Quick Note on Justification in Wolterstorff

Wolterstorffs take on justification is interesting. Whereas Wright emphasises the fact of God’s covenant faithfulness, Wolterstorff tries to really focus on the content of said faithfulness – namely, the justice of God’s covenant faithfulness. Wolterstorff .holds that that the topic of Romans is more about justice than covenant faithfulness alone (Wright). God’s inclusion of Gentiles is thoroughly just in the tradition of the Old Testament teachings about the justice of God. The inclusion of the Gentiles does not violate justice

Thought Notes 9/22/2014

A significant but overlooked contributor to the topic of justification in Paul is Nicholas Wolterstorff, whose roughly forty page discussion in his book ‘Justice in Love’ is just outstanding, focusing on the traditional medieval definition of the ‘dik’ words as ‘justice’. He fleshes out the content of Gods covenant and the justice thereof to a degree not really seen in a lot of discussions on the subject. Locating the topic of justice within the broader picture of God’s covenant faithfulness is a good way to advance the debate on Paul’s thought. Here’s a great review/interaction of/with the book. To quote from the review:

‘Whereas, for Wright, what is revealed in God’s justification of the Gentiles is his “covenant faithfulness,” for Wolterstorff it is God’s “justice”: not the “mere fact” of covenant fidelity but its substantive content.’

I continue to think on the nature of civil government, war, etc within the context of Christian theology. Wolterstorff makes a great point (somewhere, not exactly sure where off the top of my head) that government is essentially a rights-respecting entity (Wolterstorff thinks of rights as inherent). This allows for the state to ‘wield the sword’, to paraphrase the book of Romans, in the service of rights-defense.

I go back and forth on how important I think secondary sources are in philosophy/theology. I like sticking to primary sources myself. I haven’t read lots of commentaries on various philosophers and their thought – and all too often it seems that reading a secondary source is required to really understand said philosopher.

Here’s a comment I wrote regarding the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. It’s kind of a quick overview.

‘Kant was a transcendental idealist. His entire project was to overcome what he saw as the weaknesses of the dominant positions in epistemology, empiricism, where all knowledge comes thru the senses, and rationalism, where all knowledge is a priori. He also developed the analytic/synthetic distinction in a posteriori/a priori knowledge, which has been further developed by Saul Kripke into the necessary a posteriori and contingent a piori, and rejected by W.V.O. Quine. Kant’s project here was to figure out what the mind must be like for us to have any experience at all – which lead to his famous idealism, where he posits causality, space and time as constructions of the mind as well as his phenomenal/noumenal distinction.

His ethic is called the categorical imperative, which can be summed up in his famous maxim about acting in such a way that can be universalized as a moral law for all people. His ethics stem from his attempt to figure out how to make sense of our moral experience – its not too far removed from his method in epistemology. We have this inescapable sense of right and wrong, of duty, the sense of ‘ought’. Thru a long process I won’t go into here, Kant postulates
both freedom and God as necessary conditions for this experience of our moral life.

The categorical imperative derives from his grounding morality in reason alone – ethical reasoning for Kant cannot be derived from empirical data. Once you do this, that is once you discount the empirical, your moral reasoning is grounded in pure reason alone and hence is universal and hence binding on everyone else. Hence why Kant was able to assert that lying, for example, is always wrong.’

A lot of discourse in the area of ethics and moral philosophy (at least since Moore, Russell, et al) seems to try and use the tools of analytic philosophy to derive ethical truths (using ‘truths’ loosely). I’m not really sure how sympathetic I am to this approach. It appears rather unwise to use analytic tools to solve existential problems, and ethics is nothing if not existential.

Some Scattered Thoughts on Peter Enns Ideas on Scripture, the Enlightenment and God

This post is basically an edited and condensed version of some comments I made at Rachel Held Evans blog and on Alastair Roberts blog:

It seems that despite Enns not wanting keep the Bible at a safe distance in all its troubling messiness, he does a remarkable job of keeping it at a safe distance while allowing some fairly modern presuppositions to shape how he reads it.

For starters, I wonder what makes our current and modern sensibilities the standards by which everything must be measured, which seems to be a given for Enns. I’d also wonder about his method of reading Scripture – i.e. to see the violent portrayals of God as ‘tribalistic’ etc and his, despite his insistence that he’s not doing so, dismissal of such portrayls. These are examples of his holding Scripture at arms length – can’t have those violent pictures of God, can we? Chalk em’ up to a primitive tribes record of their experience of God seen thru their own agendas and assumptions. Hence, no need to really believe the same thing as those Israelites wrote down – we now know better. This seems to be little more than Enns holding Scripture at arms length. I get that his project is to ‘wrestle’ with the ‘messiness’ of Scripture, take it on its own terms blah blah blah – got it. I really do . The end result of that, however, is that certain parts of the Scriptures that don’t conform to his method are jettisoned as being the imaginings and mistakes of an iron age tribe engaged in primitive warfare. Hence it’s not really wrestling with the texts or allowing them to really speak on their own terms. Hence my comment. (And, as an aside, invoking things like ‘enlightenment presuppositions’ does more to muddy the waters than anything else – what is an example of an ‘enlightenment presupposition’?) I could probably argue that Enns’ thinking is actually quite influenced by ‘enlightenment’ presuppositions, honestly. It strikes me that a position such as Enns’ isn’t far at all from the very real Enlightenment idea that we are free from the past and must progress past it. Alastair observes a rather important point that seldom gets noticed:

‘One could also argue that Enns et al are directly in line with the Enlightenment ideal of universal reason. Revelation conditioned by historical particularity is instantly exposed to suspicion because it doesn’t attain to this ideal. The historical and cultural particularity revealed in the Scriptures is cause for distrust for those of us who have attained to the regime of liberal universal reason. We must free Scripture from its cultural shackles and discover the timeless and universal truth that it was straining towards within its problematic cultural embeddedness.’

The picture of God that emerges from Enns’ thinking bears a suspicious resemblance to a lot of very modern, liberal ideas – ‘enlightenment based sensibilites’, to use those terms, hence (again) the point of my comment – for all his attempts to let the texts speak on their own terms, it seems like he ends up with a view of God based on some a priori viewpoints he has than what the Scriptures actually say.

The issue surrounding the use of ‘enlightenment’ is that there is no one ‘Enlightenment’ way of thinking, or, if there is, it’s so broad and vague as to be almost meaningless (‘progress’, could fit, but that is, as I said, so vague as to be usless.). In terms of the natural sciences, it refers to Newton, an anti-a priori/pro-empirical approach (for the most part – Newton made plenty of hypotheses), in terms of political philosophy it refers to individualism, the development nation-state and nationalism, John Locke, private property and the beginnings of liberalism, in metaphysics it refers to the blank slate, Hume, Locke, suspicion towards classical metaphysics and scholasticism, skepticism and the way of ideas, in terms of historical study it means Lessings broad ugly ditch and the march of history, in ethics, the categorical imperitave, the project of morality without God and the absolute moral autonomy of the self – there is no one monolithic way of thinking that we can invoke by saying, ‘you and your damn enlightenment presuppositions!’ It’s a buzzword, honestly, that is invoked more often than it is critically examined.

Karl Barth and Apologetics

I’ve been reading CD 2.1 lately, and thinking about how, if at all, Barth’s ideas can be translated into a kind of apologetic. I’ve had this little project of mine going for a bit now – it started with me trying to translate some of T.F. Torrances ideas about fluid axioms into a more systematic metaphysical scheme, which naturally led backwards to Barth.

I should clarify what I mean by ‘apologetics’, first off. I don’t mean simple proofs for God or ‘cumulative case’ evidences a la Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell. By apologetics I mean, roughly, the project of getting theology to be able to talk, as it were, to those outside the faith. What does Christian theology have to say to those who don’t share the Christian faith?

I think this is a fairly important point – if Christianity doesn’t have anything coherent to say to those outside the faith but only to those inside the faith, then it really seems to have lost its edge, so to speak. Paul, in Acts, doesn’t simply invite the Greeks into the circle of his faith but proclaims how, in some sense, his God *is* their unknown God. While not being ‘relevant’ in the modern sense, Paul’s message actually has something to say to those who don’t have his faith.

Karl Barth, however, is basically the middle finger to apologetics – at least of most of his career. He basically defines talk about God (theology, dogmatics, whatever you like to call it) as something that can only be done within the Church, where things like God, Jesus, revelation etc are accepted (as a side note, there might be some relation here between Alston’s ‘epistemic practices’ and Barth’s ideas about where theology can be done). Barth’s ideas are brilliant, and probably some of the most intense theology done this century – but the bulk of it has roughly nothing to say to any other religion, philosophy. culutre, etc, except to say that it’s wrong. It’s a bit of a conversation stopper.

At times, I do feel that Barth basically ends up making his theology something that isn’t applicable in any sense to the world outside the circle of faith – I have a good bit of sympathy for Wright when he says:

“Otherwise–and this is my perceived problem with Karl Barth, or at least with those who have followed through some aspects of his thought–it really does appear to me that the gospel is presented as a closed, charmed circle, where we don’t allow any natural theology, which protects itself against the ravages of negative historical scholarship at the massive cost of shutting itself off against any possibility of genuine inquiry form the outside. There is no way out and no way in. It is all very well to say, ‘Come inside this circles, and you’ll see it all makes sense,’ but that is no real argument to someone who says, ‘From outside I can see that you are living in your own deluded little world.’ And that isn’t simply a matter of apologetics; it applies to politics and similar spheres as well. What good is it if I say to the government, ‘You ought to remit Third World debt,’ or ‘You ought to treat asylum seekers as vulnerable human beings, not as criminals,’ if they can retort, ‘That’s all very well from within your charmed faith-based circle, but we live in the real world and you have nothing to say to us.’ No wonder Paul’s speech of the Areopagus has had bad press in neo-orthodox circles. Paul shouldn’t have tried to build, they have said, on the signals of God in their culture. Isn’t it bound to end up a compromise? But the whole point of Israel’s tradition–of Abraham’s vocation!–was that Israel should be the people through whom God would go out and address the world, in order to rescue the world. When Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ he expressly warned against putting a bucket over that light. He presupposes that the world can and will see the light when it’s shining and will be attracted to it.”

I feel, in a sense, that Barth is cheating himself (it’s also fair to note that Barth’s point in a lot of his work was basically to be as big of a middle finger to apologetics/natural theology as possible). As Kevin Davis noted in this great comment, for Barth (as well as thousands of others in the Christian tradition), God is the deepest reality of our existence. His dogmatics aren’t so much books of theology as explorations of reality in all its depth and richness – which is effectively sealed off from those who don’t profess the Christian faith. Someone who I think is doing almost the same thing in a very different way is David Bentley Hart, and part of my small project is to harmonize the insights of Barth, Torrance, Hart and others. Between Barth and Torrance, Torrance is the easiest because of his familiarity and command of the methods and traditions of the natural sciences and his willingness to engage a bit more directly other metaphysical traditions (see his incredible ‘Transformation and Convergance in the Frame of Knowledge‘).

So, to bring this rambling to a close: can Barth be more of a conversation partner to out-of-faith people? Can the insights taken from his dogmatic study be in any way relevant to philsophical, metaphysical; or religious questions? I think the answer is yes – the problem will be getting there.

As a small post-script, I think that this book, which I preordered like 3 months ago, will go a long way towards making Barth more of a conversation partner:

‘The problem of faith and reason is as old as Christianity itself. Today’s philosophical, scientific and historical challenges make the epistemic problem inescapable for believers. Can faith justify its claims? Does faith give us confidence in the truth? Is believing with certainty a virtue or a vice? In Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma, Kevin Diller addresses this problem by drawing on two of the most significant responses in recent Christian thought: Karl Barth’s theology of revelation and Alvin Plantinga’s epistemology of Christian belief. This will strike many as unlikely, given the common stereotypes of both thinkers. Contrary to widespread misunderstanding, Diller offers a reading of both as complementary to each other: Barth provides what Plantinga lacks in theological depth, while Plantinga provides what Barth lacks in philosophical clarity. Diller presents a unified Barth/Plantinga proposal for theological epistemology capable of responding without anxiety to the questions that face believers today.’

I can’t wait to get it.

Reading Notes

I just recently got ‘Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not‘, and am about 80% of the way through. The primary goal of the book is to basically say, ‘whoa, slow down there, sonny’, to the anti-imperial/postcolonial readings of the New Testament, especially Paul’s letters. I’ve read it quickly, so I’m sure I’ll come back to it for further reference, but so far the standout sections deal with Luke, Acts and Romans – the anti-imperial/postcolonial readings of these texts are taken to task for a few different things, such as the use of very modern methods in reading ancient texts, importing modern concerns to ancient texts, poor handling, both historical and exegetical, etc. Not to say that such readings are condemned – the anti-imperial character of New Testament writing is something that’s proven to be a pretty important aspect of the New Testament, and for bringing that out we should be thankful to those who advocate such readings. When the meaning of the NT is reduced to anti-imperial rhetoric, however, then there’s a problem. 

I also got Peter Leithart’s ‘A House for My Name‘, and started reading it (I’m only a few pages into it so far). Good so far – lots of tying together the symbolism that saturates the Old Testament – specifically the three-layer cosmology of Genesis. Good stuff.

Today I bought three more John Grisham books – ‘The Partner’, ‘The Chamber’, and one other I forget the name of. I also got a Father Brown story by Chesterton.

This last week I spent re-reading parts of Tim Maudlin’s great book, ‘The Metaphysics Within Physics‘, which I wrote a post on that generated some good discussion (see that post for some of my criticisms with his methodology) . His criticism of Humean-ism is pretty good – even though it basically boils down to, ‘why would anyone be Humean?’

On that same note, I read more of Brian Greene’s ‘The Elegant Universe’, as well as renting the NOVA documentary of the same name. The experimental aspect is definitely where string theory lacking – but empirical testing would require a particle accelerator roughly the size of the milky way galaxy. But the math more than hold true, it basically units quantum mechanics and relativity theory in a way that was impossible before. Most physicists will tell you that the experimental data is the most important part of a thrust, however, and there won’t be any for string theory for a while if ever.

Continuing that same note, I picked up Timothy Ferris’ absolutely brilliant book, ‘Coming of Age in the Milky Way‘, which remains one of my favourite science books I’ve ever read. As far as history of science goes, this is probably as good as it gets – I’ve yet to read a volume which explains and expounds the ideas as well as the thinkers behind them so clearly and delightfully. Yes, reading about Kepler’s calculations for elliptical planetary orbits, Newtons theory of gravity, the quantum revolution and particle physics  can, in fact, be great fun. 

Rough Thoughts on Pacifism

Prompted by a Facebook conversation – these are pretty off-the-cuff thoughts, since I don’t really have a terribly well-developed position, but here we go:

In a nutshell, I’m a pacifist in the same way I’m a universalist – hopeful but not really committed to it. As far as theological arguments for/against, I’ve yet to be really convinced that pacifism is a necessary part of Christianity, and all too often it seems that a nonviolent ethic is made to be central to the Gospel, and sometimes it seems that the Christian message is even reduced to one of nonviolence.

As a matter of personal opinion/ethic, I don’t really have a problem with a pacifist position – keep in mind that pacifism doesn’t = nonaction, just nonviolent action. The issue I have is primarily the extent to which it’s commonly seen as central to the Gospel.

I do think that the defense of children, widows, women, the weak, etc, can, will and do at times require violent force.I also think that pro-violence is a pretty terrible attitude to have – especially seeing Jesus’ very clear opposition to violence done in his name (Peter chopping off that one guys ear, for example).

 Having said that, one can’t ignore various Old Testament passages where various men and even heroes of the faith are praised for the willingness to commit acts of horrendous violence – Phineas kills an Israelite/Midianite couple in the midst of the sexual act, for example.Phineas and the Levites were called to be set apart specifically for their willingness to do some pretty raw things. Which, while not an argument by any means, is something one has to keep in mind.
 
With regard to whether Jesus commands Christians to not participate in national/state sanctioned violence, I see a couple of issues:

1) textual evidence – I’m not really aware of any real statements in the NT outright forbidding Christians to engage in national violence (say, a war or something like that). So we have to look elsewhere:

(2) Jesus’ posture toward violence in general – Jesus has very little to say about national/state violence – the famous turn the other cheek saying, for example, refers to personal insult/injury. Jesus certainly opposes violence in a sense, as I said before – he makes it very clear that the Kingdom of heaven will never be brought about by violent actions, perhaps in direct opposition to the zealots who sought to bring about the Kingdom by national violence. In that sense, yes, Jesus does forbid it by both word and deed.

 

Smile Monday: Hanging Out

Originally posted on {mostly} Smiling Sticks:

Hanging Out - Bat Illustration

Today I had the joy of drawing upside down! Bats are some of my favourite creatures on Earth – I think they’re beautiful! As you all know I love little puns – so I decided to combine bats and puns to make a perfect Smile Monday illustration! Who do you love hanging out with?

Have a beautiful day! ♥

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