (in this sense, ‘rationalities’ rather than ‘logics’ might be better, but I think the pattern holds – I am however going to start talking instead of rationalities). We have to think of this in terms of concentric circles. I think Chris is right to distinguish between divine, creational and human rationalities. The divine rationality (logos?) is the biggest circle and it contains the other two. Creational rationality is the next level in, and it contains human rationality.

Here is how this works. God is entirely self-sufficient and possesses his own rationality (by definition). God creates the world, whose rationality - because it comes from the divine rationality - bears certain resemblances to the divine rationality without being identical to the divine rationality because creation is not, in fact, divine. Human rationality is the synthesis of the bio-chemical wiring of the human brain, formative interaction with the empirical world, continuing reflective interaction with the empirical word, and abstract interaction with any number of theoretical worlds. What this means is that, at its most basic levels, human rationality is condition by the rationality of creation. Human rationality, in its reflective forms, seeks to penetrate more deeply into this creational rationality through scientific study in any number of forms (both concrete and abstract), but it can never go beyond this creational rationality (I’m willing to entertain the idea that it can bump up against the edge of this creational rationality and find the notion of, say, absolute being, etc…this at least seems possible).

What happens in the incarnation is that the divine rationality (logos?) enters into the realms of creational and human rationality thereby providing a glimpse, although in accommodated form, of the divine rationality. This glimpse of the divine rationality (in accommodated form) sets creational and human rationality in its proper context. I could elaborate more on this, but won’t for now.

Another way to imagine this, I think, is in terms of dimensions. Take the relation between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. All three-dimensional objects contain within themselves two-dimensional aspects. These two-dimensional aspects are then structured in such a way that a three-dimensional object is produced. Now, imagine that everything that exists is three-dimensional but all that we can see are two-dimensions. We would be interacting with three-dimensional things, but from a two-dimensional standpoint. We could come to correct understandings of these three-dimensional things in terms of two-dimensional aspects, but we would lack the proper three-dimensional context for these aspects and thus our conceptualities would be lacking.

N.B. When I used the concentric circle image above, I in no way intended to imply anything like panentheism, etc. It’s an interpretative model and though it illustrates an ontological point, it should not be taken as an ontological model.

Jpf: Thanks for stopping by and for your helpful criticism concerning the relation of theology and Christian philosophy in my typology. The ‘Christian philosophy’ bit is the trickiest. What I am after is something like a philosopher who continues doing philosophy, only this philosophy does philosophy on the basis of Christian presuppositions. But, I am open to the possibility that you are right and that this distinction is inherently unstable. Perhaps the sort of ‘philosophical theology’ that I mentioned in the second addendum is the better third type.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Theology, Philosophy and ‘Christian’ Philosophy: A Typology

I wrote the material below a number of months ago for a semi-private conversation involving myself and a few of my colleagues (including Shane Wilkins and David Congdon). A more recent exchange of comments with Shane brought it to my mind, and I thought that it might be interesting to post it and see what kind of conversation gets going. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and / or find it helpful in some way. The two addendums (?) at the end are new.

Note: Below, “theology” refers to what might be called Christian dogmatic or systematic theology.

Theology

Theology, just like any other discipline, is a "disciplined" mode of inquiry. What is involved in a disciplined mode of inquiry? (1) A subject matter, and (2) a disciplined mode of inquiry about that subject. The subject matter of theology is given to it by its subject matter - God, specifically, God as he has revealed himself as Christ. The disciplined mode of inquiry, in good empirical science fashion, flows out of the subject matter. That is, the "logic" of theology is given to it by God's self-revelation, and the method involved should seek to be fitting to this logic.

However, it is important to note here that theology, as a disciplined mode of inquiry that receives both its subject matter and its disciplined mode of inquiry from God, is still a human endeavor. In as much as theology is a human endeavor, it still takes place within the human realm of possibilities, and this means that it is subject to the boundaries of human language and rationality. This does not mean that God is subject to these boundaries, but theology, although it speaks about God in the manner that God gives to it, is subject to them.

To those of you who think that this account might be contrary to Barth's notion of theology as "witness," you will have to take it on trust that I at least think that this view is consistent and am supremely confident that I could marshal a textual argument from Barth in support of it. Maybe I will do that bit some other time. Furthermore, TF Torrance would almost certainly agree with me about Barth on this point, so I claim his authority.

Philosophy

Philosophy, just like any other discipline, is a "disciplined" mode of inquiry. Its subject matter spans all that is observable, and even some of what is not (i.e., metaphysics)! However, in contrast to theology, the subject matter of philosophy is not revelation, but that which we can know or infer about the world based on our natural capacities. It is a disciplined mode of inquiry
in that it seeks to make its method fitting to the subject matter in question.

Philosophy, like theology, is a human endeavor. This means that it takes place within the human realm of possibilities, and is subject to the boundaries of human language. In these ways, theology and philosophy are similar. They both take their methodological cues from their subject matter, and they both work within the boundaries of human language. The difference lies in their different "logics," but this is ultimately a function of their different subject matters since the logic of a discipline seeks to be fitting for the subject matter.

‘Christian’ Philosophy

(This is the tricky one and the one I'm not so sure about...)

Christian philosophy is a sub-set of philosophy, and not of theology. This means that it works with philosophical logic, and thus with the subject matter of philosophy. However, in distinction from ‘secular’ or ‘atheist’ philosophy, Christian philosophy operates within the framework of a confessional, Christian position. This means that, when it comes to the subject matter of philosophy, the Christian philosopher thinks in terms of what he has learned from theology. In other words, the Christian philosopher brings different presuppositions about the subject matter of philosophy to bear in the process of philosophical inquiry.

It must be remembered that the Christian philosopher is doing philosophy, but is attempting to do it ‘Christian-ly.’ This could be seen as an apologetic undertaking, but only in the sense that it is preaching in an entirely different mode. It is seeking to make ‘rational’ - within the confines of philosophical ‘logic’ - the claims of Christian theology.

Addendum 1

I in no way want to imply anything like a ‘hierarchy of sciences’ with this typology. It is my goal simply to set out the disparate tasks of these three sorts of intellectual work. And, I hope that it is clear that these three are intended to form a coherent whole even while maintaining particular distinctions. Theology benefits greatly from engagement from philosophy in that its use of language and human rationality is refined and, hopefully, made more serviceable for its own particular task. But, at the same time, God is ultimately beyond the limits of human rationality (much less fallen human rationality), and therefore theology is justified if it finds that it must resist philosophy on certain points. Christian philosophy seeks to translate the dogmatic claims of theology into a coherent philosophy. Thus, on the basis of confession of the Trinity, one undertaking Christian philosophy might develop a ‘Christian’ metaphysic. This metaphysic would not have dogmatic status, but it would none-the-less help theologians perceive weaknesses or strengths in Trinitarian doctrine.

Ultimately, however, those working in each of these three categories posses their own calling, and one should not try to change the other. This is especially true for the theologian and the Christian philosopher. Rather, these tasks should be carried out in conversation with each other, each seeking to learn from the others even if they all might need to resist the others at certain points on the basis of their subject matter and disciplined mode of enquiry.

Addendum 2

We can also talk about 'philosophical theology', which would be a philosophical exploration of topics associated with theology. I'm not quite sure what this would look like, but it is at least conceivable. Feel free to fill this bit in for me.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Karl Barth on Theology, Science and Philosophy

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1962), 3-5.
“Theology is one among those human undertakings traditionally described as ‘sciences.’ Not only the natural sciences are ‘sciences.’ Humanistic sciences also seek to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek, to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence. The word ‘theology’ seems to signify a special science, a very special science, whose task is to apprehend, understand, and speak of ‘God.’

But many things can be meant by the word ‘God.’ For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies. There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world view that is not dedicated to some such divinity. Every world view, even that disclosed in the Swiss and American national anthems, presupposes a divinity interpreted in one way or another and worshiped to some degree, whether wholeheartedly or superficially. There is no philosophy that is not to some extent also theology. Not only does this fact apply to philosophers who desire to affirm – or who, at least, are ready to admit – that divinity, in a positive sense, is the essence of truth and power of some kind of highest principle; but the same truth is valid even for thinkers denying such a divinity, for such a denial would in practice merely consist in transferring an identical dignity and function to another object. Such an alternative object might be ‘nature,’ creativity, or an unconscious amorphous will to life. It might also be ‘reason,’ progress, or even redeeming nothingness in which man would be destined to disappear. Even such apparently ‘godless’ ideologies are theologies.



The best theology (not to speak of the only right one) of the highest, or even the exclusively true and real, God would have the following distinction: it would prove itself – and in this regard Lessing was altogether right – by the demonstration of the Spirit and of its power. However, if it should hail and proclaim itself as such, it would by this very fact betray that it certainly is not the one true theology.”

Friday, April 20, 2007

Schleiermacher on the Mercy of God

Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (Edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart; New York, NY: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2006), §85.1: 353.

I post this not because I agree with it (in broad strokes, I don’t), but because part of it struck me as particularly well done. That is, I found myself in awe of the power of the author’s mind even as I disagreed with the content it produced. The argument is superb, even if the system presupposed is finally not convincing. I have included a few notes in []’s.
§ 85. To attribute mercy to God is more appropriate to the language of preaching and poetry than to that of dogmatic theology.

For one thing, preaching and poetry can afford to be less precise in their use of anthropopathic terms. And mercy is certainly such a term in a pre-eminent degree, since in the human sphere we apply it exclusively to a state of feeling specially evoked by the sufferings of others and finding outlet in acts of relief. Such helpful ministration is, no doubt, an ethical activity, but here it is conditioned by a sensuous sympathy, namely, the pain produced in us by hampered conditions in the lives of others; and, in fact, if the help tendered does not spring from such a feeling we do not call it mercy. In this sense mercy is the counterpart of ‘kindness,’ i.e. the helpfulness in which the correlative sensuous sympathy, namely, pleasure in some furtherance of life in the case of others, plays a part; and here, too, help given without such feeling behind it would not be called kindness. Thus neither of these qualities, as so understood, can be applied to God without our bringing Him under the antithesis of the agreeable and the disagreeable.
[N.B. – Bringing God under any sort of creaturely antithesis, like ‘the agreeable and the disagreeable,’ is a big mistake as far as Schleiermacher is concerned.]
And even if we were to overlook this and use the two terms solely of the respective acts of helpfulness, yet it would be out of keeping with the character of teleological (ethical) religions [Christianity being of this type] were we to admit, in a rigorously formulated system of doctrine, a divine causality bent upon a sensuous furtherance of life simply as such. Nor can the difficulty of finding a place for the conception of mercy in God be due to our looking for it at this particular stage of our inquiry. For, as mercy obviously presupposes evil and the consciousness of evil, the discussion of it could not well come before that of evil; while, again, as mercy always implies some degree of separateness between the two parties involved – for within a closer group, as between father and children, we do not speak of mercy – the objects of God’s mercy cannot be those who are already enjoying, and in so far as they are enjoying, their part in redemption.
[The power of this last sentence can be missed if one does not know that the consciousness of evil and sin for Schleiermacher arises only in connection with the consciousness of redemption. So, we can talk about mercy only if we are already conscious of evil, and we can talk about evil only if we are conscious of redemption, but mercy is not properly discussed with reference to redemption because mercy implies a separateness between God and humanity that is not present within redemption. Thus, with two masterful sword-strokes, Schleiermacher cuts away any possibility of speaking of God’s mercy, at least within his system.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.13-16

1 Peter 2.13-16

[13] Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, [14] or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. [15] For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish. [16] Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

==========================

COMMENTARY:

The material in Calvin’s comment on these verses can be divided easily into two themes, the former being dominant and the latter appearing toward the end: civil government and Christian freedom.

Civil Government

Calvin’s teaching on civil government was the biggest hang-up that I had when I first began studying his theology a few years ago. But, as I have studied his understanding further, my worries have been largely set aside. This is not a wholesale endorsement, and there are ways to go about framing these questions in different ways than Calvin does, but no one should simply bypass Calvin’s position on these matters.

The heart of Calvin’s position is that “obedience is due to all who rule, because they have been raised to that honour not by chance, but by God’s providence.” Most people are generally fine with this as far as it goes, but a question soon arises: “What about when the ruler is ‘evil’ to greater or lesser degrees?” This is where Calvin’s position gets uncomfortable for most people (especially for Americans and our national pride in wanting to defend the rectitude of the political and military rebellion that established our independent existence). He affirms that “government established by God ought to be so highly valued by us, as to honour even tyrants when in power.”

Aside from the argument from God’s providence, Calvin offers one very practical reason for this affirmation, namely, that “some kind of government, however deformed and corrupt it may be, is still better and more beneficial than anarchy.” For Calvin, the very existence of government is a restraint for sin precisely because it involves the imposition of order (even if a vastly deformed order) on what would otherwise be the self-serving chaos of sin.

This brings us to an interesting twist in Calvin’s treatment of this passage. While the TNIV tells us to submit ourselves to “every human authority,” Calvin translates this as submission to “every ordinance of man.” This could be taken in two ways. First, it could refer to all laws made by human beings. This could become problematic if laws are made forbidding the proper worship of God. Calvin certainly does not want to say that we are to submit our freedom of conscience to laws made by human beings. Luckily, he does not have to go in that direction, because he has another way of interpreting this passage. Second, this phrase could refer to the “mode of living, well arranged and duly ordered…peculiar to men.” That is, this phrase refers to the order established by God for the purpose of the flourishing of human society. This, I would argue, is at the heart of why Calvin prefers government to anarchy.

But, enough digression. What of Calvin’s affirmation that we should obey even tyrannical governments? There are no outs for us in Calvin’s comment on this passage, but there is one in his treatment in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. After Calvin goes through his discussion of the need to obey and honor even tyrants, he adds this vital paragraph (this is the second to last paragraph in Book 4, and thus in the entire Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.20.31):
“I am speaking all the while of private individuals. For if there are now any magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings…I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dissimulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance.”
That is, lesser magistrates may and must stand up to more powerful magistrates, or, lesser nobility may and must stand up to the higher levels of nobility, or, one branch of government may and must stand up to another branch of government. What this boils down to is that, although we must obey even tyrants, we are also morally obligated to resist those same tyrants by any and all lawful means. We can't be sure, but I imagine that Calvin might (on a good day) include unlawful but non-violent means as well.

Christian Freedom

I have written about freedom in the past. Calvin takes it up at the end of him comments on this passage. His position is somewhat dialectic: “those are free who serve God”, and “it is a free servitude, and a serving freedom.” The freedom that comes with being a Christian is not a freedom to be arbitrarily self-seeking. Rather, it is freedom from sin and for obedience to God and love of the neighbor. This requires that we exercise moderation, an important theme in Calvin’s treatment of this subject in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.19). As Calvin concludes in this section of his commentary:
“[I]ndeed, our consciences become free; but this prevents us not to serve God, who requires us also to be subject to men.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

McCormack on the Targets of Barth’s 'Romans I'

Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development, 1909-1936 (Oxford: Clarendon, 2004), 140-141.
The targets of Barth’s criticism in Romans I were many and varied. They fell into four major groups: 1. Liberalism – Pietism (i.e. historicism and psychologism – the stress on historical investigation or religious experience as the ground of theology); 2. Idealistic epistemology and ethics; 3. the “Positives” (churchly Christianity or “religion”); and 4. Religious Socialism (center especially in the person of Leonhard Ragaz, though criticism of Hermann Kutter could also be found).

If there is a common thread which joins these four (in the details, quite different) movements, it is the element of individualism. Barth’s new theology represented an assault on a central feature of late nineteenth-century bourgeois culture: the understanding of the human individual as the creative subject of culture and history (and even of her own being and worth). Against the divisive individualism which had given rise to class warfare and world war, Barth posited a divine “universalism”: the God who is complete and whole in Himself prior to all knowledge of Him stands over against the whole of so-called “reality” judging it, condemning all so that He might elect all. Barth’s new theology was fundamentally anti-bourgeois in this sense: in stressing (as he did in Romans I that God and the knowledge of God are never the secure possession of human beings (but must be received anew in each moment), Barth was at the same time attacking a religion which had assimilated itself to the needs of idealistically construed cultural development; a religion which prided itself on being the animating principle for that development. He was attacking a religion which provided bourgeois culture with perhaps its most crucial ideological support.

Monday, April 16, 2007

“Is the Reformation Over?” by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom

Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).

Sounds like a good question, doesn’t it? This is certainly a question that must be asked with some regularity. Of course, we also have to ask more strictly theological questions such as ‘What would it mean for the Reformation to be over?’ and ‘What was the point of the Reformation?’ But, I don’t intend to undertake that extensive task here! What I do intend to do is give you the shape of this volume and then reflect upon it a little bit.

The Book’s Shape
  • Introduction

  • The introduction is primarily composed of anecdotes and statistics, precisely the stuff that interesting social history treatments are made of. The focus is on similarities in piety and culture between contemporary evangelicals and Catholics. This focus on shared piety / culture seemed to set the stage for the whole volume.

  • Chapter 1: Things Are Not the Way They Used to Be

  • The focus on this chapter was on cooperation between Catholics and evangelicals, with Billy Graham as the flagship example. Evangelical respect for Pope John Paul II, as well as cross-pollination in contemporary Christian music and the Vatican’s (limited) endorsement of the ‘Alpha’ course, are brought forward. It is further noted that many of the anathema’s of the Reformation have been set-aside.

  • Chapter 2: Historic Standoff

  • An introductory history of the Reformation is offered, and contemporary communication and cooperation are emphasized. The Council of Regensberg (1541) is brought up, about which we will have more to say later.

  • Chapter 3: Why Did Things Change?

  • Vatican 2 is the superstar here, and it shows us that the Roman Catholic church can change (about which we will have more to say later). Furthermore, the Roman Catholic church is not a monolith, even though they all share fellowship with the pope (about which we will have more to say later). The ‘Joint Declaration’ is discussed (about which we will have more to say later), and the pentecostal / charismatic movements are show to blur boundaries.

  • Chapter 4: Ecumenical Dialogues

  • The ‘Joint Declaration’ comes up again, as do many other of the Roman Catholic church’s ecumenical dialogues. Indeed, this chapter is a helpful index for these activities. Particular issues are discussed in terms of agreement and disagreement.

  • Chapter 5: The Catholic Catechism

  • The content of the official Catholic catechism is discussed in terms of agreement and disagreement. The authors, while recognizing differences in teaching on salvation, think that both sides accept that we are saved “by grace through faith” (142), about which we will have something to say below in our discussion of the ‘Joint Declaration’.

  • Chapter 6: Evangelicals and Catholics Together

  • Here we find primarily historical discussion of the ecumenical discussions between evangelicals and Catholics. This chapter lays the foundation for the following two, so read it well.

  • Chapter 7: Reactions from Antagonism to Conversion

  • Critics and supporters of the discussions previewed in the previous chapter are discussed, as are their arguments, etc. The chapter ends with short biographical vignettes of some evangelicals / protestants who have converted, with some discussion as to why they converted. This last bit is interesting reading.

  • Chapter 8: An American Assessment

  • This chapter is something of a continuation of the previous and deals with issues specific to the American context. Topics such as the recent Catholic sex scandals are discussed.

  • Chapter 9: Is the Reformation Over?

  • I want to say a little more about this chapter. While this should have been the payoff chapter, instead it proved to be the most frustrating. Why? Because the authors provide no answer to the title question of the volume. The reader is taken along in an enjoyable (because of all the anecdotes and stories), informative (because of all the historical discussion), and fair-minded exploration of the question only to be left at the end without an answer. Or, to form their own answer, the author’s might counter. What we are left with is an admonition: “Look around. Listen. It is happening right before our eyes and ears” (251), ‘it’ being the process of communication and cooperation that will eventually (God willing!) lead back to church unity. But, this raises a very important question…

  • Further Reading

  • This chapter is a particularly helpful resource and highlights the volume's usefulness as a guide to the various ecumenical discussions.


Reflections

(1) This volume was, from the beginning, set up in such a way as to make cultural / social and pietistic issues primary, and doctrinal issues secondary (although I do not wish to imply that doctrinal issues were not discussed or were not discussed well – much to the contrary). The sum of this book’s argument seems to be: “Catholics and Protestants used to hate each other. Now, not so much. Heck, we can even get along. Some of our side (Protestant) have switched over to their side. We’re not really that different. We agree on a lot of things, and are those other things really that important? Why don’t we try to get to know each other better? Who knows where this relationship might go!” I know that I’m over-simplifying, but this seems to be the dominant strand. And this strand is fine so far as it goes. I am perfectly happy to treat Catholics like brothers and sisters in Christ, I am happy to partner with them in ministry, etc. But all this means is that history has progressed to such a point that we are all willing to be nicer to each other. It does not imply that the Reformation is approaching the end of its course. In other words, what about doctrine?

(2) The authors discuss the Council of Regensberg of 1541, but they don’t get a couple things exactly right. They rightly note that Calvin was there, and thought it remarkable that the Catholics conceded as much as they did, but the authors didn’t mention that after Regensberg Calvin basically lost all hope of reunion with Rome. Why? Because both the Pope and Luther rejected the results (the authors fail to mention this). Furthermore, the Catholics involved in the discussion weren’t representative. Rather, they were very reform-minded Catholics (Contarini, for instance, who was well known for his work toward reform from within the Catholic system). And, this leads us to questions about the Roman Catholic church.

(3) We are told by the authors that the Roman church can and has changed. This is true in a lot of ways. Certainly aspects of medieval piety have been surpassed and, since Vatican 2, doctrine much more acceptable to Protestants has been introduced into the Catholic teaching (cf. the Catholic catechism). But, in what sense does the Roman church ‘change’? The answer: by augmentation. Once a particular teaching is affirmed by a council or by other due process of the magisterium, or even once it has been common belief for a significant period of time, the Roman church cannot jettison it. It can explain things in very interesting and imaginative ways. It can ignore things. But they cannot be ‘deleted’, as it were. They can only be ‘burried’ under new statements and formulations. You can see this for instance in the discussion of ‘real presence’ in the eucharist in the Catholic catechism (1994). You get this really nice discussion, but then at the end you find all the Tridentine stuff. It’s still there (they can’t get rid of it!), but it’s buried. Indeed, the subtitle of this volume concerns itself with ‘Contemporary Roman Catholicism’, something that may exist from a social / historical perspective (‘contemporary’ is a temporal category after all), but doesn’t fit well with theology that takes the communion of the saints and the Christian tradition as seriously as does Rome.

(4) The authors tell us that the Roman church is not a monolith, even though they all share fellowship with Rome. But, what seems to slip through the cracks is that fellowship with Rome is constitutive of being part of the true church for Catholics. Sure, since Vatican 2 they have been willing to talk about the rest of us as ‘separated brethren’, but fellowship with Rome is still the decisive point in their ecclesiology.

(5) The ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’, a product of Lutheran / Catholic ecumenical talks (accepted in 1999 if I recall properly) is mentioned with some regularity, and assertions are made concerning the congruence of Protestant and Catholic belief on salvation. What we think on this point is central, as the authors point out, because: “If…both groups can agree (as they appear to) that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, evangelicals and Catholics can welcome each other as brothers and sisters of the family created by God’s grace, regardless of whatever else either may want to say” (142). Now, I am perfectly willing to admit the possibility that there are Catholics (and probably even the Catholics involved in discussions with evangelicals) who do think of salvation in more Reformational modes. And, perhaps even the official Catholic teaching of the present day (cf. point #3 above) can be interpreted this way, but is it actually the case that there is agreement? I am not convinced that there is agreement. My study of the ‘Joint Declaration’ has led me to largely discount it as significant basis for agreement. Perhaps I’ll post about that at some point.

(6) Though I won’t elaborate here, I think that the Marian dogmas and the Roman ecclesiology are much more important barriers to any sort of official communion with Rome than the authors seem to believe. These points come up and are discussed as barriers, but I would want to press these things much more strongly.

In conclusion, I want to be perfectly clear that I have the utmost respect for Mark Noll. As a Wheaton alumnus, Noll’s life and work has influenced my own through personal, institution, and intellectual avenues. But, I don’t think the Reformation is anywhere near over. And no amount of liturgical cross-pollination or singing of Michael Talbot songs is going to make me change my mind. Do I think that we could achieve eucharistic sharing in the near future? It is possible. But, you won’t find me converting.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Top Theology Blogs on UnSpun

Dear readers and follow theo-bloggers,

I am writing to call your attention to a new social networking tool offered by our friends over at Amazon. This service is called ‘UnSpun’ and it allows you to make lists of things and then rank them. Anyone with an amazon.com account can create a list, and anyone can edit someone else’s list and submit his or her own rankings. Those items with more votes float toward the surface, and those with fewer sink toward the bottom.

In any case, the real point for this post is to let you all know that I have created a Top Theology Blogs list, and I invite you all to head over and vote for your favorite theo-blogs. Be sure to add any blogs that are not yet included but deserve to be (I started with the first 10 blogs that came to my mind, and I know that I forgot many deserving ones).

Note: While you may be tempted to vote using the up and down arrows on the left side of each entry in the list, the most effective way is to switch from ‘community ranking’ to ‘your ranking’ (beneath the list title toward the top left) and to order all the entries entirely as you would if it was your own personal list. This ordering is then factored in with the orders of others.

Enjoy!


Digg!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shane Wilkins on whether it is provable that God exists

The below was posted by my philosopher friend, Shane Wilkins, in the course of comments on a recent post by my friend and collegue David Congdon. Get the original post and the comment thread here. It seemed to me that Shane's comment was too rigorous for me to allow it to languish somewhere in a comments thread, so I asked his permission to give it a permanent home here at DET. It deals with, among other things; proving the existence of God, natural theology, Barth and Thomas. And so, without further ado, I give you Shane Wilkins on 'whether it is provable that God exists.'



Thanks to Chris, David and KF for interesting responses. I think there may be a bit of confusion regarding what precisely I am saying, so I'll give it another go. I'm not so worried about Barth at the moment, so if someone tells me I've misunderstood him, that's fine. I'm more concerned with a constructive case I'm trying to make.

The first thing I want to point out is the difference between a proposition "p" and the proposition "p is provable".
There are four possible relations between "provable" and "p":

1. "p" is true and provably true.
2. "p" is true but not-provably true.
3. "p" is false and provably false.
4. "p" is false but no-provably false.

(establishing 2 and 4 in the logical language of arithmetic is the goal of Gödel's Second Incompleteness theorem. NB: if p is provable, then it is true and if p is disprovable then it is false.)

Now, let's take the proposition "God exists". It is necessary in order for a person to be a Christian that believe this proposition is true. But note that I am not saying that one must believe that this proposition is provable to be true to be a Christian. So you can affirm "God exists" according to either (1) or (2) above.

But is it provable or disprovable that God exists? (Pace Chris we aren't talking about pragmatics here, because we are just assuming that if there is a true argument demonstrating the existence of God, then it will be successful in the pragmatic sense, but its truth doesn't come from the fact that it is persuasive to people, rather the other way around.) All I can say is that it is clear that nobody has put forward a completely successful proof or disproof of God's existences in the 2500 odd years of philosophical reflection, although there are certainly some very suggestive results in both directions. A pessimist might take this problem as insoluble just because of its longevity, but that's just the coward's way out. "Everything fine is difficult" as the Greeks say and certainly the history of mathematics tells us of
"http://mathworld.wolfram.com/GeometricProblemsofAntiquity.html">seemingly insoluble problems
which are somehow resolved centuries after they are proposed.

Of course, as David rightly points out, this all depends on what we mean by "God" (and this also bears on the meaning of the term 'natural theology'). Now I take 'natural theology' to mean that subsection of metaphysics which investigates God rationally. It is this mode of investigation which distinguishes natural theology from revealed theology where God is investigated on the basis of supernatural revelation. David says that whatever a natural theologian might prove about God can have no purchase on the God of Jesus Christ. This response attempts to draw a divide between philosophy and theology, leaving the secular pursuit of philosophy intact, but denying its significance for (revealed) theology.

My disagreement comes back to the definition of "God" in the proposition "God exists". I take "God" to point to an infinite, perfect, necessarily existent being who is simple, good, omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, benevolent, impassible, etc.

Now suppose (just for the sake of argument) that I create an argument that proves such a being to exist. From this I can prove that there is exactly one such being.

(A perfect being must possess all attributes that would make it good and must possess no attributes that would make it bad. It is impossible to suppose that two such beings exist because there could be no attribute which they would not share. If perfect-being-1 possessed A and A is a perfection that perfect-being-2 lacks, then perfect-being-2 is not perfect, contrary to our assumption. Therefore, by the identity of indiscernables there is at most one perfect being. This argument is blatantly stolen from Thomas.)

If I have proven logically that there exists at most one perfect being and that such a being actually does exist, then I am talking about the only God who exists whom I also believe the basis of revelation to be incarnate in Christ. It is the same God who is spoken of in both my logical argument and the creeds of the church.

What value does natural theology have for revealed theology? Well the proof of the pudding is in the eating. To really answer this question, you'd have to spend a lot of time looking at dogmatic theologians who were also natural theologians and trying to sift out where the ideas came from and how they are interrelated in his work. My suspicion is that you aren't going to find anybody on this side of the enlightenment who has engaged in this kind of enterprise, so it may be that we need to make a retrieval of some parts of the pre-critical Christian heritage to find out how to do this well. So I think we in the 21st century still have a lot of work to do before we can really try to answer this question well.

Now, to respond to Kim, I don't think we ought to postulate a God of the gaps, but the problem with the "god of the gaps" idea is that it presupposes that science is limitless, boundless, will eventually explain everything that is in need of explanation, etc. The danger of the god of the gaps strategy is that your gaps threaten to shrink. But, I am convinced that there are significant "gaps" which empirical science can never penetrate. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" If a guy in a labcoat tells you he has a solution to that question, slap him and tell him to get back to his test-tubes. God is a good solution to that problem and we don't need to worry about science somehow providing a superior explanation in the future.

Now, with regard to Thomas. I simply cannot see what Rogers can mean. Thomas believes that the existence of God (with a big G) can be proven a posteriori through creatures (ST 1a, q. 2, a. 1). I find it hard to believe that Thomas would say that only a believer could know that God exists because each of his "five ways" are taken from a passage in Aristotle. (Argument from motion in Physics VIII, also look at the Metaphysics XII). I just don't see any harmony between Thomas and Barth on this point.

Now it is true that Thomas thinks that all knowledge we have comes by grace to some extent, but this is also clearly different from what Barth would say. Perhaps Rogers means that nobody could learn God's existence for Thomas apart from natural grace, but I'm not sure what the point of saying such a thing would be. And it seems clear to me that Barth would be tremendously unhappy with people learning things about God from creatures on the basis of natural grace.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Links: Stuff worth knowing about

I usually don’t post collections of links, preferring instead to use the nifty widget in the right sidebar to let people know about the good stuff floating around the blogosphere at any given time. But, there is quite a lot of good stuff out there right now and I thought it warranted a link post. So, here is a list of some of the best and / or most interesting stuff in the blogosphere at the moment, at least as far as I am concerned.
  • My friend and colleague David Congdon has posted an excellent reflection on Christ’s cry of dereliction / abandonment. Read it here.

  • Richard over at ‘Experimental Theology’ has great post up on Ironic Christians and Wry Prophets, wherein he thinks about the place of irony in the church.

  • Michael over at ‘InternetMonk’ has two posts on ‘Stupid Evangelical Tricks’ that are well worth looking at. Post 1, Post 2.

  • There are two posts worth noting over at ‘Sub Ratione Dei’ as well. The first discusses Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Introduction to Systematic Theology, and the second is a review of Dan Gilgoff’s, The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War.

  • Darren has a nice little post up on creatio ex nihilo over at 'Historical Theology' - read it here.

  • Keith DeRose gives us a lengthy piece on post-modernism, and 111 comments have attached themselves to this material.

  • Macht over at 'Prosthesis' has put up 7 propositions on rationality that are definately worth looking at.

  • Michael over at 'Intellectus Fidei' gives us a nice Easter reflection on the Ressurection that deals with faith and fact, etc.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.5

Fifth Question: The Unity of the Church – In what sense may the church be called one?

As far as I can tell, this is a short section by Turretin’s standards (3 pages). Having already put in place much of his ecclesiological groundwork, he is able to move through this material swiftly with the help of his distinctions. As we saw earlier, one of these distinctions is the difference between the internal and external conditions or states of the church, that is, the distinction between the invisible church made up of all the elect who have also been called in time and the visible church made up not only by these but also any elect but not yet called and reprobate that happen to be mixed in as well. In his discussion of the unity of the church, Turretin is clear that he is dealing with the church conceived internally / invisibly. Thus, we are dealing not with “accidental unity” but with “essential unity” (p. 27).

There are six categories of internal unity, which Turretin understands to flow together but to be logically ordered in the following way: (1) unity of body, (2) unity of head, (3) unity of spirit, (4) unity of faith, (5) unity of love, and (6) unity of hope. These unities are rather self-explanatory, and Turretin treats them briefly with reference to certain key scriptural passages. One point of interest is the polemic edge of #2, where Turretin points out that because Christ is the head of the body / church, it needs no other head as “do the Romanists pretend here” (p. 28) with reference to the Pope.

A few extra points are tacked onto the end. The first of these has to do with baptism, which – like the church – can be understood internally or externally. The former is part of the unity of the invisible church while the latter is part of the visible church. Turretin also notes that though there are many different churches spread throughout the world, this does not undermine their internal unity because this unity is based on the unity of God.

Finally, I want to be sure to point out that Turretin concludes with this ethical exhortation, which reveals to us that even the most scholastic of theology bear practical freight: “Moreover, these various species of unity which occur in the church are so many effectual arguments for believers to cherish among themselves love and concord and to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (p. 29).

Friday, April 06, 2007

John Calvin on the Decalogue

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Library of Christian Classics, vols. 20-21; McNeill / Battles; Westminster, 1960), 2.8.3.
“First, by comparing the righteousness of the law with our life, we learn how far we are from conforming to God’s will. And for this reason we are unworthy to hold our place among his creatures – still less to be accounted his children. Secondly, in considering our powers, we learn that they are not only too weak to fulfill the law, but utterly nonexistent. From this necessarily follows mistrust of our own virtue, then anxiety and trepidation of mind. For the conscience cannot bear the weight of iniquity without soon coming before God’s judgment. Truly, God’s judgment cannot be felt without evoking the dread of death. So also, constrained by the proofs of its impotence, conscience cannot but fall straightaway into deep despair of its own powers. Both these emotions engender humility and self-abasement. Thus it finally comes to pass that man, thoroughly frightened by the awareness of eternal death, which he sees as justly threatening him because of his own unrighteousness, betakes himself to God’s mercy alone, as the only haven of safety. Thus, realizing that he does not possess the ability to pay to the law what he owes, and despairing in himself, he is moved to seek and await help from another quarter.”
This is the kind of passage that some people would point to in an attempt to indict Calvin’s teaching as being psychological damaging. The emphasis on guilt and human depravity, they might claim, is akin to psychological abuse. God, they might assert, loves us and is interested in our flourishing, not in our being damaged by such obviously unbalanced theologians.

Suffice it to say that I think that this line of argument is unhelpful, and I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, as can be seen above, the emphasis on guilt and human depravity is not an end in itself, but is ordered toward salvation and God’s mercy. It is true that God is interested in our flourishing because God loves us. But it is no less true that in our sinful state, we are unable to truly flourish unless we recognize our unrighteousness and find salvation in God’s mercy as given to us in Christ.

On this note, may you all enjoy a blessed Easter as we celebrate Jesus Christ, on whom God's judgment fell once and for all, so that we might be reconciled to God in Christ.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Barth and Romanticism and the Enlightenment

Karl Barth, Protestant Theology and the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 327.

“Romanticism was not the most profound, the most radical or the most mature form of the great intellectual movement which fulfilled and surpassed the Enlightenment and the eighteenth century generally, and established the typical way of thinking of the nineteenth century. Not the most profound: this was in all likelihood the philosophy of Kant. Not the most radical, which we shall come to discover in Hegel. Not the most mature, which we should have to recognize in the wisdom of life of the one and only Goethe. But of all these forms of that great intellectual movement Romanticism probably expressed this movement in its most characteristic and representative form; that in which the general trend was clearly apparent. Nowhere, probably, were the final aims of the Enlightenment expressed in a form so plastic as to tend almost to caricature, as in this most angry and most thoroughgoing of all the protests against it. And nowhere was the secret of the man of the dawning nineteenth century, of his strength and weakness, of his greatness and of his faults expressed in so plastic a form as to be almost a caricature, as in this very part-manifestation of the great eruption which was establishing the new basis, this manifestation which, after flaring up briefly, was itself in its turn dispatched and extinguished. It was dispatched and extinguished with even greater fury and derision than that which Romanticism itself had once imagined it could dispatch and extinguish the Enlightenment.”

Monday, April 02, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.11-12

1 Peter 2.11-12

[11] Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. [12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

==========================

COMMENTARY:

I should begin by admitting that this is, in my opinion, one of the more powerful passages in the New Testament. At some existential level, this simply rings true. It also rings true throughout history. It was the morality of Christians that gained the church admirers in the years before Constantine, and it was much the same for Judaism before that (well, morality and antiquity in this case). The various Reformers were appalled by the general lack of morality among the Roman church, and the strict exercise of church discipline by the Reformed produced a morality that withstood hostile regimes before it was undermined by modernity. Even in the present day, people respect the simple morality of the Amish and various other Christian sects.

Should this surprise us? Not in light of the passage before us. For in this passage we find the suggestion that the life of Christian morality may in fact be sacramental in the sense that it bear physical witness to the Gospel. On the basis of our lives live in ethical witness and response to the Gospel, people may be drawn to and glorify God. Maybe we should worry less about clever worship styles and more about the shape of our lives before God and the world. Just a thought…

But, enough of my pontificating and on to Calvin. Like last time, his comments on these verses are very short. Nevertheless, we’ll hit two points: Guests and Lusts, and God is Coming for a Visit.

Guests and Lusts

Calvin, following Peter, notes that we are strangers, aliens or guests in this world. But, what does this mean? Calvin does not offer us an explanation for “what” but does answer the question of “why.” Peter says this – because when we recognize that we are just guests here, we aren’t tempted by the lusts of the flesh. This is kind of the difference between moving to a different country and visiting a different country. In the first instance, one feels somewhat obliged to become a part of the local culture, eating their food, wearing their clothing, learning their language, etc. When visiting, one really just wants to take care of what you have come to take care of, even if that means sampling the food, buying a few articles of clothing, learning a few phrases in the local language, etc. Even if the motivation for our trip is the other culture, we are not interested in becoming a part of the other culture.

Thus, that we are guests in this world means that we should not be interested in becoming part of this world, even if we are passing through and some of the lingo is helpful, etc.

We need to add another dimension to this. We are not told that we are guests in this world to discourage us from participating in the salutary aspects of this world, only the detrimental. Think again of our analogy of visiting another country. Knowing that we are guests or visitors does not mean that we cannot enjoy the local food, etc. We should just beware of the local vices. Furthermore, we know that – to stretch out analogy even further – if we eat the local food, we are going to need to drink the local drink that best compliments the food. However, we soon discover that both the food and the drink in excess leads to addiction or some other malady. In fact, this is a malady that afflicts the local population. If we were part of the local population, we would surely also be afflicted. But, we are not. We have the choice to moderate our consumption. And, low and behold, moderate consumption of the food and drink in question turns out to be salutary not only to our health but also to our state of mind.

What I’ve been trying to get at with all this is that Calvin is not against physical existence. He rather likes it as witness by both his love of fine wine and his adamant defense of the freedom of a Christian in the moderate use of God’s creation – not only utility use but use tied to enjoyment. This is acceptable for Calvin, as long as the use of the particular thing in question is not ruled out by Scripture and as long as that use is “indifferent.” That is, even though we enjoy our fine wine, we could stop drinking it should the love of God and our neighbor necessitate it for a time. I offer the following from Calvin’s comment:
“By the lusts or desires of the flesh he means not only those gross concupiscences which we have in common with animals…but also all those sinful passions and affections of the soul, to which we are by nature guided and led. For it is certain that ever thought of the flesh, that is, of unrenewed nature, is enmity against God.”
The key here is that we aren’t talking about nature as creation, but nature as fallen. Sure, our sexual desire was good in its created form. Now, not so much. It is still good, but it is also polluted. And we are to guard ourselves against that pollution because that pollution is part of the fallen world, a world in which we are only guests.

God is Coming for a Visit

I’ve run off at the mouth (keyboard) for long enough now, but I wanted to through this in because it pricks my interest. Calvin interprets God’s visit to us not eschatologically, but in terms of conversion. He writes,
“I know that some refer this to the last coming of Christ; but I take it otherwise, even that God employs the holy and honest life of his people, as a preparation, to bring back the wandering to the right way. For it is the beginning of our conversion, when God is pleased to look on us with a paternal eye; but when his face is turned away from us, we perish. Hence the day of visitation may justly be said to be the time when he invites us to himself.”