Review: Principalities and Powers (Montgomery)

Montgomery, John Warwick.

This is the best mature Evangelical treatment on the subject. Conservative evangelicalism faces a schizophrenia on this topic. On one hand, they know that the demonic and occultic exist because the Bible says so and modern experience is becoming almost overwhelming. On the other hand, they tend to write this off as charismatic kookiness and with the view that spiritual gifts have ceased today, they really don’t know what to make of this indisputable phenomenon.

Principalities And Powers; The World Of The Occult by John Warwick Montgomery

Montgomery approaches with a relatively open mind. He resists the urge to write off all of the paranormal as demonic. He introduces a key distinction: we must separate the fact from the interpretation of that fact. He also points out where individuals find themselves with ESP-like abilities in situations that are neither angelic nor demonic.

He does move his analysis into the occult, however. He gives a brilliant summary of the history of occultism and Cabalism. He has a fascinating analysis of how to interpret “ghosts” (for lack of a better word). All the while he remains faithful to biblical revelation on the afterlife.

He ends with a humorous, if quite interesting, fictional short story of a liberal minister who becomes convinced of the demonic.

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Book Review: The Word of God and the Mind of Man (Nash)

Nash, Ronald.  The Word of God and the Mind of Man. Zondervan: 1982. Reprint by Presbyterian and Reformed.RonNash

The possibility of our having cognitive knowledge about God was denied on three grounds:  God is too transcendent; 2) human knowledge is de jure problematic; 3) human language was de jure problematic.

Question of the book: Can the human logos know the Logos of God (Nash 14)?

Hume’s Gap: our pivotal beliefs must rest on something besides knowledge.

Kant’s wall: there is a wall between the world as it is and the sense world.

For the Neo-Orthodox, revelation is always an event.  It is never cognitive knowledge about God.

Defense of Propositional Revelation

(A)  All S is P                                             (E) No  S is P

(I)  Some S is P                                         (O) Some S is not P.

(A) All revelation is propositional       (E) No revelation is propositional

(I) Some revelation is propositional    (O) Some rev. Is not propositional

We can rule out O as irrelevant to the discussion.  The Neo-Orthodox thinks that all evangelicals hold to A, but that’s false.  We hold to I.  Further, holding to I doesn’t entail the claim that all revelation is propositional.

In short God reveals knowledge to his creation and some of this knowledge about himself is contained in the form of propositions (45). And even if one wants to claim that revelation is personal, saving faith still presupposes saving faith about something.

The Christian Logos

This is the heart of Nash’s project. Key idea: “Jesus Christ, the eternal Logos of god, mediates all divine revelation and grounds the correspondence between the divine and human minds” (59).

The Christian Rationalism of St Augustine

Augustine has some sort of interplay between the uncreated Light of God and the mutable light of the human mind (81). How can the human mind understand the eternal Forms within God’s mind?  Nash suggests three ways:

(1) The human intellect is both passive and active with respect to the forms (85). It is passive, pace Kant, in that it doesn’t create the conditions for knowledge. It is active in the sense that it judges and receives.

(2) The forms are and are not separate from the divine mind.

(3) The human mind is and is not a light that makes knowledge possible.

While Nash had a fine discussion on how Augustine modified Plato’s essentialism, and I don’t necessarily disagree, the chapter just feels “short.” I know he wrote a book on the topic and it is worth pursuing there.

In Defense of Logic

When Nash wrote this book, the Dooyeweerdian school in Toronto was a force to be reckoned with (one sees something similar in John Frame’s works).  Nash gives a fine rebuttal to the Dooyeweerdians: if human reason is valid only one one side of the cosmonomic boundary, “then any inference that God is transcendent must be an illegitimate application of human reason” (99). In other words, if God is transcendent, you are in error for saying he is transcendent!

Conclusion

The Logos of God has created the logos of the human mind in such a way that that it can receive cognitive, propositional knowledge about a transcendent God.

 

Review: John Owen’s Trinitarian Spirituality (Kay)

Kay, Brian.  Paternoster Press.

Image result for brian kay john owen

How does one combine the gains of the so-called “Western” doctrine of God with the demands of spirituality and relating to the divine persons?  How do we avoid collapsing the unity into a pantheistic oneness (ala Meister Eckhardt)? It is John Owen’s genius, so argues Kay, that we maintain the gains of the Western doctrine while simultaneously relating to the three persons.

Kay hints at his conclusion but doesn’t fully develop it at this point: instead of “narrative theology,” which while helpful in capturing the dynamic movement of revelation, negates any need for space-time fulfillment.  Rather, we should follow the drama of the Covenant (Kay 38). Contra Nietzsche, a robust covenantal reading of Scripture means our “values” aren’t timelessly Platonic, but eschatologically appropriate (40).

For Owen there is an order of the divine communication: the Father’s love is the fountainhead, person and mediation of the Son is the substance, and the Holy Spirit infuses light et al (69).

And now Kay comes to the heart of the problem–given the West’s emphasis on the unity of the divine works ad extra, how do we account for issues like the Father’s speaking to the Son (John 12:23) and larger issues like the Covenant of Redemption? I think throughout the book Kay hints at an answer:  the drama of the divine covenants structures our language of the works ad extra, and so this isn’t a problem.

I think this is a tension but not an insurmountable problem.  In any case, it shouldn’t detract from Kay’s practical conclusions.  Our communion flows from our union. This contrasts with the medievals who reversed the order by placing “union” at the top of a ring of increasing levels of communion (118).

This book is very well-organized and argued.  I don’t think Kay solved all of the problems. I would have liked to see more discussion of Barth’s challenge to the Covenant of Redemption.  Nonetheless, while his thesis is quite good, it is the side issues that are extremely fascinating.

Review: Social Justice and the Christian Church (Nash)

This book isn’t quite the violent beat-down of the Sojourners guys that David Chilton’s was, but it’s close. It was a pointed response back then; it is a desperate cry today. As church groups are falling, or about to fall, to Social Justice, Nash’s words are worth hearing.

Ask a social Justice Warrior what Justice is. Do it. It’s quite funny. Nash begins with Aristotle. Not that Aristotle is great, but his discussions are as good as any.

The ancient (and most simple) definition of justice is “giving each one what she is due” (Nash 29). The problem is obvious: there is no way you can take this correct definition and deduce an entire economics program from it.

Universal justice: a person is just in the universal sense if he possesses all of the virtues. The Bible echoes this in Gen. 6:9 and Ezek. 18:5.

Particular justice: a man is just in this sense if he does not grasp for more than what he is due. Nash, following Aristotle, sees three subsets of this justice:

(1) commercial justice: just weights and balances.

(2) remedial justice: some wrong must be made right.

(3) distributive justice: a good or burden is apportioned among human beings (Nash 31).

Formal Principle of Justice: We can summarize Aristotle: equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally. Unfortunately, there is no criterion to help us.

Material Principle of Justice: this is usually seen in needs, deserts, achievement, etc.

Two Contemporary Theories of Justice

Rawls: (a) each person has a right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with others’ basic liberties; (b) justice as fairness

To make his project work Rawls says everyone must assume a “veil of ignorance.” In other words, you have to imagine a society where any rights you give yourself wouldn’t conflict with others’ rights. The problem with this, as Nash notes, is we have no reason to think that anyone would come up with this veil of ignorance. The veil of ignorance idea isn’t bad, per se; we just have no reason for believing it. Anyway, there is no reason to think it is just (42ff).

As other critics have pointed out, any invention in society (like the automobile) has the potential to make 95% of society more affluent, yet it would marginalize a few. Therefore, cars are unjust. But no one will seriously live this way. The automobile would impoverish the horse-and-buggy industry. Should we get rid of automobiles?

The liberal confuses economic merit with moral merit

Justice and the Welfare State

Problem with interventionism: “The liberal’s obsession with the proper distribution of society’s goods blinds him to a crucial truth: that before society can have enough gooods to distribute among the needy, a sufficient quantity of goods must be produced. By focusing all their attention on who gets what, defenders of the welfare state promote policies that severely restrict production” (64).

Justice and the Bible

We can’t confuse Love and Justice. The state is an agent of justice, and states by definition are coercive.

Problems with enacting the Year of Jubilee today:

a) Not all poor would be helped. If you didn’t own land prior, then you aren’t getting any today.

b) Only Israelite slaves are freed. Tough luck to anyone else.

c) Only property outside the city would be affected. Sold property within the walled city would become permanent exchange after a year.

d) Immigrants did not have permanent land rights, so they wouldn’t be helped.

e) Those who were born after the Jubilee but died before it wouldn’t be helped.

Quotes of Liberty

“Social justice, as viewed by statist proponents…is possible only in a society controlled from the top down” (50).

In terms of content and prophetic witness, the book is magnificent. However, much of it is a summary of Rothbard and there really isn’t new content.

Review: John Owen, Communion with God

My copy of Owen was from his Works, volume 2.  Nonetheless, this review will also serve for the shorter Puritan Paperbacks edition.  following the review is an outline on the book.

Owen gives us a dense, thorough, yet manageable snapshot, not only of Reformed prolegomena, but of Trinitarian piety as well. Given the current (if overblown) popularity of the YRR crowd–who know not Turretin nor his principia–yet strangely seek Owen, Owen can give them a taste of proper Reformed theologomena. In many ways, this can function as a primer to systematic theology. So here it goes:

Basic definitions:

communion: A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8). The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ. Our union with Christ is mystical and spiritual, not hypostatic (313). He is the Head, we the members and he freely communicates “grace, righteousness, and salvation, in the several and distinct ways whereby we are capable to receive them from him.”

Sealing the Union

Any act of sealing always imparts the character of the seal to the thing (242). Owen is clear: The Spirit really communicates the image of God unto us. “To have the stamp of the Holy Ghost…is to be sealed in the Spirit.”

This isn’t the most concise treatment of the issues, but Owen is quite fine in his own way. His writing is only difficult when he gets off topic (as in his otherwise fine Vindication of the Trinity at the end of the volume). Some in the YRR make it seem like Owen is borderline incomprehensible. He isn’t.

Short Outline:

  1. That the saints have communion with God
    1. Communion as to state and Communion as to condition
      1. Things internal and spiritual
      2. Outward things
    2. Communion fellowship and action.
    3. Definition:   A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8).  The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ.
  2. The saints have this communion with the Trinity.
    1. The way and means of this communion:
      1. Moral and worship of God: faith, hope, love.
        1. For the Father: He gives testimony and beareth witness to the Son (1 John 5.9).
        2. For the Son:
        3. For the Holy Spirit:
      2. The Persons communicate good things to us:
        1. Grace and peace (Rev. 1.4-5)
        2. The Father communicates all grace by way of original authority (Owen 17).
        3. The Son by way of making a purchased treasury (John 1.16; Isa. 53.10-11).
        4. The Spirit doth it by way of immediate efficacy (Rom. 8.11).
  3. Peculiar and Distinct Communion with the Father:
    1. Our communion with the Father is principialy and by way of eminence (18).
    2. There is a concurrence of actings and operations of the whole Deity in that dispensation, wherein each person concurs to the work of salvation.
    3. If we speak particularly of a person, it does not exclude other media of communion.
    4. God’s love (19).
      1. God’s love is antecedent to the purchase of Christ.
      2. The apostles particularly ascribe love to God the father (2 Cor. 13).
      3. Love itself is free and needs no intercession.  Jesus doesn’t even bother to pray that the Father will love his own (John 16.26-27).
      4. Twofold divine love
        1. Beneplaciti:  Love of good destination for us
        2. Amicitiae: love of friendship (21).
      5. The father is the fountain of all following gracious dispensations:
    5. Communion with the Father in love
      1. That they receive it of him
      2. That they make suitable returns unto him.

Review: Escape from Reason (Schaeffer)

In Schaeffer’s other works he shows you step by step on how to “take the roof off” of a stoned-up hippie.  He doesn’t do that in this one. This is more of a Dooyeweerdian (though he never acknowledges it) deconstruction of the nature-grace dualisms.  I think he succeeds, though there are a few howlers. Along the way he gives brilliant insights, but the frustrating thing is that they are all in passing and are never developed.

Most of the book is a summary of He is there and He is Not Silent and The God Who is There.  Still, as a summary it avoids most (but not all) of Schaeffer’s weak points and the argument is forced to be tighter.

Aquinas as Fall

He wants to blame Aquinas for everything. I’m sympathetic to that idea, and there is much wrong with Aquinas, though I don’t think we can pin every problem on him, at least not as regards art.  Aquinas’ focus on particulars opened up the world of nature in art. Previously, art focused on the universal. Artists after Aquinas began to focus more on nature. The danger was that nature was autonomous and ate up the upper storey of grace. Schaeffer writes, “Aquinas lived from 1225 to 1274, thus these influences were quickly felt in the field of art” (Schaeffer 12).  Who is he talking about? He means Cimabue (1240-1302). Thus, with Cimabue we see Aquinas’s focus on the particular. Strictly speaking, this is a logical fallacy. It reads:

If Aquinas’s focus on particulars, then we will see the influence of Cimabue’s paintings on nature.

We see the influence of Cimabue’s paintings on nature.

Therefore, Aquinas is the influence.

This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  In any case, it’s doubtful that Aquinas’s monastic writings would have been mainstreamed in the art community.  Nevertheless, Schaeffer offers a number of diagrams that demonstrate this nature-grace fall (which I will show at the  end of the review).

Reformation man didn’t have this duality of nature and grace, since God’s propositional revelation spoke to both storeys.  Therefore, even though nature isn’t grace, we have a unified propositional revelation from God.

The Modern Era

There is Schaeffer’s notorious section on Hegel, notorious in the sense that he gets everything wrong.  But this also reveals that Schaeffer misplaces the antithesis. We commend Schaeffer for his take on the law of non-contradiction.   We just reject this as the antithesis. If this is the point of antithesis, and if the Greeks upheld it as Schaeffer maintains, then on his gloss the Greeks were quite biblical in epistemology.  This is unacceptable.

His analysis of modern art is quite good, or so I imagine.  I don’t know much about modern art, except that most of the stuff in the National Endowment of Arts is trash.

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Critique

I like this book better than the others in his trilogy.  I read it in one sitting. It’s very well-written. And the diagrams are great.  My main problem is that it reads too much like a genealogical critique. What I mean is that Schaeffer traces the problem of a thought by seeing the problems in its predecessor’s thought.  This is very close to the genetic fallacy.

But there is another problem.  Let’s grant that Schaeffer’s analysis is correct.  This can’t substitute for the hard work in epistemology and metaphysics that the budding apologist has to do.

Diagrams

Schaeffer’s project represents the “two-storey” universe.  God is up top. Man on the bottom. Unhinged from biblical revelation this means that the world of “universals” is above and the world of particulars below.  They either never meet or one eats up the other.

Set 1.

Grace
——-
Nature

[Renaissance art]

Grace (universals)
———–
Nature (particulars)

[Kant and Rousseau]

Freedom
————
Nature

Schaeffer has a brilliant point there.   Reformation man posited the uniformity of nature within an open system.  Apostate man believes in the uniformity of nature within a closed system, and is left with a mechanical determinism when it comes to human freedom.

[Kierkegaard and the New Theology]

Faith
—–
Rationality

[Secular Existentialism]

Optimism must be non-rational
——————————
All rationality = pessimism

 

Review: He is there and he is not silent (Schaeffer)

Schaeffer, Francis.  He is There and He is Not Silent.  Tyndale.  1979 reprint.

Image result for he is there and he is not silent

On page 1 Schaeffer defines metaphysics as “the existence of Being.”  That’s an ambiguous statement at best. Does he mean that there is an entity called Being which itself exists?  That’s not necessarily wrong, and a good Platonist would have no problem with it, but I don’t think that’s what he means.  In normal usage metaphysics means something like “the nature of reality” or the study of being.”

“An impersonal beginning leads to some sort of reductionism” (8). Schaeffer suggests that if all is bare particularity and there is no universal (or universals) to bind the particulars together, then they can’t have any significance.  I like the idea, but I think it is under-developed. He explains the idea better with pantheism. If all is essence, or one, or whatever, then there is nothing to distinguish the particulars. They don’t have any meaning. You don’t have any meaning.

Schaeffer’s argument is quite simple: you have to begin with the infinite-personal Trinity in order to have meaning.  He means something like only the Trinity, and the propositional revelation of God-in-Christ, can allow for predication between universals and particulars.  I agree. I just think he needs more than 100 pages to make the case.

He has two long chapters on epistemology.  They were surprisingly good and the astute reader can sense the Van Til. He begins, as all must, with pointing out the failures of the Greeks. Their gods were personal, but finite.  As a result sometimes the gods controlled fate; sometimes fate controlled the gods. Knowledge and morality were iffy.

Plato rightly championed universals, but where was the universal that held everything to be located?  The gods were finite and fate was impersonal.

He makes a fascinating suggestion that the Reformation’s insistence, not merely on sola scriptura, but on propositional revelation, solved the problem of nature and grace. Verbal, propositional revelation had both an infinitely personal God (universals; upper storey) that speaks to the space-time world (62).  It’s a brilliant suggestion worthy of a doctoral dissertation.

This book is much better than The God Who is There.  Schaeffer’s argument is “tighter” and he doesn’t get sidetracked on philosophical issues that are beyond his capacity.