Review: Bavinck, Essays on Society and Religion

It pains me to rate this only three stars, given Bavinck’s towering reputation. But alas, it must be so. Remember the parts of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics where he did historical surveys on dead 19th century Germans? Those were also the only parts of RD that you didn’t enjoy. This book is those parts, or like unto it.

The essays at the end of the book were pretty good, as he dealt with faculty psychology and classical education. The sections at the front on philosophy of religion are weak, but that is the nature of the case. In reading this one also gets a feel for world culture at the time, especially as Europe was hurtling towards the inferno of World War I and the Russian Revolution, when Satan would be unleashed upon the world. Bavinck is seen fighting a heroic rear-guard action. But in reading these essays one gets the impression that Bavinck is often outgunned and out manned.

Further, with a few exceptions, if you were an unbeliever in 19th century Europe, your work is outdated garbage, even by today’s unbelieving standards. I’m not sure exactly what Bavinck’s critiques add to this body of knowledge. Skip this and read his Philosophy of Revelation instead.

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Battle Hymns of Various Republics

From Mark Twain:

Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.

I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps—
His night is marching on.

I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!”

We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat; *
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!

In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom—and for others’ goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich—
Our god is marching on.

On a happier note, the Battle Hymn of Christian Church, by Francis Nigel Lee.

My eyes have seen the glory of Jehovah our great King
For our God is trampling Satan. Hallelu-Jah! Let us sing!
With His Word, we’ll hammer humanists; to Jesus, converts bring
For Christ goes reigning on!

Glory, glory, hallelu-Jah
Sing the psalms to our Lord Jesus!
Sing the psalms to our Lord Jesus!
For Christ goes reigning on!

I have seen Him in the pulpits of His Christocratic Church.
He is making us His soldiers, while His Word we gladly search!
As we fight His righteous battles, He’ll not leave us in the lurch.
For Christ goes reigning on!

When He rose, He blew the trumpet that shall never sound defeat!
He is sifting out the hearts of men, before His judgment seat.
Let me, too, help crush His enemies! Subdue them, O my feet!
For Christ goes reigning on!

We will serve Jehovah-Jesus, in the storms and in the calms.
We will gladly sing out loud, all the imprecatory psalms.
We’ll impose God’s Law against all thugs, with never any qualms.
For Christ goes reigning on!

In the beauty of the New Earth, there’ll be neither sin nor sea.
For the Lord’s bride will be happy, in her blissful “slavery” —
While the wicked burn eternally in hell, from virtue “free”
For Christ goes reigning on!

to be sung with the New Dixie

Now the Triune God must never be forgotten!
Again He’ll march through the land of cotton
and from here, Dixieland — we’ll yet win, America!

For the Brave New World that now is so perverted,
in God’s good time is going to get converted
and the Earth, will get full — of the fear, of the Lord!

Our God will yet revive us
and our King will bring
both Dixieland and Yankeeland
and all the world to serve Him!
Don’t shirk, let’s work,
and live the Gospel Story!
Begin, we’ll win,
and give God all the glory!

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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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