Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TF Torrance: The Difference Between University and School

Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Frame of Mind: Reason, order, and openness in theology and natural science (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 129.
"The fundamental ethos of a university is different from that of a school. In a school, instruction and learning are the prime functions of teacher and pupil, and the objective is some prescribed standard level of knowledge and competence in various subjects. In a university, on the other hand, all this plays only a subsidiary role, for the prime task of students is to engage in inquiry, and to learn as they pursue their inquiry under the ultimate authority not of the university teachers but of the truth itself. Correspondingly, the university lecturer is not an exalted schoolteacher but a thinker and researcher to whom the student is, as it were, apprenticed in academic and scientific inquiry."
Given TFT's distinction between university and school, where might we place and MDiv program at a seminary? My reflex would be to locate it more under school than under university, because - as a professional degree - it is primarily concerned with certain competency levels. But, I'm worried that such an approach to theological education could stifle the joy and excitement that comes with the study of God and his works, and so I am sympathetic to the university paradigm as well. In any case, this goes to show the difficulty involved in developing a coherent account of what a Seminary is.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thomas Aquinas and Apologetics

Consider this passage from the Summa Theologica - I.q1.art8:
As other sciences do not argue in proof of their principles, but argue from their principles to demonstrate other truths in these sciences: so this doctrine [theology] does not argue in proof of its principles, which are the articles of faith, but from them it goes on to prove something else; as the Apostle from the resurrection of Christ argues in proof of the general resurrection (1 Cor. 15)…Sacred Scripture…can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation…If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections---if he has any---against faith…[S]acred doctrine makes use even of human reason, not, indeed, to prove faith (for thereby the merit of faith would come to an end), but to make clear other things that are put forward in this doctrine.
Here is a question for my more-or-less Barthian friends and colleagues: How do you think this matches up with Barth’s own position vis-à-vis natural theology and apologetics?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Another Academic Year Dawns at PTS, but…

I will be participating today in the beginning of my 5th year here at PTS. When I was thinking about writing this post a few weeks ago, I began reflecting on what I might say about my experience here at PTS and the prospect of going into my last academic year of course work. But, then my son Connor decided that he wanted to be born two weeks early, and got my wife and I out of bed far too early last Wednesday morning. For anyone who might be wondering, we haven’t really gotten back since! All in all, being a dad is fun and exciting. It does, however, significantly diminish one’s willingness to put in the long hours reading, writing, and thinking that the academic year demands…

So, another academic year dawns here at PTS, but it is far from the first thing on my mind in the morning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Primer on the "Church Dogmatics"

David Guretzki of Briercrest College and Seminary, and who supplied an after-dinner talk at the 2007 Barth Conference here in Princeton, has written (and made available on his blog) something of an introduction to Barth's Church Dogmatics for those who are approaching it for the first time. Having glanced over it, I recommend it to anyone who wants to get started with Barth as it highlights and culls from the secondary sources some important aspects of Barth's thought and what he is up to in the CD.

You can download the .pdf at David's blog. I have also updated my own So, You Want To Read Karl Barth? post with a link to this resource.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 5.1-4

1 Peter 5.1-4

[1] To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: [2] Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; [3] not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

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COMMENTARY: As we begin this fifth and final chapter, we are confronted with some instruction regarding the proper execution of ecclesial polity. Before getting to the actual commentary, Calvin opens with a quick schematic to cover what is going on in these verse, and it is worth quoting in full for no other reason than to make it available for those engaged in ministry (and myself, though concerned only with the ministry of theological endeavor):
“In exhorting pastors to their duty, [Peter] points out especially three vices which are found to prevail much, even sloth, desire of gain, and lust for power. In opposition to the first vice he sets alacrity or a willing attention; to the second, liberality; to the third, moderation and meekness, by which they are to keep themselves in their own rank or station” (142).
For the sake of making some comment about this quote, I have to wonder why Calvin didn’t simply call the second vice “greed,” and the third “vainglory” or “pride.” This would more nearly approximate the traditional ‘7 Deadly Sins’ categorization. Indeed, Calvin’s remedies here match up well with those 7 virtues meant to counteract the 7 sins.

After giving us this schema, Calvin moves right into a point that I think could stand to be made forcefully in today’s context: “pastors ought not to exercise care over the flock of the Lord, as far only as they are constrained; for they who seek to do no more than what constraint compels them, do their work formally and negligently” (ibid). In the Reformed tradition, the term ‘pastor’ encompasses not only professional ministers but also elders – as Calvin notes with reference to verse 1: “By [the term ‘elders’ Peter] designates pastors and all those who are appointed for the government of the Church” (143). I don’t know about the experience of others, but I have seen many lay leaders in churches who serve simply because the bylaws stipulate that somebody has to, and who exhibit far too little devotion to their calling. This may not be readily apparent, nor may it represent the self-understanding of those in question, but it is always a danger lurking around the bend. Peter helpfully points it out, and Calvin highlights it.

Now, also with reference to verse 1, Calvin points out that Peter calls himself an elder, establishing a collegial bond as the basis of authority by which to admonish his readers. “But,” Calvin says with one eye glancing toward Rome,
“if he had the right of primacy he would have claimed it; and this would have been most suitable on the present occasion. But though he was an Apostle, he yet knew that authority was by no means delegated to him over his colleagues, but that on the contrary he was joined with the rest in the participation of the same office” (143-4).
With his eye similarly towards Rome, Calvin a little later affirms that the reference in verse 2 to “watching over” (in the TNIV above) or “taking oversight” (in Calvin’s text) is the establishment “the office and title of the episcopate” (145; the Greek term in question is episkopountes). And yet, he draws from the present context and alludes vaguely to other biblical passages, “bishop and presbyter are synonymous” (ibid).

Sticking with verse 2, those who exercise care over the church are told to “Be shepherds of God’s flock,” according to the above TNIV. This is a correct render of the Greek verb here – poimaino, which has as its sense to do that which a shepherd does. Clearly, one of the things that a shepherd does is to feed the animals under his care, and that is how Calvin takes this verb – “Feed the flock of God…” It seems that this interpretation pre-dates Calvin since he is quick to point out that the feeding in question has nothing to do with a sacrificial mass. Rather, “the flock of Christ cannot be fed except with pure doctrine, which is alone our spiritual food” (144) – for those who have ears to hear, John 6 – oft taken as support for transubstantiation – comes to mind, and I can only assume that Calvin is purposefully alluding to it here.

Finally, I will conclude as Peter does – with Christ – and with Calvin’s discussion of the matter:
“It ought also to be observed, that [Peter] calls Christ the chief Pastor; for we are to rule the Church under him and in his name, in no other way but that he should be still really the Pastor. So the word chief here does not only mean the principal, but him whose power all others ought to submit to, as they do not represent him except according to his command and authority” (146-7).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 4.17-9

1 Peter 4.17-19

[17] …and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? [18] And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”* [19] So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

*Proverbs 11.31 (see Septuagint)

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COMMENTARY: In the comments to the last installment of this series, the question was raised as to whether Calvin supports temporal happiness for Christians as opposed to exclusively eternal happiness. Calvin is dancing around this issue throughout the two and a half pages that make up his comments on these few verses.

At first it looks like he will land on the eternal side. The faithful see that the wicked prosper and are distraught by this because “present happiness is what all desire” (140). But this ought not ultimately vex the faithful because God is the judge of the world and the wicked will get their comeuppance: “The design of what [Peter] says…is to shew that the children of God should not faint under the bitterness of present evils, but that they ought, on the contrary, clmly to bear their afflictions for a short time, as the issue will be salvation, while the ungodly will have to exchange a fading and fleeting prosperity for eternal perdition” (ibid).

Now, that long quote sounds like a textbook statement of the eternal happiness position – the point is salvation in the hereafter to don’t worry about the crap you go through now. But, it also contains the seed of a more nuanced position that takes temporal happiness seriously. Notice that the language has shifted: Calvin says first that everyone wants to be happy, but in the end here he describes the temporal experience of the wicked as ‘fading and fleeting prosperity.’ Perhaps happiness properly conceived is different than what the wicked experience. This notion is brought home toward the end of the section’s comments: “[Peter] draws this conclusion, that persecutions ought to be submissively endured, for the condition of the godly in them is much happier than that of the unbelieving, who enjoy prosperity to their utmost wish” (141).

What we have here in Calvin is the resting of the term ‘happiness’ away from the mere enjoyment of temporal pleasures in favor of a judgment upon the condition of one’s life when considered sub specie aeternitas. We might still wish that Calvin had included some analysis whereby temporal goods are seen to further true happiness, or at least to establish conditions conducive to it, but such a position is seldom to be found in the tradition.

Now, to step back a moment, we have reached the conclusion of chapter 4. One chapter remains. We have traveled with Calvin through 142 pages of his commentary, and 13 pages remain. I am not convinced that many people keep up with this series (since a death of comments suggests otherwise), I am open to suggestions as to which biblical book I next tackle Calvin’s commentary concerning. For my own part, I’m thinking Malachi.