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.

More Metaphysical Musings

If great art reflects in some way the glory and beauty of God, what of somber art, or sad music? I remember Wolterstorff said something quite profound about God and suffering:

‘It is said of God that no one can see His face and live. I always though this meant that no one could see His splendour and live. A friend said perhaps it meant no one can see His suffering and live. Or perhaps His suffering is His splendour.’ (Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Lament for a Son’, p. 81)

That particular volume is a profound and painful meditation in the context of the loss of a dear loved one – but I wonder if something along my current line of thought can’t be drawn from it. Could it be the case that genuine sad music, genuine heartbroken, grief-stricken music, reflects an element of God’s suffering (I here affirm Barth’s position in impassibility, which you can find in the ‘Barth’ category on the right side of the blog)?

Reading Notes 10/15/13

David Bentley Hart’s ‘The Experience of God’ has so far been the best experience of reading I’ve head in a long, long time (Plantinga’s ‘Where the Conflict Really Lies’, was like this for me, only way more analytic). Definitely one of the best philosophy/metaphysics/philosophy of science/religion books recently published. That guy is way too smart. I’ll probably post some review-ish stuff after I’ve read it more, but suffice it to say that he brilliantly dismantles materialism on three fronts: that of being, of consciousness, and bliss. The best section so far? Very hard to say. I’ll go with consciousness and bliss for the moment – his exposition of various problems in philosophy of mind (qualia, intentionality, abstract concepts) is, quite simply, superb. Bliss? Absolutely fantastic exploration of desire, the will, the good, beauty, etc. Being is outstanding as well (it’s pure fun watching him analyze Platninga’s modal ontological argument), but so far consciousness and bliss are the best for me. If you haven’t read it, read it. It’s cheap on Amazon. One last note: his use of Eastern (primarily Hindu) and Islamic metaphysics in the section on being is pretty dang cool.

Finally getting around to reading N.T. Wright’s big books – unfortunately the library only had ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’, so I’m starting there. Very readable and easy to understand – it is dense in parts but that’s purely due to the content and not the style. I forget sometimes how powerful of a thinker Wright is, and this book is definitely re-proving it. So far of his I have and have read ‘Paul’, ‘Justification’, ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’, ‘Surprised by Hope,’ (which lives up to the hype) ‘Evil and the Justice of God’, and his popular commentary on Paul’s prison letters (and most of his available online articles and essays). N.T. Wright is the man.

Plowing through Wolterstorff’s ‘Divine Discourse’. Yikes. Dense and analytic. Well written, but even great style can’t un-densify such a topic. Great exposition of the famous Augustine passage, ‘take and read’, (or something like that), and a superb analysis and discussion of speech-acts. Great stuff for the philosopher of language in me. His seperation of divine speech and divine revelation is pretty interesting, and I’m looking forward to his discussion of inerrancy.

Also just got Torrance’s ‘Incarnation: the Person and Work of Christ’. Not as good as ‘Atonement’, unfortunately. It has a much less polished feel (these are, however, lectures – but ‘Atonement’ didn’t have this same feel). Great content – Torrance really doesn’t need a introduction in terms of his brilliant thought and command of primary sources. But again, just not as ‘wow’, feeling as ‘Atonement’. Great discussions on the meaning of ‘nature’, though, as well as things like election, hypostatic union, etc.

Sort of continuing to read through Russell’s ‘Knowledge of the External World’, and every time I pick it up, wow. What a brilliant mind – clear, precise writing, even on such a heavy topic. His linguistic approach to the problems of external-world knowledge is pretty cool, but his sense-data thing is a little out of date. But on the whole, a great philosophical read.

I just ordered Tim Maudlin’s ‘The Metaphysics Within Physics’. I’ve read/watched some of his stuff and I like him a lot. Hopefully this volume will give me a bit better understanding of modern metaphysics in current cosmology.

Finally, starting to make progress in Timothy Zahn’s ‘Vision of the Future’, which is part 2 of the ‘Hand of Thrawn’ two-book series (duology?). Yes, I am a Star Wars geek.  Zahn is an amazing sci-fi writer (read ‘Outbound Flight’, or ‘Heir to the Empire’ for further proof) and this story, while not his best work is pretty darn entertaining if a little long-winded. Over 700 pages, I think. Great writer, good writing, and a good yarn. Highly, highly recommend any of Zahn’s work, but the two cited above are absolute standouts and some of my favourite overall fiction.

And that’s what I’m reading. I hope to soon go through the two Tillich volume I have, ‘The Courage to Be’, and ‘The Essential Tillich’, in a more systematic way. I’d like to continue ‘The Russian Experiment in Art’, and explore art/aesthetics in more detail overall. John Haldane and Roger Scruton have both written in this area and I’d like to read them as well. I’ll probably start re-reading the McCarthy books I have – ‘The Road’, ‘Suttree’, ‘No Country for Old Men’, ‘Outer Dark’, and ‘All the Pretty Horses’, – come winter. Maybe go back through Redwall again. I also need to go through the to C.S. Lewis books I have on literary criticism/literature, ‘A Study in Words’, and ‘The Discarded Image,’ which means I’ll inevitably go through ‘The Monsters and the Critics’, by Tolkien.

Anyways, enough rambling. Hopefully I did nothing more than show a love for a good book – there is almost nothing I love more tan talking at length about books.

God, Rights, and Justice

‘The assumption of Israel’s writers that God holds us accountable for doing justice has the consequence that when we fail to do justice, we wrong God. We not only fail in our obligations to God. We wrong God, deprive God of that to which God has a right.

‘Injustice is perforce the impairment of shalom… God desires the flourishing of each and every one of God’s human creatures; justice is indispensable to that.’

God holds human beings accountable for doing justice; and God himself is committed to justice, both in the sense that God does justice and in the sense that God works to bring it about that human beings treat each other justly. (Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs’, p. 91, 83, 89)

Our obligation is twofold: to our fellow human beings and to God. By treating our fellow human beings justly is to honor that which to God has a right. Treating others justly is to honor their natural human rights, which are grounded in both the imago dei as well as God’s love for all human beings – when we honor this right, that is doing justice, and that is how we bring about shalom.

Existence, Reality, Love, Christ and God

We have seen in previous posts how Dietrich Bonhoeffer connects being human to being in Christ – that in being in Christ, one truly is human.

‘Human beings are called to share the suffering of God in a godless world. Therefore we must really live in the godless world; and may not make the attempt to somehow conceal, to transfigure its godlessness religiously; we mus live in a “worldly” fashion, which means we are liberated from false religious attachments and inhibitions. ‘Being a Christian does not mean being religious in a certain way, or, on the basis of some methodology, to make something out of ourselves (a sinner, a penitent, a saint); rather, it means to be a human being. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world. This is the reversal: not to think first of our own needs, questions, sins, and anxieties, but to let ourselves be pulled into the way of Jesus, into the messianic event that is now fulfilled (Isa. 53:4-5).’
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Karl Barth makes a similar point in his magnum opus ‘Church Dogmatics’:

‎’The Christian life begins with love. It also ends with love, so far as it has an end as human life in time. There is nothing that we can or must be as a Christian, or to become a Christian, prior to love. Even faith does not anticipate love. As we come to faith we begin to love. If we did not begin to love, we would not have come to faith. Faith is faith in Jesus Christ. If we believe, the fact that we do so means that every ground which is not that of our being in love to God in Christ is cut away from under us: we cannot exist without seeking God. If this were not the case, we should have failed to come to faith. And the fact that it is so is a confirmation that our faith is not an illusion, but that we ourselves as men truly believe.

But there is nothing beyond love. There is no higher or better being or doing in which we can leave it behind us. As Christians, we are continually asked about love, and in all that we can ever do or not do, it is the decisive question. Love is the essence of Christian living. It is also the ‘conditio sine qua non,’ in ever conceivable connexion. Wherever the Christian life in commission or omission is good before God, the good thing about it is love. (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, pp. 371-372.)

Barth here is referring to Christians – but I will be using this in conjunction with Bonhoeffers thought in just a moment (see 1B below).

Theologian and philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff argues in his monumental book ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs,’ that the worth of human beings and natural rights is grounded in love – affectionate love from God.

‘…I conclude that if God loves a human being with the love of attachment, that love bestows worth on that human being; other creatures, if they knew about that love, would be envious. And I conclude that if God loves, in the mode of attachment, each and every human being equally and permanently, then natural human rights inhere in the worth bestowed upon human beings by that love.’ (Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs,’ pp. 360)

So here we have:

1A. Existence grounded in reality. (Bonhoeffer)

1B. Reality grounded in Christ. (Bonhoeffer)

1C.Existence grounded in seeking God. (Barth) Even though Barth here is intending this to refer to the Church, I am taking it one step farther and applying it to human existence on a universal level.

2. Worth of existence and natural rights grounded in the love of God. (Wolterstorff) This has more to do with ethical thought than ontological existence. See 2B below.

3. My assertion, then, is this: that apart from participating in reality and seeking God, there is no human existence. People exist, but not in their truly human form.

2B. While those not participating in reality/seeking God are not truly living in a human sense, they do in fact have worth bestowed upon them by God by His love for them as well as natural rights.