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.

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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.

Outline: Book 2, Calvin’s Institutes

Book 1.

Summary of argument so far:  Doctrine of the Knowledge of God –> Man’s problem –> Ten Commandments –> Old and New Covenants  –> Person of the Mediator.

BOOK 2: THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE REDEEMER IN CHRIST, FIRST DISCLOSED UNDER THE LAW, AND THEN IN THE GOSPEL

Chapter 1: Fall of Adam, Original Sin

  1. Two problems with self-knowledge (2.1.3)
    1. How do we acqurire it?
  2. Original sin: we are corrupted not by derived wickedness but by inborn defect.

Chapter 2: Man Deprived of freedom of choice

  1. The faculties of the soul, situated in mind and heart, are also corrupted.
  2. What is free will?
    1. Necessity does not mean compulsion (2.2.7).  God is necessarily good, but he isn’t “compelled.”
    2. Choice belongs to the sphere of will rather than that of understanding (2.2.26).
      1. The power of free choice is not in a certain natural instinct or movement of the will.
      2. Calvin means that the will follows the mind, and not an inclination of nature.
      3. Appetite: not an impulse of will but rather an inclination of nature (bottom of page 286).
  3. Calvin rejects the idea of “mere nature” as a faculty of the soul voluntarily able to choose the good (sec. 27).

Chapter 3: Only Damnable Things Come forth from man’s corrupt nature

  1. The whole man is flesh.  Calvin is here concerned to rebut the idea that “flesh” refers only to the sensible parts of the soul.

Chapter 4: How God Works in Men’s Hearts

  1. Scripture doesn’t quite make the distinction that God only knows of evil happenings by foreknowledge (2.4.3).  God blinds and hardens the reprobate (Isa. 6:10).
  2. When God wills to make way for his providence, he bends and turns our wills even in external things (2.4.7).
  3. Definition of natural law: “Natural law is that apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony” (II.2.22).

Chapter 5: Refutation of the objections commonly put forward in defense of free will

  1. Can sin which is of necessity be sin (per Erasmus)?  We reply that it is not from creation that men sin, but from corruption of nature.
  2. Does this teaching negate reward and punishment? First, per reward, if it is the grace of God working in us, then it is grace, not we, who is crowned.
  3. Does this obliterate the distinction between good and evil?  Chrysostom’s argument is that “if to choose good or evil is not a faculty of our will, those who share in the same nature must be all good or all bad” (p.319).  We reply: it is God’s election that distinguishes.
  4. Does this negate exhortation?  We reply–God works in his elect in two ways: within, through his Spirit; without, through his Word (322).

Chapter 6: Fallen Man Ought to Seek Redemption in Christ

  1. Key transitional argument: Move from knowledge of God the Creator to Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ.

Chapters 7-11 examines the relationship between OT and NT, with a thorough exposition of the Ten Commandments

  1. Gospel = clear manifestation of the mystery of Christ (2.9.2).
  2. Differences between the two covenants:
    1. OT is called “bondage” because it produces fear.
    2. OT is called “Law” in the sense that the gospel was not clear (2.11.10).

Calvin on the Mediator

  1. Human and divine properties are predicated of the mediator, not of the other nature (2.14.3).
  2. His kingdom’s being spiritual proves its eternity (2.15.3).
  3. Christ’s cry from the cross: “God was not angry with him” (2.16.11). He bore the weight of divine severity.  Calvin did not believe that God “damned” Jesus, as some critics of Reformed theology maintain that we believe.

Ascension

  1. Truly inaugurated his kingdom (2.16.14).
  2. The ascension allows him to rule from heaven with more immediate power.
    1. Opened heavenly kingdom (2.16.16; Eph. 2.6).
    2. He is our intercessor
    3. His might (Eph. 4.8–gave gifts to men)
  3. Christ’s merit: grace is diffused from the head (2.17.1).  God’s first Cause is the beginning of merit. Christ did not acquire merit for himself.

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.

Outline, John Owen *Mortification of Sin*

https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/SpiritualFormation/Texts/Owen_MortificationOfSin.pdf

Foundation of the Discourse

The relationship between justification and mortification is cause and effect (Owen 6).

Our duty: The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin (7).

The efficient cause of this duty: The Holy Spirit (“if by the Spirit”).  Mortification must be done by the Spirit. Every other way is vain.

What are the deeds of the body?

The body is the seat and instrument of the corruption of our nature (7).  It is the same as “the old man” and the “body of sin.”  The power of our spiritual life depends on how much we mortify the deeds of the flesh (9).

The Necessity of Mortification

We are obligated by the ferocity of the battle to be killing sin at all times.

  1. Indwelling sin is always with us even if judicial sin is negated.
  2. This sin is still active.
  3. If left alone, it will turn into greater sins (“scandalous and soul-destroying sins”).
  4. Our new nature and the Spirit is the principle by which we oppose sin.
    1. Gal. 5.17
    2. 2 Pet. 1.4-5
    3. Our participation in the divine nature gives us an escape from the pollutions of the world.
  5. If we neglect this duty, our soul is cast into a contrary condition.
    1. “Exercise and success are the two main cherishers of grace in the heart.”
  6. It is our duty to be perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Conclusion: notwithstanding our judicial freedom from sin, indwelling sin remains in the best of believers.

False Asceticism: Vanity of Popish Mortification

  1. The Holy Spirit is sufficient for mortification
  2. Popish Mortification
    1. The ways and ends of their mortification were never insisted on by God.
    2. The means that are appointed by God, and which they do use, are not used properly.  Fasting is important, but it should flow from the Spirit’s work of mortification.  Fasting and watching are streams, not fountains.
  3. The Work of the Spirit
    1. The Spirit will take away the stony heart (Ezek. 11.19; 36.26).
    2. This is a gift of Christ, and Christ, as the head, communicates his gifts to us.
    3. How does the Holy Spirit mortify sin?
      1. He causes our hearts to abound in graces and fruits that are contrary to the flesh (Gal. 5.19-21).
      2. The Holy Spirit, as our efficient, hits sin at the root.
      3. He brings us into communion with the cross of Christ.

Chapter 4: The Usefulness of Mortification

  1. The vigor of our spiritual life depends on mortification.
    1. Success in mortification won’t always lead to happiness, though.  A godly saint can mortify sin yet still face assaults (Psalm 88).
    2. Mortification shouldn’t be confused with the privileges that flow from adoption.
    3. Unmortified sin weakens the soul (Ps. 38.3).
    4. As sin weakens, so it darkens the soul.
  2. Mortification prunes all the graces of God.

Chapter 5-6

  1. What it is to mortify a sin.
    1. A habitual weakening of it.
    2. Constant fighting and contending against it.

Chapter 7: General Rules, and Rome’s false view, again

  1. Unless a man is a believer, truly ingrafted into Christ, this isn’t possible.
  2. It is the work of faith (Acts 15.9).

Chapter 8: Universal Sincerity for mortifcation

  1. Without sincerity and an aim at universal mortification, no lust will be mortified.
    1. 2 Cor. 7.1
    2. God sometimes suffers one lust to chasten our other negligences.

Chapters 9-11

  1. A lust that isn’t “loud” is often more dangerous.  It could be a sign of inveterateness.
  2. The heart often engages in self-deception.
  3. Guilt of the Sin
    1. The power of sin is weakened by grace, but not always the guilt is weakened.
    2. Load your conscience with the guilt of sin, so that you can let the Spirit work through you.
      1. Don’t fight guilt by your own righteousness.
      2. Let the law do what it is supposed to do.
      3. And then cry to God.

Chapter 12

I am going to call this one “Study as a mode of sanctification.”

  1. Let our meditations fill us with our low estate and God’s high estate
    1. It reminds us how weak in prayer we are.
    2. Even at our best we have feeble notions of God.
  2. The being of God.
    1. We have words and notions about the “things of God,” but not the things themselves.
    2. “We know him rather but what he does than what he is.”
  3. But what of the difference between believers’ and unbelievers’ knowledge of God?
    1. Their manner of knowing is different, not the content.

Chapter 13

  1. If you are upset by sin, don’t speak peace to your heart until God speaks.
  2. If we look for healing and peace, we must look to the blood of the covenant.
  3. How shall we know that God has spoken peace to us?
    1. We’ll know.  When God gives peace, he doesn’t go halfway.
    2. But he doesn’t necessarily do it right away.
    3. There is a “secret instinct in faith.”

Chapter 14

  1. Have faith that Christ is at work killing our sin.
  2. Expect in faith for a relief from Christ.
  3. Our old man is crucified with Christ, not in respect of time but of causality. If we act on faith in the death of Christ, then we can expect
    1. Power
    2. Conformity
  4. The Spirit alone:
    1. Convinces the heart of guilt
    2. Reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for relief.
    3. Establishes the heart in expectation of relief.
    4. Brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
    5. Is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
    6. Supports our addresses to God.

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.

ermey

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

 

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).