Review: Thomas Woods, Meltdown

I normally don’t read “crisis books,” especially when it involves the federal govt screwing up. However, knowing Woods to be a masterful scholar, and having a friend loan this book to me, I decided to read it.

6100516

All in all, a good read. I read it in about 3 hours. If one is reasonably familiar with the Austrian school of economics, this book won’t tell you anything new. Indeed, if you are an Austrian, you’ve probably figured it out. That being said, Woods summarizes the events leading to the 2008 debacle. He spends 2 chapters saying what went wrong and how government intervention is the culprit.

Chapter 4 is a summary of the Austrian theory on boom-bust. Ideally, the market determines interest rates.  When the FED artifically lowers interest rates and/or artificially increases the money supply, it encourages a boom in the production of longer-term projects. However, this production is not like that of genuine consumer interest. It is not in line with real consumer preferences and the current state of the economic pool. It draws real resources away from consumers. The Fed lacks the saved resources to finish projects and the consumer base to purchase the finished products (Woods, 26).

Chapter 5 debunks myths about the Great Depression. FDR, as most economists know today, didn’t get us out of the Great Depression and Herbert Hoover was no laissez faire man.

The next chapter explores the FED. Basic Rothbard.

His conclusion, while I agree with every word, will probably be ignored (and laughed at) by those who aren’t Austrians. That being said, and I am not a full Austrian man myself, it is hard to laugh at the Austrians–and the heroic Dr Ron Paul–when they have predicted the crisis almost to the dot.

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Hoppe quotes on Democracy, the failed god

This is from “Journey into a Libertarian Future.”  They meant it as a slam against the Hoppean anarcho-capitalist project.  I don’t think they fully understood his arguments on time-preference.  Still, I thought it was funny and I am posting the quotes here.

property… is necessarily valuable; hence, every property owner becomes a possible target of other men’s aggressive desires. [255]

competition among insurers for paying clients will bring about a tendency toward a continuous fall in the price of protection… [281-282].

one regard[s] the central government as illegitimate, and… treat[s] it and its agents as an outlaw agency and “foreign” occupying forces [91].

One tries to keep as much of one’s property and surrender as little tax money as possible. One considers all federal law, legislation and regulation null and void and ignores it whenever possible [91]. One needs to be ready in case the government makes a move, and invest in such forms and at such locations which withdraw, remove, hide, or conceal one’s wealth as far as possible from the eyes and arms of government [92].

it is essential to complement one’s defensive measures with an offensive strategy: to invest in an ideological campaign of delegitimizing the idea and institution of democratic government among the public [92].

[A]s for the economic quality of democracy, it must be stressed relentlessly that it is not democracy but private property, production, and voluntary exchange that are the ultimate sources of human civilization and prosperity. [105]

the U.S. government has become entangled in hundreds of foreign conflicts and risen to the rank of the world’s dominant imperialist power[?] [How] nearly every president [since 1900] has also been responsible for the murder, killing, or starvation of countless innocent foreigners all over the world [244]….U.S. president in particular is the world’s single most threatening and armed danger, capable of ruining everyone who opposes him and destroying the entire globe. [244]

create a U.S. punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities – a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos, and Liechtensteins strewn over the entire continent [291]

no-tax free-trade haven[s], large numbers of investors and huge amounts of capital would begin to flow immediately. [132]

 

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The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship

by George Marsden.  Oxford University Press.

Instead of “Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship,” we can name it the “Unstable idea of a halfway-covenant going by the name of Christian scholarship.”

A key argument:  Here is the problem.  Secularists object to Christians in the academy because the latter claim access to knowledge (special revelation) that others do not have, so they can’t do real science.  Marsden counters that Christian beliefs function as “background beliefs.” They are not used as evidence for one’s views.  Christians would look to other beliefs “that we share with persons from differing ideological camps so that we could agree on common grounds” (50). So what is the point of even having religious beliefs in the academy?  They function as “control beliefs” (ala Wolterstorff) which filter which beliefs we are allowed to entertain.

Marsden then borrows an idea from Newman, which was later echoed by Dooyeweerd:  the tendency in the modern academy is for each discipline to absolutize its own claims at the expense of each other. What the disciplines used to do to Christianity they now do to each other.  The solution is to see the disciplines as integrally connected.  This, of course, is a specifically theological claim.

A Concluding Analysis

The book is refreshing and in many ways nostalgic for me as a reader.  I cut my teeth on Marsden when I was in college, especially as I dealt with the pressure from covenant-breakers (at an ostensibly Christian college, no less).  There are a few fine chapters and an interesting appendix.  Still, I think Marsden either doesn’t see (or more likely couldn’t imagine, as this book was written decades ago) the true nature of the Left towards Christians in the public sphere.  

One good Christian argument for Christians in the Academy is that Christians can account for the unity and stability of the “self.” Postmodernism has denied the reality of the unified self.  This allows Facebook (and the state of California) to believe in 58 genders.  Strangely enough, it is these people who accuse Christians of rejecting science!

I return to my opening sentence: the book is a halfway covenant with the secular academy.  It wants a place at the table.  I’m not sure why he thinks secularists will play along.  Which is why I think the whole idea is unstable.  Mind you, I believe Christians should be in the academy.  But we are living in what Van Til called the “later time of common grace.”  The lines are getting sharper and the corners more hard-edged (to quote CS Lewis). Neither side is going to rest content with compromise.

 

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Review: Cornelius Van Til, an Analysis of his Thought

by John Frame. Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1995.

This is my second time to read through this book.  The question obviously arises:  should you read this book or Bahnsen’s book on Van Til?  They are two different books dealing with two different approaches.  Bahnsen’s book is a manual on Van Tillian apologetics, but has relatively little on Van Til’s actual theology.  That is where Frame’s is valuable.

The Metaphysics of Knowledge: God as Self-Contained Fullness
This is Frame’s favorite aspect of Van Til’s thought, and probably the best section in the book. This is another way of saying God’s aseity. God is sufficient in himself. From God’s self-containment, we may say that God’s unity implies his simplicity: “If there is only one God, then there is nothing “in” him that is independent of him” (55). How does God’s revelation play into this? Due to the richness of God’s nature, we could never know him left to ourselves. However, if God, a self-contained God–and a self-contained God who meets the standards of immanency and transcendence, reveals himself, then we have certain, sure knowledge of who this God is (transcendence) and how his revelation applies to concrete situations (immanence).

God is the original and man is the derivative (Christian Theory of Knowledge, 16).  By analogical we don’t mean what Aquinas meant.   Our knowledge is a finite replica of God’s (Introduction Systematic Theology, 206).

Absolute Personality
Non-Christian systems die on the altar of personality. Either they posit personal, but finite gods (Greek pantheon) or impersonal, infinite gods (Eastern religions). Only Christian theism posits a personal, absolute God. They do so because of the Trinity. To quote CVT, “the members of the trinity are exhaustively representational of one another” (qtd. Frame, 59). To end this section with a quote and call to action from Frame, “Impersonal facts and laws cannot be ultimate, precisely because they are not personal. They cannot account for rationality, for moral value, for the causal order of the universe, or for the universal applicability of logic” (60).

The Trinity
Ah, this is where the heresy charges come in! And given the renewed interest in Trinitarianism, this section can be very useful. Van Til begins by stating and affirming what the Church has taught on the Trinity. His position can be summarized in the following moves: Trinitarianism denies correlativism, the belief that God and creation are dependent on one another. God is three persons and one Person. Watch closely. He calls the whole Godhead “one person.” He is not saying that God is one in essence and three in essence. The main question is “the one being personal or impersonal?” (67). Van Til is calling the whole Godhood one “person” in order to avoid making the essence of God to be merely an abstraction. Frame argues, “If the three persons (individually and collectively) exhaust the divine essence (are “coterminous” with it), then the divine essence itself must be personal” (68). And if God is an absolute person (he is), and he is one (he is), then there must be a sense in which he is a person. Granting the Augustinian circumincessio, every act of God is a personal act involving all three persons acting in unity (68).

The Problem of the One and the Many
I think Rushdoony was more excited about this than Van Til (see Van Til’s response to Rush in Jerusalem and Athens). How do we find unity in the midst of plurality? Unbelief cannot answer this question. It always tends toward one or the other extreme. If abstract being is ultimate, then there are no particulars. If abstract particular is ultimate, then there is no truth. The Trinity is both personal one and many.

If all of reality is one, then how can we make distinctions?  If all of reality is just sense data, how can we unify them in our consciousness? We are faced with the danger of either pure abstraction or pure matter.  Frame has a very good discussion of this on p.73.

Revelation
Contrary to popular opinion, Van Til does hold to general revelation. Given his view of God’s sovereignty, all things reveal God’s decree. (Man is receptively reconstructive of God’s revelation. It is his job to re-interpret previously God-interpreted facts.) In short, Van Til holds to the typical Kuyperian view of revelation. From this Van Til posits a three-fold division in God’s revelation: a revelation from God, from nature, and from self (120). This is perspectival, btw. As to Scripture, it is self-attesting and bears God’s full authority. As such, it must be inerrant.

Evidence
CVT does not disparage the use of evidence, many critics to the contrary. Rather, he denies the use of “brute facts.” Given the Trinity, all facts and laws are correlative. Brute facts are “uninterpreted facts” and therefore meaningless, the constituents of a universe of pure chance. This means we cannot separate facts from meaning. We cannot challenge the unbeliever on a particular fact if we do not challenge his philosophy of fact. Again, see RJ Rushdoony on facts and evidence (JBA).

Common Grace

Van Til’s contribution to this debate is that he puts common grace on a timeline, emphasizing “earlier” and “later” (CGG, 72).

The Crack of Doom

Van Til makes the interesting point that common grace decreases as time goes on. “Differentiation sets in” (83). Frame questions this as he does not see the world necessarily getting more and more wicked.  Frame is partially correct but he resists the inference Gary North will draw.

Frame thinks North reads too much into the word “Favor,” which is ambiguous in English.  Perhaps he does, but North’s argument is still the same:  we should speak of common gifts instead of common grace. God gave the Caananites an extra 40 years.  This was a gift.  Was it “favor?”  No, he ethnically cleansed them 40 years later.

And Van Til, pace Frame, is very clear on the timeline.  As history progresses God will withdraw his common grace from the wicked, and show his love towards his children by watching the wicked wipe them out (or so reads Van Til’s timeline).  Frame avoids the postmillennial challenge:  if the unbeliever is epistemologically self-conscious, he can’t function logically, so how can he have dominion?

Conclusion

There are also chapters dealing with Barth, Dooyeweerd, and the theonomists.  They are well worth your time but beyond the scope of this review.

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Frame, Review: Doctrine of the Word of God

A fitting end to a fine series. This isn’t Frame’s best work ever (that would either be DG or DCL) but it is good and there are legitimate reasons for this volume’s limitations. Frame wanted to get his book on Scripture out, but he also suspected he might die beforehand. So he gave a shorter version of it. The first 330 pages deal with a perspectival doctrine of Scripture. The last three hundred are book reviews.

Scripture is an organic revelation, but Frame doesn’t mean by organic what 19th century pantheists supposedly meant. For Frame, “Revelations in Scripture, world, and self presuppose and supplement one another; one cannot understand one of them without reference to the others” (Frame 350).

Frame’s book isn’t just another book on Scripture and how it is inerrant or from God or something. Rather, it calls forth our obedience, and this ties with the above thesis: “Every obedient response to Scripture involves knowledge of creation and self” (364). For example, whenever I reason about or from Scripture, that presupposes I know what logic is and how to use it.

The Personal-Word Model

“The main contention of this volume is that God’s speech to man is real speech” (3). Authority: the capacity to create an obligation in the hearer (5).

Covenant and Canon

God’s relation to us is always covenantal, so we should expect a written, covenant document (108). A canon naturally arises because we need to record God’s spoken words to us, and our God is a God who speaks.

Frame builds upon Meredith Kline’s 4 or 5 Point Covenant Model to show the unity of Scripture (148ff):

(1) Revelation of the Name of God
(2) Revelation of God’s mighty acts in history
(3) Revelation of God’s Law
(4) Revelation of God’s continuing presence to bless and curse
(5) Revelation of God’s institutional provisions.

Covenantal revelation is both personal and propositional (153). God reveals his Name, but he does so in propositions (and sentences and declarations).

Our relationship with God is covenantal, and in covenants God speaks to his people (212).

Some of the chapters were quite short and I wish Frame extended his analysis. However, the book reviews show remarkable analysis and depth. See especially his reviews of Enns and Wright.

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Politics as Athanasian Pluralism

Gary North might have just solved my dilemma on Cromwell and the Covenanters.  As a Presbyterian I want to like the Covenanters, but given how they universally failed every political and military test, and how a national church is unworkable, and how most modern Internet Covenanters are hyper-legalists, I just couldn’t do it.

And while I like Cromwell, I was always troubled the nature of the Independents and schismatics in the New Model Army.  But maybe that’s just the cost of doing business in a fallen world.  I was tipped off to this possibility by reading Gary North’s Conspiracy in Philadelphia, arguably his best book. He described Cromwell’s project in this way:

He created a trinitarian civil government in which all Protestant churches would have equal access politically, and the state would be guided by “the common light of Christianity.”(I call this “Athanasian pluralism.”) [North 27].  North footnotes chapter 12 of Political Polytheism.

I think the New Model Army got into some problems because it had abandoned aspects of Covenantal Thinking.  In his just execution of Charles I it didn’t rely on the earlier Covenantal models of John Knox. So what would a Cromwellian system guided by the 5 Point Covenantal Model look like?  I think Athanasian Pluralism is a good start.

Political and ethical pluralism is bad.  But there can be a biblical pluralism.  It just means a plurality of covenants in a society.  At this point I am heavily relying on chapter 12 of Political Polytheism.

Dominion Christianity teaches that there are four covenants under God, meaning four kinds of vows under God: personal (individual), and the three institutional covenants: ecclesiastical, civil, and familial. 2 All other human institutions (business, educational, charitable, etc.) are to one degree or other under the jurisdiction of one or more of these four covenants. No single human covenant is absolute; therefore, no single human institution is all-powerful. Thus, Christian liberty is liberty under God and God’s law, administered by plural legal authorities (576).

The Solemn League and Covenant fails because it collapses civil and ecclesiastical covenants into one, so that the SLC is neither.

The Failure of Political Confessionalism

North explains why political Presbyterianism failed so badly in England:

Other oddities of the five-year effort of the Assembly are also worth mentioning. Scotland’s Solemn League and Covenant (1643) had been signed in preparation for entry into a war against the King, whose safety the 1639 National Covenant had promised to uphold.  Scotland became a military ally of Cromwell and the Independents, who rose to power and then destroyed the judicial basis of the Scottish National Covenant: first by executing the King; second, by imposing Protestant religious toleration on the realm, including Scotland.
As it turned out, a group of Englishmen established the foundational documents of Scottish Presbyterianism. In 1648, the year after the Assembly completed the annotated Confession, England went to war with Scotland (North, Crossed Fingers, 994).

The English Presbyterians had been trapped by the decision of the Scottish Presbyterians to defend the King and a Throne-Church theocratic order, which had been affirmed by the language of the Solemn League and Covenant (Sec. VI). English Presbyterians could impose Church unity only by force, but the only significant force available was Cromwell’s New Model Army, which opposed Presbyterianism.95 Haller writes: “The advance of the army under Cromwell’s leadership meant the final defeat of the work of the Westminster Assembly.”96 He concludes: “The English people were never again to be united in a visible church of any sort.,,97 After the Restoration, English Presbyterianism refused to accept the Westminster Confession of Faith as binding, and in 1719, the denomination went unitarian (996).

After 1647, the Presbyterians had a monumental problem. The Church’s foundational documents had been written to gain the acceptance of a civil assembly that included non-Presbyterians-as time went on, a growing number of non-Presbyterians. The documents did not fit together. The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government (1645) had no required statement of faith, i.e., no theological stipulations. It required no oath from Church officers or members. The Confession of Faith (1647) also did not mention Church oaths. It did not specify how its own stipulations were to apply judicially. The burning question should have been this: What was the covenantal relationship between these two completely separate documents? But no one in authority asked it in 1648, and no one in authority has asked it since.

This is why intellectually the Political Covenanter movement failed before it even began.

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Safe Sects: Healing

North on Charismatics, Calvinism, and Healing.  Summarizes my own journey.  Let’s put aside all of the “in your face” stuff like prophecy and tongues. I understand the case against continuationism. I really do. (I admit. I don’t understand any case for or against tongues). But where in the New Testament do you get the idea that Jesus will pull the plug on healing once the ink is dry on Revelation?

Cessationists say, “But where is healing today?”  To which I say, Look around.  The evidence is there if you want to find it.  But the case for healing is more than just the overwhelming amount of evidence.  It is the nature of the covenant.  I love what North writes,

If God heals in history, then He must bring judgment in history. To deny the one is to deny the other. Yet the modern church denies either or both of these aspects of God’s work in history. Churches do not want judgment, for it begins at the house of the Lord (I Peter 4:17). So, they reject the biblical idea of healing. They are consistent — consistently wrong.

The apostle James presupposed something we don’t know. Oil has judicial qualities.  It’s not just “advanced medicine.”

Modern charismatics aren’t completely correct, to the extent that they are individualists.

On the other hand, by preaching physical healing through the authority of the church, the charismatics raise a crucial issue: establishing the limits of God’s healing in history. God heals individuals, not cultures, insist the traditional charismatics. By what theology can such limits be placed on God’s healing? Dispensationalism? But dispensationalism denies the legitimacy of all church-invoked, church-administered healing, not just cultural healing. Traditional dispensationalism is in this sense consistent; charismatic dispensationalism isn’t.

 

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