Outline of Calvin’s Institutes, Book 1

Outline and Notes.

Knowledge of God

Calvin placed intuitive knowledge on a more direct footing.  We have direct knowledge of an actually present object:  Intuitive knowledge arises under the direct impact of the divine Being.

    1. Calvin: We know God through his speaking to us in his Word (Word, being Logos, inheres in the divine being).
      1. There is a compulsion of Veritas on our minds.
      2. Knowledge of God, like all true knowledge, is determined by the nature of what is known (86).
        1. arises out of our obedience.
        2. evidence: evidence of ultimate reality, which means it is self-evident.
      3. Our intuitive knowledge is in and through God’s Word.
        1. it is reached by hearing, not seeing.
        2. The Word of God we hear in Scripture reposes in the divine Being. That is the objective ground in our knowledge of God.
  1. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self, since God is the standard of knowledge.
    1. Knowledge of God involves trust and reverence (1.2.2).
      1. Knowledge of God, hence, involves obedience.
      2. The object of knowledge, in this case, partially determines how we know God.
    2. Implanted in the minds of men (1.3-4)
    3. Scripture is needed if we are to have true knowledge (1.6-8)
      1. The church itself is grounded in Scripture. Eph. 2.20.
      2. Witness of the Holy Spirit..  God is a fit witness of himself. Isaiah 59.20-21.
    4. Contra fanatical knowledge (1.9).
      1. The Holy Spirit agrees with Scripture.
      2. Word and Spirit belong together.
    5. Contra superstition (1.10-11).
      1. No visible form of God.
      2. Dulia/latria collapses.
        1. It is harder to serve a being than to reverence it (1.11.11).
        2. Scripture itself blurs this distinction (1.12.2). Gal. 4.8.
  2. The Being of God and the Trinity
    1. The Father has made his hypostasis visible in the Son (1.13.2).

Book I.V.13-15

“No pure and approved religion founded on common understanding alone.” 1 Cor. 2.8.

Chapter VI: Scripture Necessary

Knowledge of God in Scripture

True understanding emerges when we reverently embrace what pleases God (I.VI.2). This might be what Torrance has in mind when he says true scientific knowledge is when the knower submits to the structures of the object known.  “Right knowledge of God is born of obedience” (Omnis recta cognito Dei ab obedientia nascitur)

Chapter VII: Scripture must be confirmed by the Spirit

(Chapters 7-9 form an excursus on biblical authority)

“Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the were living words of God were heard (7.1).  Is Calvin saying the bible becomes authoritative as we assent to its authority?  Maybe.  This is very close to what Barth says about Scripture’s becoming the Word of God in us when we submit to it.

*The highest proof of Scripture comes from God, since Scripture comes from God.  God himself is a “fit witness” for his Word.

Inward testimony of the Spirit

The Spirit must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us of Scripture (VII.4).  Is. 59.21.

Hilary of Poitiers: “For he whom we can know only through his utterances is a fitting witness concerning himself” (De Trin. I.18).

Calvin: “It is not right to subject Scripture to proof and reasoning.”  Proofs only work when the Spirit seals them on our hearts. The only true faith is that which the Spirit seals on our hearts.

Chapter 10.2

Uses language of God in himself, but goes on to say that “Experiences teaches us to find God as he is in his Word.”

Chapter 11: Impropriety of Images

section 1.  “God himself is the sole and proper witness of himself” (cf. Hilary, De Trin. I.8).

sect. 2: How can spirit be analogous to a material object?

Epistemology and Icons

The problem with the dulia/latria distinction.

  • Scripture doesn’t use that distinction (Mt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10, Acts 10:25).
  • Common sense logic says that one who is enslaved/under service to a greater necessarily gives honor to the greater (pp. 118-119).

DOCTRINE OF GOD, PROPERLY SPEAKING

Chapter 13

Divine simplicity on p. 122.

  • The Father’s hypostasis is visible in Jesus (p. 123).

Definition of Person (p.128).

  • better spoken of as “subsistence.”
  • Persons are distinguished by an incommunicable quality
  • John 1:1–Word could not be God without residing in the Father, hence the idea of subsistence emerges.

Distribution or economy in God has no effect on the unity of the essence.

Christology

Calvin summarizes the basic arguments for the deity of Christ.  Not much new here.  However, some points:

  • If apart from God there is no salvation, no righteousness et al, yet Christ contains all of these.  Then Christ is God.
  • The name of a Jehovah is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe.  Yet the name of Christ is invoked for salvation.  Therefore, Christ is on the same level as Jehovah.

Deity of the Holy Spirit (I.XIII.14-15)

*The Spirit is author of regeneration by his very own energy.

*Through him we come into communion with God, so that in a way we feel his life-giving power toward us.

Distinction and Unity of the Three Persons (I.XIII.16-20).

Fairly standard stuff.  Includes Calvin’s famous quote of Gregory of Nazianzus (p.141).

*Father is attributed the beginning of the activity and the fountain of all things; the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of all that activity (sec. 18).

*For in each hypostasis is the whole divine nature understood

Chapter 14: Creation

Standard textbook material.  Rebuts Pseudo-Dionysius on angels.  Calvin is aware of the dearth of evidence for some conclusions and refuses to go beyond it.

Chapter 15: Creation of Man

Basic substance dualism, though Calvin is heavier on the Platonic line.  Rebuts the idea that there is a difference between image and likeness.

Human soul consists of two faculties–understanding and will (sec. 7).  Calvin places himself in the intellectualist tradition by seeing that the will follows the understanding.  He is not a voluntarist.

Chapter 16: Providence

“Fortune and chance are pagan terms” (quoting Basil, Homilies on the Psalms).

Chapter 17: How We May apply this doctrine to our greatest benefit

(1) God’s providence sometimes works through an intermediary (p.210).

(2) God’s Hidden Will: Calvin isn’t actually positing two wills in God, bu notes that it appears manifold to us (sec. 3)

 

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Review: The Analytic Theist (Alvin Plantinga Reader)

Ed. James Sennett.  Eerdmans.

Unlike some anthologies, this isn’t simply a Plantinga chapter here and a long snippet there.  True, there are some reproduced chapters (see his legendary “Reason and Belief in God”) but other chapters in the book, while not necessarily giving new material, present it in a new format.  A few chapters take key passages from his notoriously difficult Nature of Necessity and present it without the modal logic, making for an easier read.

Plantinga
Thanks to Al Kimel for the picture

 

https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/alvin-plantinga-the-most-interesting-theologian-in-the-world/

The first section of the book explores his early and later approaches to natural theology, the ontological argument, and free will.  A word on the latter: more Reformed readers do not have to accept some of his conclusions in order to appreciate his analysis of Possible Worlds Semantics.  Per the ontological argument,

(22) It is possible that there is a greatest possible being.

(23) Therefore, there is a possible being that in some world W’ or other has a maximum degree of greatness.

(24) A being B has the maximum degree of greatness in a given possible world W only if B exists in every possible world.

(25) It is possible that there be a being that has maximal greatness.

(26) So there is a possible being in some world W that has maximal greatness.

This is an early form of his argument, especially since the modal operators are lacking.  But we can add the conclusion:

(27) It is possible that a necessary being exists.
(28) A necessary being exists.

Does the argument work?  It depends on whether you think S5 modal logic is true or not.  If it is true, the argument holds.

Reason and Belief in God

The issue:  must I satisfy some norm to hold Belief B?  If knowledge = justified, true belief, then what duty must I fulfil in order to have a rational belief? The modern answer to this question is seen in some form of foundationalism: what is a properly basic belief?:

(1) Self-evident or evident to the senses
(2) Incorrigible (for example, if I see a tree, I could be mistaken, but I am not mistaken that I think I see a tree)

(3) Which denial leads to a contradiction.

We will call (1)-(3) the Foundationalism Thesis (FT).

The problem with the above is that very few beliefs meet those criteria.  In fact, the thesis itself doesn’t meet the criteria. FT isn’t self-evident, it’s not incorrigible, and rejecting it doesn’t violate any laws of logic.  Even more striking, this seems to mean that the theist is warranted in believing in God even if he hasn’t bothered to meet the FT.  

The last section is a collection of encouraging chapters on how to do Christian philosophy in a secular guild.

Thomas Reid: A Clean Epistemology

Responding to skeptics, Reid notes that our beliefs are formed by our very constitution (40-41). We cannot always give a justifying foundation for every belief (indeed, for most), yet only a fool would say we are irrational in holding beliefs a…z. In fact, to use modern parlance, our natural condition is a belief-creating mechanism (see his famous quote on p. 118); indeed, one created by God. Along the way Reid, to anticipate Nicholas Wolterstorff, gives a fascinating retelling of the history of modern philosophy (pp. 106ff, 244). He ends with a discussion on what counts as “First Principles.”

Thomas Reid was responding to the idealism of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. In a nutshell, and woefully oversimplifying what they believed, they said that in every act of memory there are two objects, one mental object in my head and the external, mediate object in real life. One of the dangers of this thought is that the external object, when the process is pushed to the limit, is dropped, leaving only as real the internal objects.

Reid’s answer to skepticism came like a summer rain: God created my brain in such a way, assuming I don’t have a concussion or something, that he will not deceive me. If I can use the laws of logic and grammar to understand what the Skeptic says about something difficult then I can understand something simple as when the prophet Isaiah tells me that the Servant suffered for the sins of my people (to use an example from hermeneutics).

But someone can respond, “Well, how do you know your mental faculties are working accordingly?” There are several responses:
I can return the question, “They must be working well enough for me to understand your question.”

This was Reid’s answer: Forgo the question right away. Simply suppose he is merry. If you find out he is serious, then suppose him mad.

“Defines common sense as those principles which we use everyday but can’t give a reason for using, yet the not-using of them leads to absurdity. Thus, contrary to the Van Tillians who think Reid is an autonomous rationalist, common-sense is a mode of knowing, not a set of propositions leading to a foundation.”

“grounds our knowing in our own constitution. Contra Hume, we don’t need to give an explicit justification for knowing x; it’s in our very constitution (thus avoiding Hume’s idealism). Holds to first principles, but says we don’t need to account for them. They are part of our constitution and people who deny them use them to deny them.”

The book was actually…fun. Reid is among the foremost prose stylist of English philosophy (I suppose that isn’t a great feat). While this edition is abridged, it’s not really a problem as it is the referenced edition among current Warrant studies.

Review: Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function

Plantinga begins by examining the Gettier-type problems that internalist accounts of knowledge face. Having shown these difficulties, Plantinga is now able to set the stage for his externalist approach to warrant. This he does by explaining our design function: Any well formed human being who is in an epistemically congenial environment and whose intellectual faculties are in good working order will typically take for granted at least three things: that she has existed for some time, that she has had many thoughts and feelings, and that she is not a thought or feeling (Plantinga 50).

He then examines three apparent weak points of externalism and show not only are they strong points, only a fool would challenge them: memory, other persons, and testimony. In the nature of the case we do not have basic beliefs about these three entities in the sense that evidentialism and classic foundationalism require (especially memory and testimony; solipsism has a host of problems beyond this). Throughout this defense we see the vindication of Thomas Reid.

The book is quite difficult and technical, though. The sections on probability will lose all but the most formidable philosophers. While reading these chapters one is reminded of Eowyn’s comments to Merry before the battle: “Courage, Merry; it will soon be over.”

He then gives a (mostly) wonderfully lucid discussion of coherentism, classic foundationalism, and Reidian foundationalism. Coherentism sees truth as a source of warrant in the existing relations of one’s beliefs: does a belief “cohere” and “mesh” in a larger noetic structure? Plantinga suggests this is inadequate because coherentism only tells us of the doxastic relationships between beliefs. Warrant, by contrast, needs far more, experience among other things (179). Classical foundationalism is wrong because it is self-referentially incoherent. It is not the case that the foundationalist claim (a belief is properly basic because it is either self-evident to me or immediately present to my senses) meets its own criteria: it is not self-evidently true nor is it available to the senses (182). This leaves us with Plantinga’s position: Reidian foundationalism. If a belief is formed in proper circumstances according to its proper cognitive design, it has warrant.

Conclusion:

The book began well and ended well. The middle sections were good, too, but likely only of interest to the most doughty of analytic philosophers. While I agree with Plantinga’s thesis, there are some shortcomings (but these can be excused because they have been treated in later works). The section on Reidian foundationalism, for example, while fundamentally sound, seemed to lack, forgive the pun, coherence in articulation. I kept seeing what RF was not in relation to classical foundationalism, but very little on what it was. The final chapters on naturalism are interesting, but have since been further refined in Plantinga’s later works.

Plantinga: Warrant, the Current Debate

And so begins Plantinga’s vaunted “Warrant Trilogy.” Reviewing this work presents some challenges for me. I read the books in reverse order (WCB, WPF, and finally WCD). Therefore, I have to resist the urge to fault Plantinga in WCD for leaving some points undeveloped when I know he developed them in WPF.

Plantinga begins his work by outlining what “internalism” entails. Internalism implies knowledge as “justification.” I am justified in knowing something if I have fulfilled my epistemic duty with regard to that knowledge. It is “internal” because it suggests special epistemic access.
Justification:
Connection between justification and knowledge
Connotes epistemic responsibility
Internal cognitive access
Match up with evidence

Internalism is often linked with classical or modern foundationalism. The ground of a belief’s justification is the same as the property by which I determine if I am justified in holding it (Plantinga 21).

Ordinary Foundationalism: The evidence of basis on which I form a belief is taken from other, logically prior beliefs. Beliefs that I do not accept on the basis of other beliefs are basic beliefs (68). A foundationalist will reject circular reasoning.

Another epistemological model is coherentism. Coherentism is not foundationalism. A coherentist will hold that belief B is properly basic for person S [iff] B coheres with the rest of S’s noetic structure. Coherentism is not concerned about the transmission of warrant but of its source (79).

Plantinga gives a number of reasons on why these internalist models fail. He then moves to externalist models.

EXTERNALISM

I do not have to have some internal access to truth-making functions. Plantinga lists Aristotle (de Anima and Posterior Analytics II) and Aquinas (ST 1 q. 84, 85) as externalists (183ff). Externalism is correct about warrant (if only as a denial of internalism). Most externalist models, however, do not (yet) offer strong enough systems.

What is “reliabilism” then?

1.1 Alstonian Justification

A person is justified in believing a proposition only if she believes it on the basis of a reliable indicator. But what is justification? A belief is justified if it is accepted on rational grounds accessible to the knower.

B. Questions about Alstonian Justification

B.1. Where does justification come from? Alston tries to distance himself from the received tradition which locates justification with deontological norms. Alston does not seem to think that justification (or warrant) is necessary for knowledge (“An Internalist Externalism,” Synthese 74 no. 3, p. 281).

B.2 Not sufficient for warrant. S’s belief that p is Alston-justified if it is accessible to S and is a reliable indicator of the truth of p. Plantinga points out that a number of beliefs could meet this condition but have no warrant (Plantinga 191). Something could be a reliable indicator of the truth but I could believe it on the basis of cognitive malfunction. A belief can be reliable by accident.

Evaluation:

Pro–Plantinga does a masterful job in what the title suggests: he summarizes the “current debate” concerning warrant and justification. In that he succeeds. Further, no matter how arcane or technical a discussion is, Plantinga always begins the chapter by reviewing what internalism, deontology, justification, and warrant mean at said point in the discussion.

Further, Plantinga’s discussion of key individuals can also serve as an entry-point for the reader to continue the study.

.

DKG questions: 2 (Precision and Metaphor)

  1. “We should not seek to impose upon church officers a form of creedal subscription intended to be maximally precise.”

Again, Scripture’s vagueness disallows ultimate maximum precision and secondarily, it makes unwise to force subscription to a document that implicitly seeks to be more precise than the standards God Himself set. Thirdly, such maximum precision and subscription unconsciously makes the Confession irreformable and canonical.

  1. Sometimes, metaphors come to our rescue in theology.

 

Metaphors, especially controlling ones, state thorny theological concepts in a s ccinct manner. This presupposes, of course, that vagueness is not only in Scripture, but vague statements about Scriptural truths are allowed. For example, how does one view the relationship between Adam’s sin and the human race? The best example, although one in need of qualification, is the “Federal Headship” of Adam. Adam represented the human race as a Federal head.

 

  1. Often, in fact, figurative language says more, and says it more clearly, than corresponding literal language would do.

 

Figurative language allows one to use popular concepts on the lay level to express truths. For example, it is clearer to say “God is like a mountain, unmoved” than to say “God is immutable.” The latter is more precise, whereas the former is able to communicate the same truth on the lay level.

 

  1. Use of a metaphor may be helpful in one context, misleading in another. Discuss, using examples.

 

Frame suggests that it is best not to use metaphor unless its purposes can be clearly expressed and limited. An example is the Dooyeweerdian definition of law as the boundary between God and the Cosmos. This is good in one sense but raises the question as to what degree does law limit or not limit God. In what sense, then, it is a boundary?

 

  1. Discuss possible cases in which there is danger in using metaphors when more literal language is necessary.

 

Either certain metaphors must be “unpacked” or more technical terms must be used. In other words, uninterpreted metaphors must not be used in philosophical, legal, or scientific discourse.

  1. Everything is comparable to God. Compare

 

Everything is analogous to God to the degree that all creation bears God’s imprint on it. God is like a “fire,” “wind,” “Lion of Judah,” “king,” “love,” etc. But for every analogy there is a disanalogy. God is analogous to evil men (or rather, they to him being created imago dei) but not in the same way that he is analogous to righteous men. That is, there are degrees of analogy between God and creation.

 

  1. Do we need special technical terms to refer to God’s transcendence? Discuss.

 

Technical terminologies concerning God’s transcendence are helpful but their uses ought not to be pressed. It is helpful to know the “qualitative difference” between God and men, for example. The same principle applies to God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. These terms are true as far as they go, but Scripture does not describe God in this way, preferring human referents: Lord, King, Saviour.

 

  1. The History of Doctrine, too, has progressed very largely by negation. Explain

 

Many doctrines have been formulated by way of contrast with heresies. Negation, like Scripture, seeks to contrast truth with error. Many doctrines, such as creation ex nihilo, seem to be most meaningful as an exclusion of contrary heretical positions. The nature of negation in theological formulation, however, is limited. Negation seeks only to show why or for what purpose doctrine x serves. Examples are, as Frame points out, the Reformation Confessions against sectarianism and Romanism, Nicene Trinitarianism against Sabellianism and Arianism, etc.

 

  1. …some doctrines have very little meaning except for their negative function of exclusion.

 

The denial of various heresies constitutes the meaning of a said doctrine. Given tough, philosophically vague concepts like substance, nothingness, hypostasis, it is difficult for the theologian to state a doctrine positively from Scripture. However, a Scriptural case can be built inferentially from negation.

 

  1. Everything is a matter of everything else. Discuss.

 

We must be aware of using “historical disjunctions” to deny other theological truths. For example, while doctrine x is true, it does not necessarily follow that doctrine y must be false. There are degrees to which each doctrine is related and not related to the other doctrine, to be sure, and these degrees of relation ought to form a framework in which to evaluate those doctrines.

Outline of God, Revelation, Authority (vol 5)

By Carl F Henry.

carl henry

The first four volumes dealt with epistemology.  The final two deal with ontology and the doctrine of God.

“God who stands” = personal sovereign containing in himself the ground of his own existence.

“God who stays” = governs in providence and in eschatological consummation (Henry 10).

Substance language

Does have its uses.  Its basic meaning is “to stand under.”  It is not an essence distinguishable from the divine personality (11).  God stands under, not as an underlying substratum, but as the free originator (12).

“God stands” includes his revelational initiative.

“Secular religion lacks revelational criteria to distinguish the divine from the demonic in its promotion of social revolution” (39).

Chapter 2: The Being, Coming, and Becoming of God

Thesis:  The Bible has no problem with “being-language,” but such language is always conditioned by God’s self-disclosure (48-49).  And this self-disclosure is known to us (if not exhausted by) by valid propositional truths.

Chapter 3: The Living God of the Bible

The ambiguous status of cosmic powers in the Bible is not because of some evolutionary move towards mono- or henotheism.  Rather, it is because that world has an ambiguous ontology of rival spirits (74).

Chapter 4: Methods of Determining the Divine Attributes

Henry surveys the three ways (negation, eminence, causality) and finds them inadequate.  Even neo-orthodox scholars must presuppose some positive statements about God in order for them to posit a crisis-intuitive encounter.

Can we know God “in himself?”  Henry cautiously affirms that.  If our knowledge of God’s nature and attributes comes from cognitive, propositional statements from God’s self-disclosure, then there is no reason why we can’t have metaphysical knowledge about God’s nature (96).

God’s attributes are determined by a logically ordered exposition of scriptural revelation  (100).

Chapter 5: Relationship between Essence and Attributes

Realism: “nonmental ‘substance’ is the ontological core of all finite realities.”

Henry’s position: rejects that there is an underlying substratum in which attributes inhere.  This would make the forms and logic “other than” and superior to God.

Chapter 6: God’s Divine Simplicity and Attributes

Essence or nature of God: a living personal unity or properties and attributes (130).  “Essence and attributes are integral to each other.”  “A living unity of perfections.”

“God’s activities are divine qualities or attributes.”

Chapter 7: Personality in the Godhead

Person: the medievals applied it, not to God’s being, but to the distinctions within the Godhead (153). For us there is both personality of God and personality in God.

 

Chapter 8: Muddling the Trinitarian Dispute

Divine personality is not simply the human self infinitely expanded.

Chapter 9: The Doctrine of the Trinity

Gregory of Nyssa: the Trinity is a Platonic idea where the three persons are subsumed under the one idea of God just as three men are subsumed under the one idea of Man.

Shedd: There is a personality to the Godhead.  This is not the same as the person of the essence.

 

Chapter 11: God the Self-Revealed Infinite

Barth: Infinity is the plenitude of God’s perfections (Henry, 230).

Chapter 12: Divine Timelessness or Unlimited

Thesis:  God is timelessly eternal (239).  This is not the same thing as an “everlasting now.”

Chapter 13: The modern attack on the timeless God

Question: If God is timeless, how does he respond in time to humans? The answer lies in his sovereignty.

Chapter 14: Divine Timelessness and Omniscience

Omniscience: God’s perfect knowledge of all things, actual or possible, past, present or future” (268).   “The biblical view implies that God is not in time; that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind” (276).

Chapter 15: Immutability not borrowed from the Greeks

The changelessness predicated of an eternal being is different from the changelessness of a being in time (288).

Chapter 16: The Sovereignty of the Omnipotent God

God’s power is not exhausted by his universe.

Chapter 17: God’s Intellectual Attributes (very important chapter!!)

Thesis: God is the source and ground of all rational distinction (334).  The laws of logic are the architecture of God’s mind.  “The divine Logos is creative and revelatory.”

Revelation is divine self-disclosure.

Chapter 19: The Knowability of God

Incomprehensibility does not imply unknowability.

Chapter 20: Man’s Mind and God’s Mind

Our minds “coincide” in certain propositions, but not pantheistically (383).