How not to be secular (review)

Smith gives us a roadmap of Charles Taylor’s analysis of modernity. On most accounts, Smith’s treatment excels and the reader is well-equipped to analyze both Taylor’s work and (post)modernity in general. The book suffers from an unfocused conclusion and Smith’s overreliance on postmodern pop culture.

In some ways the most valuable aspect is Smith’s glossary of key terms in Taylor (noted below).

Smith’s version of Taylor (S-T) avoids crude genealogical accounts of how the West declined. But there were ideological moments that made it possible. And that leads to Taylor’s thesis: it is not that belief in God is simply wrong for secularists; rather, it is unthinkable. The structures that made belief in God likely on a societal level, so Taylor, are not there anymore.

With this shift came a different understand of person and cosmos. The pre-modern self is ‘porous,’ open to outside influences (grace, blessing, curses, demons). Thus, the modern self is “buffered,” insulated from outside forces (Smith 30). But that gives way to another phenomenon: the nova effect: new modes of being that try to forge a way through cross-pressures (14ff).

Smith has an interesting but undeveloped account of epistemology and the immanent frame (IF). The IF is a concept that, like a frame, boxes in and boxes out, focuses in and out. It captures how we inhabit our age (92). It is our orientation to the world. It is more of a “vibe” than a set of deductions.

Smith is concerned that foundationalist accounts of knowledge (justified, true belief) play into a closed-world, naturalist system. “If knowledge is knowing something outside my mind, the transcendent would be about as far away as one could get” (98).

Criticisms

One horn of my criticism is aesthetic. I think postmodern literature and art is an offense against decency, so I really can’t “relate” to Smith’s usage of them. But that doesn’t negate Smith’s thesis. The other horn of my criticism is that Smith tends to give too much of the farm away. His initial claim is good: secularism not only makes belief in God difficult, it entails an entirely new structure of beliefs that do not have room for God. But I am not sure, pace Smith, why I should be impressed with this new structure. Smith asks “How do we recognize and affirm the difficulty of belief” [in a secular age, p. 6]? The first part of the question is fine–we all recognize that belief in God can be difficult for our age. But why affirm it? What does that even mean or look like? To be fair, Smith acknowledges this point occasionally (20 n32).

Nonetheless, the book has a number of poignant (and occasionally brilliant) insights that should provide good reflection for apologetics and evangelism.

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Concupiscence in Shedd

With the PCA har forces of George Soros, and from a number of conversations I’ve had with the Revoice crowd, the question that keeps coming up: are sinful desires sinful?  The more you reflect on this, the harder a simple answer is.

Image result for wgt shedd

Someone will say, “But Jesus was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”  That’s true.  So there is a type of temptation which is not sinful.  But Jesus didn’t experience every type of temptation.  He didn’t experience the alcoholic’s desire for another drink, for example.  In any case, I wanted to look at what Shedd said on concupiscence.

Internal Part of sin

Voluntary, not volitional.  It was will as desire, not will as volition (Shedd 552).  The difference between Jesus and, say, Adam was that the former did not lust after the supposed good.  True, Satan tempted his externally, but Jesus did not secretly want to violate God’s will, even if he didn’t via actions (553).

This kind of desire is called epithumia, which St Paul labels as sin (hamartia) in Romans 7:7.

Shedd points out that concupiscence is different from natural desires such as eating and drinking.  Gluttony, by contrast, is something more.  It is not instinctive.  It involves the will.

Key point:  sin isn’t just in the act, but in the sinful inclination that precedes the act (557).

That raises another question: let’s say that someone lusts after a woman who isn’t his wife.  By the grace of God, though, he refrains from committing adultery.  Did he sin?  Well, he didn’t commit adultery and that is eternally in his favor (speaking humanly). But he did sin with the lust.  That’s why the Shorter Catechism rejects that all sins are equally heinous in God’s eyes.

Shedd continues: “Original sin as corruption of nature in each individual is only the continuation of the first inclining away from God” (571).

Summary: When temptation comes from without, it is innocent (or at least we are until we accede to it).  When it arises from within, it is already sin (though of course the sin could be compounded).

Review: The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Gordon Clark)

Thesis: Gordon Clark identifies the “man” with the “soul, spirit, or mind” (Clark 88). Man is the image (9). Clark doesn’t want to include the body in the definition of the image, but not because he is a rationalist.  He notes that Paul had an out-of-body experience but he was still the image of God (10). Quoting Col. 3:10 and Eph. 4:24, Clark argues that the image is knowledge and righteousness (14).Gordon H Clark

The Image of God

Clark has a fine section rejecting the Roman doctrine of donum superadditum (8). God pronounced man “very good,” which means he wasn’t created in a state of neutrality.  If Adam’s fall was merely the loss of original righteousness, then he only fell to a neutral level (13).

On the heart

Clark gives an interesting survey of how the term “heart” is used in the Bible, noting that it is normally used in an intellectual of voluntaristic sense and rarely in a touchy-feely sense (81-88). The heart has a noetic function.  Without realizing it, Clark has come very close to a key epistemological insight that many of the church fathers knew.

Clark defends a dichotomous view of the human subject (33-44).

Traducianism

His discussion isn’t as long or analytic as William GT Shedd’s, but it contains a number of penetrating insights.  For example:

(1) It is a fallacy to say that all angels’ souls are immediately created by God, and humans have souls, therefore each soul is immediately created (this seems to be John Gill’s argument).

(2) Souls don’t have to be fissile (Clark doesn’t use that term) since our soul isn’t produced or created by our parents’.  Nor do souls have spatial characteristics. Rather, we should see souls in terms of “functions” (47). If souls are active, and no one doubts they are, then there is no prima facie reason why a soul can’t transmit another soul.

Does traducianism depends on realism?  Maybe, but no one is saying that it depends on Plato’s realism?  But even if it does have similarities, there is no reason why this threatens imputation.  There is no logical “incongruity between the proposition, ‘the souls of descendants are propogated through their parents’ and, the proposition, ‘Adam acted as the legal representative for all men’” (49).

Does Realism necessitate that we hold there is an Idea of x in which one participates?  It can mean that but it doesn’t have to. All that Realism in Clark’s case requires is that there is an Idea in God’s mind and it is a real object of knowledge. Nor is one saying that all men participated in the Idea of Man, which also happened to be the individual Adam.  

Mind-Body Problem

Whatever problems the Christian dualist may have in explaining the relationship between the mind and body, the materialist has more.  How does a causal relationship arise from sensory experience (91)?

Gold Nuggets

Clark was ahead of his time.  He anticipated and exposed many of the dead-ends that philosophers, educators, and scientists face today.  For example:

(1) How do empiricists explain the production of abstract ideas from memory images (19)?

(2) If naturalism is true, then how can one say that the naturalistic process of the brain is “more true” than the process of flexing my muscle?  If naturalism produces both behaviorism in one case and Christianity in the other, and both are merely naturalistic reflexes, why is Behaviorism more true than Christianity (29)?

(3) “The Romish theory therefore locates the source of sin in Adam’s unfallen nature” (58).

(4) Depravity is part of the penalty of sin; therefore, the guilt logically precedes it (67).  As Westminster says, “the guilt is imputed, the corruption conveyed” (68; VI:3).

Analysis

The book kind of “ends” suddenly.  Granted, the last page is part of an appendix, but Clark never actually says his conclusion.  He has a long quote by Malebranche, but we don’t know if Clark is affirming or rejecting Occasionalism.

I’m also none too keen on defining the image as the soul.  Does image = soul mean the same thing as soul = person? The latter leads to Nestorianism if applied to Christology.  To be fair, though, Clark never affirms Descartes’s substance dualism. The book is short and very clearly-written.  There are some underdeveloped areas but on a whole it is outstanding.

Dabney on Sensualistic Philosophy

(Please don’t get started on Dabney or racism.  He was a white supremacist, just like everyone else in America, North or South, at the time.  I condemn his racism as much as I condemn the racism of Lincoln or Sherman.) I am only posting this because of his discussions on faculty psychology as they relate to Edwards studies).

Dabney anticipates modern debates. He sees in the “Sensualists” modern Neo-Atheism. His response is an early, if inchoate, form of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. As Dabney sees it, the danger is if man is nothing but atoms, how can there be the existence of a soul, mind, will, or even God? Of course, many physicalists today deny precisely that, so sometimes Dabney’s reductios fall flat. His arguments are worth exploring, nonetheless.

Positive statement of the thesis: human intelligence is a pure rational spirit, not a bundle of senses (Dabney 12). He sees the beginning of Sensualism in Thomas Hobbes, where desire is “sensation transmuted.” And against later empiricists such as Locke, they confuse the occasion of the genesis of ideas with its cause (22).

Not every chapter is of immediate relevance. Dabney–as well as his opponents–were working with very limited understandings of science. Dabney’s true genius, rather, lies in his discussions of mind and soul. “The mind is a distinct spiritual substance” which is part of the common sense of mankind (107). And in defending the validity of a priori notions, he writes, “Our minds are validly entitled to intuitive cognitions gained apart from sense-experience (159). Concerning the origins of a priori notions, Our notions are determined from within our mind and not by a posteriori causes (182). Dabney even anticipates the idea of “properly basic beliefs” (he calls them ‘primitive judgments’). It is a judgment that does not depend on prior premises, whether deductive or inductive.

Dabney even anticipates modern rebuttals to empiricism and scientism. Sensual Empiricism is self-refuting. The claim “the mind derives all its ideas from sensation” is itself a non-sensory derived statement (185)! How can the empiricist make a universal judgment about cause-effect without seeing all examples? The mind, by contrast, makes immediately active judgments. When we see a succession of events, our mind automatically sequences them regardless of whether we have empirically verified the prior concept of “succession.” It just happens (shades of Thomas Reid!). Indeed, we have Properly basic beliefs (1st principles, etc) which cannot be conclusions of observations because “they must be in the mind in order to the making of any conclusions” (189).

Dabney and Free Agency

Dabney notes that the reformed system is not fatalistic or deterministic. He argues, “the grand condition of moral responsibility is rational spontaneity (211). The sensualist, by contrast, volitions are the effects of desires, and desire is sense-impression reappearing in reflex form.” The object of our choosing is the inducement to volition and the motive is the subjective cause. Motives arise from subjective reflections (214).

Volitions are free, yet they often have a uniformity of quality that we can predict them. This uniformity is what the Scholastics called habitus, the permanent subjective law of man’s free agency. Freedom is more than the liberty to execute volitions. The soul is self-determining. This is not Pelagianism, though. We are not saying the faculty of will is self-determining. The soul has its own regulative law of action. This regulative law is its dispositions. This fact coexists with the fact of consciousness.

Wherein consisteth man’s free agency? We maintain that the soul is the self-determining power. We reject the idea that the will is in perpetual equilibrium (and here Edwards’ critique is accurate).

Evaluation:

This book is hard-sledding. Some of it will not be relevant to the Christian theist today. A lot of Dabney’s reductios assumed that even his opponents will agree to the idea of “mind” or “soul.” This is not the case today. Further, some atheists can even hold to property-dualism, which does not reduce all to matter (e.g., holds to mental states). On the other hand, though, the book is an outstanding presentation of the traditional doctrines of the mind, soul, and free agency.

 

Charles Hodge on Pantheism

Relevance for today:  basically the same as Hinduism or New Age (connection to Alice Bailey, Lucis Trust).

My pagination is from the 2011 Hendrickson Reprint, vol. 1. These theses can double as both explanation and expose.

  1. Preclude the idea of creation, as the Infinite, which is eternal, could be either matter or spirit or both (301).
  2. Denies the personality of God (302).  “Personality as well as consciousness implies a distinction between self and the Not Self.”
  3. Man is not an individual subsistence or person, but only a moment in the life of Geist.
  4. As man is “only a mode of God’s existence, his acts are the acts of God, and as the acts of God are necessary, so are man’s.  This means no freedom of choice (303).
  5. It deifies evil (307ff).  Here Hodge quotes (but does not translate) some German pantheist.  He then remarks, “Such a sentence as the foregoing has never been written in English, and, we trust, never will be.”  If God be everything, and if there be a Satan, God must be Satan.
  6. As it denies the distinction between virtue and vice, only power in religion is left (314; here Hodge is speaking of Hindu pantheism).
  7. It renders rational religion impossible as it denies that the Supreme Being can be a person, and denies the distinction between subject and objecct (338).

 

 

Review: God, Heaven, and Har Magedon

This book is a mix of very good, and very, very, very bad. While containing brilliant insights into biblical symbology, Kline felt obligated to include every one of his unique (and often controversial) positions into this book.

He begins on a promising note. There is a “meta” reality to heaven, as it exists beyond our dimension. It is a holy location and contains sacred architecture. It is a palace/royal court (Deut. 26.15). Heaven is a temple that names God’s throne-site (Psalm 11 and 47). It is even identified with God in Revelation 21.22. “Heaven is the Spirit realm and to enter heaven is to be in the Spirit, Rev. 4.1” (9). Quite good.

He notes that in the biblical story we see a parallel warfare between two mountains, the mount of the Lord (usually, though not always Zion) and Mt Zaphon. Further Armageddon is Har Magedon and is not to be confused with the plain of Meggido, but that the Hebrew actually reads Har Mo’ed, the Mount of Assembly. And this is the part of Kline’s argument that is truly good and noteworthy. Assemblies are “gathered together” throughout the Old Testament, and Rev. 16.16 points out the act of gathering.

Whenever Har Moed appears in the Bible (Isa. 14.13) it is sometimes paired with its opposite, Hades or Sheol. Revelation pairs it with the pit of Abbadon (Rev. 9.11).

At the end of the book Kline identifies Har Magedon with Mt Zaphon in the North (251ff). This is a promising line of thought. Zaphon was the domain of Ba’al and can be seen as the center of wickedness. This makes sense if Gog is the Antichrist figure and comes “from the North.”

Zaphon was the Caananite version of Mt Olympus. This makes sense when we remember that Zaphon is paired with the Abyss. In Revelation 9 Apollyon (Apollo) is from the abyss. Apollo is the demon lord of the Abyss. (That’s my argument, not Kline’s). Kline also notes that when Har Mo’ed is mentioned, it is sometimes paired with the Abyss (Isa. 14:13-15; Rev. 16:16).

I will begin my analysis (and subsequent criticism) with his exegesis of Revelation 20.

Exegesis of Revelation 20

Background is Isa. 49: 24, 24. He is a Warrior who binds the Strongman (Matt. 12:29). Kline elsewhere identifies Jesus with Michael the Archangel, so Revelation 12:7-8 = Revelation 20: 1-3 (162).

Against premillennialism he argues that the chiastic structure of Revelation 12-20 favors Gog/Magog happening before the millennium.

a. Rev. 12.9. Dragon
B. Rev. 13:14. False Prophet
C. Rev. 16:13-16. Dragon, Beast, False Prophet
B’. Rev. 19.19-20. Beast and False prophet
A’. Rev. 20:7-10. Dragon.

And since they all refer to the same time period, and to the same event, this means premillennialism is false. Maybe. The chiasm is good but chiastic literature doesn’t always refer to the same event (many of the historical books form one whole chiasm, yet refer to various events).

Kline admits that the biblical evidence also supports premillennialism as well as amillennialism (170). Nevertheless, he argues that the millennium is the church age (171ff). Kline identifies the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as….I’m not quite sure. It seems he says “opposite of the second death” (176), so is it conversion? I think he is saying it is “the intermediate state of believers.”

Sed contra:

1* There are numerous premil responses to the claim that the binding of Satan = Jesus’s ministry. If the events refer back to Rev. 12, and Satan is bound and can’t deceive the nations, then what exactly was Satan doing in Rev. 13? Kline interacts with zero premillennialists (or postmils, for that matter).

2* He says the two resurrections, if interpreted literally, would confront us with a bizarre scenario (175). Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it is logically or textually false. And biblical supernaturalism is strange.

3* Interestingly enough, Kline doesn’t deal with the conclusion of Christ’s argument. If Christ has bound the strongman, then he is plundering his house. This sounds like Christendom and dominion!

Kline argues that postmillennialism is wrong because it cannot account for the final apostasy at the end (186). However, on Kline’s account it is hard to understand how there can be an apostasy, since history is always getting worse. I have to wonder how familiar with postmillennial writings Kline really is. Kline then can’t avoid a few cheap shots: “The melding of church and state and its coercive power, the arrangement which theonomic reconstructionism regards as the kingdom ideal to be attained during the millennium, is precisely what is anathematized in the Apocalypse” (186).

No Reconstructionist argues for this. Indeed, they have written books outlining the various covenants in society and how church doesn’t control state. Kline isn’t engaging in scholarship at this point. He is using scare tactics. His analysis isn’t just wrong. It beggars belief.

Kline only once deals with specific postmillennials, and that is David Chilton in a footnote on p. 269.

This book suffers from severe repetition. Page 185 is almost identical to p. 268. Some paragraphs are word-for-word the same.

A Discussion on Common Grace

Kline tells us that we live in the common grace age, but he never gives us a detailed discussion of what is the content of common grace. Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice. Well, yes and no. True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. However, we do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace. Is this a time or sphere of common grace? But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel.

What does it mean to rule according to common grace? How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one? General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

As Klaas Schilder notes, it is true that sin is being restrained. But by similar logic the fullness of Christ’s eschaton is not fully experienced. Apparently, it is restrained. (and this is true. So far, so good) If the first restraining is “grace,” then we must–if one is consistent–call the restraining of the blessing “judgment.” Kline’s position falls apart at this point.

End of a year, shoring up conclusions

My theology doesn’t “change” much anymore, although I do explore different emphases and distinctives.  I consider myself in the Reformation tradition, even if I don’t “truck” with current TR distinctives.  The following is a list of what I found that works and what is a dead end.

Dead Ends

  1. Pop level presuppositionalism.  The thing is, we can’t all be Bahnsens.  Further, name a big league (bigly) debater of Bahnsen’s caliber.  Sye doesn’t count.  Really, you can only say “Yeah, well how do you know that?” enough before it’s evident that you are clueless.
    1. So what’s my alternative?  I don’t know.  Present a coherent case for Christianity and offer defeaters.  That’s the best I can do.
    2. The thing is, modern presup has no clue about the current moves and discussions in philosophical theology.
  2. Internet Covenanter thought.  If you are a godly member in an RP type church, bless you.  Stay there and be fed.  My beef isn’t with you.  But at the same time, the type of Covenanter thought one finds on Facebook is intellectual cancer.  There is no depth of thought nor constructive engagement with the past, nor could there be.
    1. RP Covenanter thought is Donatism. Which splinter group is pure enough?  You see this with Steelites.
      1. We can take this a step further: on one covenanter page the question came up, “Can one read Dabney, given his terrible views on race?”  On a pastoral level that’s a fair question.  I’m not a Dabney fan by any stretch and the average person shouldn’t read Dabney.  But the question is deeper: can we read anyone who isn’t “pure enough?”
      2. And once you start asking that question, you end up with being the only pure group (think Steelites, Greg Price, Dodson, etc)
    2. Necessarily, this means that much of church history is off-limits.  Think about it: if anyone who isn’t using psalms only and no instruments is a Baal worshiper.
      1. Don’t try to point to quotes from Aquinas on using the Psalms.  True, the medieval church and early church didn’t rely on instruments, but these guys also had icons, incense, and sang Gregorian and Ambrosian hymns.   So they aren’t you.
      2. I’ve dealt with Covenanters before in the past, so I won’t say more here.

Let’s go to a happier note.  Here are some valuable moves I’ve learned (okay, that sounded like a karate movie).

  1. Hans Boersma.  I read Heavenly Participation a few years ago and it had a big impact on me. I don’t accept his Radical Orthodoxy reading of philosophy, but his Platonic worldview did cash out in several ways:
    1. Heaven is more important than politics.
    2. The emphasis on “heaven” keeps one from following all of the “redeeming the body” fads.
    3. Dear Reformed people: do you want a good response to NT Wright?  Don’t try to rebut him on Paul.  Just show him Boersma’s view on heaven.
    4. However, I don’t hold with his emphasis on the Nouvelle Theologie.  De Lubac had a few good books but most of the time he just cited sources.  Further, Nouvelle Theologie was incapable of dealing with the modernism that followed Vatican II.
  2. Analytic Theology.  It’s simply too powerful a tool to ignore.  Yes, some of them go off the deep end and do nothing but quote truth tables all day.