Review: Mises, Theory and History

While there is much good in this volume, I have some reservations (which I will list in my conclusion). Still, it is very lucid.

Values are subjective, but not relative.  Subject simply means “from the knowing subject.”  Thus Mises can write that “any scientific treatment of the problems of value judgements must take into full account the fact that these judgments are subjective and changing” (von Mises 24).

Mises holds to a utilitarian version of natural law.  By itself it isn’t that bad, but it is utilitarian to the extent that he knows he really can’t give a justification for it.  This is evident in his treatment of justice: “the ultimate yardstick of justice is conduciveness to the preservation of social cooperation….Social utility is the only standard of justice. It is the sole guide to legislation” (36).  Strong words, indeed.

Mises’s section on determinism is misleading.  He is seeking the Christian doctrine of providence and the self-contained God who is the concrete universal, for he wants to deny pure randomness.  Mises wants to uphold determinism but reject materialism (52).

Dismantling Marx

Marx had said that “material, productive forces” is the agent of change in society.  However, as von Mises points out, he never told us what these are (73). How do you get technical knowledge from a material superstructure?  Mises lists three problems with this idea:

1) a technological invention is not merely material; it is the product of a mental process.
2) a mere designing of a technological invention is not sufficient to produce it.
3) the utilization of machines presupposes the social cooperation under the division of labor.

Is Wealth Really Concentrated in the hands of a few?

To a certain extent, maybe. But this ignores the most obvious fact about corporations: the bigger the corporation the more widely its stock shares are distributed (79).

Criticisms

He had an awful section on medieval Christianity.  He tried to engage in exegesis and was clearly out of his league (29-30). Further, this is probably a Mises volume that you could skip and not miss anything. If you are the type who is interested in Mises, then you will probably read *Human Action,* anyway. Or at least *Socialism.* You get the same destruction of Marxism there without the extra material where he fights forgotten early 20th century fellow humanists.

 

 

 

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Dooyeweerd on Aristotle

This is from the first 28 pages of New Critique of Theoretical Thought vol 3. I never finished the book because he spent the latter part of it talking about the law-structures of different plants.  I couldn’t see how this was meaningful.

Critique of Thomist metaphysics

Substance: possessing a permanence unaffected by change (Dooyeweerd 4).

  • Our experience of the identity of a thing is always temporal.

Dooyeweerd claims that the traditional view of a thing standing behind a thing contradicts the Christian conception “of human selfhood as a spiritual center,” whose nature is a self-surrender to God (6).

Traditional views of substance see it as a “kernel” under the accidents

To what, primary substance?  It cannot be a pre-theoretically conceived thing, for that is always bound “to the subject object relation” (10).

So what is ousia? Dooyeweerd: “It cannot be a mere relation between form and matter since in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic the concept of substance functions as the independent point of reference” (11).  The category of relation is thinner and accidental.

Nor can it be composite or synthetic, since there must be a unity prior to this.

The Greeks could never latch onto the Creational idea of substance as a structure of individuality (16). [JBA–what is an individuality structure and how is that different from a substance?]

If matter is the principium individuationis, then there can’t be a real idea “of the structure of individuality” (17; since this idea isn’t encased in matter).

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Gary North quotes

This is just for fun. I am not necessarily endorsing the finer points of what he is saying, but only pointing out how good a writer he really is.

“When you criticize someone with followers, the followers recognize that, if you are correct, they have been sucked in. If they had been sucked in, then they must not be too bright, or at least they were not well enough informed to form a critical judgment which would have led them to identify their leader as someone not worth following. So, a criticism of the leader produces a particular response in the followers. They feel that there has been an attack on them personally. The critic is saying, loud and clear, that anyone who has followed this particular leader is not a good judge of character, intellect, or facts. They are quite correct. This is exactly what the critic is saying.”

“The negative penalties of the Old Testament case laws were not harsh but just, not a threat to society but rather the necessary judicial foundation of civic freedom… the Old Testament was harsh on criminals because it was soft on victims.”
― Gary NorthVictim’s Rights: The Biblical View of Civil Justice
“Do you really believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, plans to be a loser in history?”

“Microeconomics: The study of who has the money and how I can get my hands on it.Macroeconomics: The study of which government agency has the gun, and how we can get our hands on it.”

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Review: Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting:  carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books.  I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes: 1) Control: 2) Authority  3) Covenant presence. 

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics.  He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic:  man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God. 

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications.  I am not going to give a summary of each commandment.  Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences.  Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW.  Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471). 

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories.  Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.” 

What about temple worship?  Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods. 

In his discussion of the Decalogue he hints at a rebuttal of Kline’s “Intrusion Ethics.” 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. Frame notes that we “do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace” (535). 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. 

Is Kline talking about government?  Perhaps, and a holy government is one that bears “the divine name” and “the promise of being crowned with consummation glory” (Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 96). But does Scripture ever describe a government as such? Israel is a “chosen people,” to be sure, but is the nation itself promised with consummation glory?

In any case, as Frame notes, nothing in Genesis 4-9 suggests a distinction between holy and nonholy governments (536).  And even if it did, that wouldn’t help explain how the modern magistrate, who might happen to be a Christian, is to rule.  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.

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Review: Vos, Redemptive History

Vos, Geerhardus.  Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation.  P&R, 1980.

While a collection of individual essays, in many ways this is a coherent whole of Vos’s larger theology.  We can review the material around several themes: biblical theology, covenant, and eschatology.  While the prose is dense, and Vos does spend quite a bit of time dealing with dead Germans, there are numerous insights of biblical wisdom.

Biblical theology

The first feature of supernatural revelation is its historical progress (7).  God doesn’t communicate the calm light of eternity all at once. God’s self-revelation proceeds in a sequence of words and acts. “By imparting elements of knowledge in a divinely arranged sequence God has pointed out to us the way in which we might gradually grasp and know Him” (7). Revelation is interwoven and conditioned at every point by the redeeming activity of

Eschatology

The two ages are increasingly recognized as answering to two spheres of being which coexist from of old, so that the coming of the new age assumes the character of a revelation and extension of the supernal order of things (28). Contrary to Platonism, where there is an ideal first and a physical (and probably inferior) copy later, Paul’s resurrection thought places the pneumatikon last, not first.

Covenant

His essay on the Covenant in Reformed Theology is worth the price of the book. The covenant idea dominates the work of redemption.  Is this the equivalent of positing a central dogma?  Maybe, but so what if it is?  The question is whether it is correct or not. The work of salvation corresponds to the unfolding of the covenant and proceeds in a covenantal way. The CoR is the pattern for the CoG. Covenantal relation unfolds as the essence of the riches of the ordo. Image of God in man: for the Reformed image is not identified with the moral qualities of the soul.

Nota Bene

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is Vos’s exegesis of Romans 1:3-4, which overturns older manuals.  Vos argues this can’t refer to two existing states in the constitution of the Messiah, but rather to two eschatological modes (104). The two prepositional phrases have adverbial force: they describe the mode of the process. The resurrection is a new status of Sonship.

Problem with the older view: it has to restrict σαρξ to the body, because Spirit is already psychologically conceived and thus takes the place of the immaterial element.  Yet, this is the Apollinarian heresy. Secondly, it is compelled to take the κατα clauses in two different senses.

Conclusion:

Like all of Vos’s work, this is difficult, but it repays careful reading.

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So that was fun

A friend of mine shared my previous blog post on several facebook groups.  Most thought it was entertaining, but it did irritate several groups of people–the very groups in that blog post. A few of my old seminary friends saw it and verified everything I said, and then some.  RTS Jackson was a few years from shutting down.

Others who went there said the Southern Presbyterian element wasn’t as strong as I made it out to be.  Maybe.  Certainly, the racial element was gone, thankfully.  At the same time a lot of professors had left, so there’s that.  But then again maybe the Southern Presbyterian element wasn’t strong simply because it is not a theologically strong school.  They say they want to train pastor-theologians.  That’s a stretch.  Most of the classes are surface-level.  You simply can’t spend a long time on a theologian or a section of theology. They are more interested in churning out preacher-boys.

Someone said I was bitter.  I’m not. I mean, I was from 2007-2011 but not anymore.  I bring it up so that others don’t end up going there and wasting time and money.

One FV “Dark” guy (think old biblical horizons list) saw the post and said it was a waste of time.  There is a streak in some federal vision theology that has a “if ya ain’t with us, yer gin us!”  But that’s a small streak.

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FV, Shepherd, and where the bodies are buried

I’ve put off doing an autobiographical post on my relationship to the Federal Vision for quite a while.  Maybe for several reasons.  Too much blood still on the floor. RTS never distinguished between those who were mentally Baptists (e.g., RTS) and Covenantal, thus making everyone who wasn’t a Southern Presbyterian a Federal Visionist.

I’ll go ahead and put my cards on the table. I don’t consider myself Federal Vision for reasons that will be apparent. I like what Norm Shepherd says on Covenant and Election.  I consider myself a Schilderite.

But this post isn’t just bashing RTS, as fun and necessary as that is.  I’ve forgiven them.  They stole money from me but it was for the best.  But RTS did represent a certain moment in American Presbyterianism that does need to be addressed.

There isn’t a strict logic to this post, but it will follow some general order.  I didn’t write it all at once since I have a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. A note of interpretation: when I write “FV” in negative connotations, I mean certain young bloggers.  The older FV generation, the “conference speakers,” so to speak, have been the soul of kindness to me.

Federal Vision, the Good and the Bad

What is the Federal Vision?  I don’t really know. Few do, actually.  Proponents say there isn’t one view.  Critics are impatient with that answer because it seems like FV is evading the issue.  But there isn’t one view. Doug Wilson has nominally rejected the label.  For years Jordan and Leithart were polar opposite from Wilson.  No one has heard of Steve Schlissel in a decade.  It doesn’t make sense to speak of a monolithic FV view.

Let’s take the book Federal Vision.  Look at the essays.  Barach’s essay is Schilder 101.  I have some questions about it but there is nothing “new” to it. Simple, post-Kuyper Dutch theology.  Horne and Lusk rightly (which even critics acknowledge) point to the Baptist nature of the American experience.  Jordan’s essay is controversial.  I grant that.

My Seminary Experience

I was a postmillennial theonomist when I went to seminary.  Yeah, you can see what RTS would have thought about that. To be fair, most of the profs in person were great guys.  Most people actually are decent people in real life.  Really, it wasn’t the profs themselves who were the problem.  It was the adjunct people they got to teach classes. They were usually local pastors.

On the kindest analysis, they were simply incompetent.  Realistically, some were mentally unhinged.  It’s not simply, “Oh, you’re a theonomist, then you are wrong.”  Rather, it was, “Oh, so you don’t fall into my interpretation of a unique slice of Presbyterian taxonomy, then you deny justification by faith alone.”

But enough bashing RTS.  I was involved with several FV guys (who no longer wear the label).  They really wanted me to become Federal Vision.  I didn’t.  I was under the authority of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at the time and I didn’t have any business joining unique movements.  Did I like some of the FV thoughts?  Sure, but I challenged the FV  to show me what ecclesiastical obligation from the OPC that  I had to join FV.

In any case, I was probably more influenced by Norman Shepherd. I was new to covenant theology and NS’s views really made a lot of sense. Further, the OPC dealt more with Shepherd than FV.

But as irritating as some FV  were, the Southern Presbyterians weren’t making it any easier.  I got points taken off in Covenant Theology because I quoted Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God. If you affirmed conditions in the Covenant of Grace, or affirmed other than a strict works principle in the Covenant of Works, watch out.

I remember that Herman Bavinck’s volume 3 of Reformed Dogmatics came out during our week long Christology class (yes, only a week long.  That’s how important knowing about Jesus is.  That’s why Eastern Orthodox eat our lunch on Christology discussions).  I went up to the adjunct, the aforementioned mentally unhinged prof, and said, “Isn’t it great that Bavinck’s volume on Christology came out?”  He gave me an “Are you kidding?” look?  I wonder if he even heard of Bavinck.

It’s not hard to see that FV and American Reformed world would end up with a messy divorce. I don’t think FV always alleviated their critics’ concerns about regeneration.  But even more problematic, there was a strong Baptistic mentality in the Jackson area.  This was about the same time that Reformed Baptists were gaining a presence in American life.  The Gospel Coalition was just hitting the stage.  Mohler was the intellectual voice of conservative Christians.  Therefore, it made more sense to move on that wavelength than to ask how “covenant and liturgy” were related.

I guess it’s good I left RTS when I did.  I never dealt with the Gospel Coalition until I came out of the EO orbit in 2012.  And further, from what I’ve gathered, there are some Critical Race adherents working for RTS now.

Conclusion

One thing the Federal Vision did was make clear the latent division lines in the Reformed world. From the RTS perspective, only a certain amalgam of Scottish and Southern Presbyterian thought counts as acceptable Reformed theology.  Bavinck might get grandfathered in, but he is so close to Kuyper, and Kuyper is basically the evils of theonomy that you are better off not associating with Bavinck.

Van Til was another problem. RTS didn’t like him but they knew it was not wise to anger the OPC (and thus lose precious tuition money–their finances were in a bad shape for a few years). As long as you didn’t actually “do” anything with Van Til, you were okay.

In a weird way, it kind of reflects the Clarkian taxonomy of American Presbyterian life.  The OPC, for them, was bad because it had “Dutch” elements.

I’m not angry with RTS anymore.  They meant it for evil (that is, their stealing $30,000 from me not counting tuition) but God meant it for good.  My only real beef with FV is with certain proponents who have more or less faded from view.  There is a post by a former FV guy that (accurately) says where FV, at least the younger disciples, are weak at.  The older guys–the original four or five–know the source material better than most.  I am going to tag onto what he said and add my own thoughts.

  • FV guys really don’t know the post-Calvin sources that well.  Well, neither does the average Reformed guy.  Really, who does?  This stuff is only now being translated into English.
  • FV claims catholicity but isn’t really in line with the larger Reformed world.  Maybe.  I am not in the CREC nor am I in NAPARC, so I can’t say.
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