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7 Most Viewed__T h e o • p h i l o g u e__Posts

Of all the things I post about on my blog, it always surprises me which posts get the most hits.  Here are my 7 most popular posts to date:

1. Ancient Persian Imperial History :: pt. 2 :: The Empires Peak — This was just part 2 (of 4) in a series I did on the ancient Persian Empire.  I was shocked when I began to realize that more people were interested in my concise summary of this history than any of my other posts.

2. Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm — My very brief criticism and critique of Jay Adams’ book Competent to Counsel, along with a bit of criticism about the Biblical Counseling Movement he influenced.  I don’t know why this post became such a popular post either.

3. The Sacrament of Baptism in Roman Catholic Theology — Here I simply summarized the Catholic view of Baptism using the Catholic Catechism and offered my friendly Protestant critique.

4. Charlemagne & the Carolingian Renaissance — The entire history of Charlemagne and his legacy in four short paragraphs.

5. What Martin Luther Really Said — In this post, I correct a certain misunderstanding of Luther’s doctrine of justification by offering quotations from Luther that show that Luther’s doctrine of sola fide is not what most Protestants think it is.

6. Extra-biblical Evidence for King David — I read a book written by a secular historian who thinks King David was a brutal tyrant.  Yet his introductory chapter deals with evidence for King David, and the author thinks many historians are being unreasonable in their skepticism about the existence of the Davidic Kingdom.  I couldn’t believe what I read.

7. Book Review: Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI — My review of the current Pope’s book about Jesus.  This review is not easy reading, for I critically analyze Pope Ratzinger’s theological methodology, not the substance of the book as a whole.  I use the Pope’s own explanation of an ideal methodology (taken from an article written long before he was pope) to judge whether or not the Pope is faithful to his own methodological proposal.

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Explaining Certain Biblical Proverbs :: A Hermeneutical Experiment

Knowing that the proverbs are not intended as absolutes but relative observational/experiential “wisdom,” the following is a snapshot of my naked and knee-jerk western, Christian interpretation of the proverbs I read in the Bible.  I have done this without the aid of study tools, and would be gladly corrected by those who have read informed and scholarly commentary or understand the Proverbs differently.  Without such aids, however, this is my hermeneutical tendency.  NOTE: I would also gladly agree that for anything touching on righteousness, Christ is intended as the “ultimate fulfillment” of such righteousness.  I have offered an example of how this might work in Proverbs 10:2.

:: PROVERBS CHAPTER 10 ::

Proverbs 10:1—“The proverbs of Solomon”

[this probably means Solomon collected these proverbs during his lifetime, not necessarily that he originated all of them]

Proverbs 10:2—“Ill gotten gains do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.”

[this probably underscores the deleterious nature of ill gotten gains, and the deep risk they involve, while also highlighting how the lifestyle of the righteous can often be the cause of their escaping execution/capital punishment by not being caught up in scandals or dishonest activity.  EXAMPLE OF HOW CHRIST MIGHT “FULFILL” THE PROVERBS: Christ would be the ultimate fulfillment of this, since his refusal to be caught up in temptations of the Devil caused him to deliver both himself and the church from the ultimate death, the second death, and has delivered them from the sting of death by accomplishing resurrection unto glory for himself and his body, the church]

Proverbs 10:7—“The memory of the righteous is blessed.”

[this means that the memory of righteous persons after their death is impressionable enough to leave a pleasant and honoring effect in the hearts of those who knew them]

Proverbs 10:9—“He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.”

[this is probably a warning to those who pursue “ill gotten gains” that they constantly risk getting caught and punished with severe consequences.  NOTE: This should be enough to make those who pervert their ways naturally live in the constant anxiety of fear, NOTE: their conscience is never at peace anyway]

Proverbs 10:11—“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.”

[This probably means that those who live a righteous lifestyle have the ability (to lesser and greater extents) to impart helpful wisdom and inspiration to others through their ability to speak wisdom, give advise, articulate their perspective, and encourage others to live righteously]

Proverbs 10:12—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”

[This probably means that when a person hates another, they will find reasons to vent this anger and any small matter of conflict will become a contentious occasion.  They will even find petty reasons to argue and cause conflict, and you will be walking on egg shells around them.  Love works in the opposite way.  When you love someone, you find reasons to excuse matters of disagreement and conflict and find ways to overcome them.  You find ways to overlook or downplay their weaknesses and have a tendency to forgive their mistakes and sins against you due to your strong love of them.  NOTE: Neither principle is absolute, but relative.]

Proverbs 10:19—“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”

[This probably just means that people who talk excessively usually have sinful attitudes and their abundance of words is usually owing to pride of opinion, self-absorption, or some other sinful root cause.  People who are righteous choose their words carefully and often hold back their opinion and perspective out of courtesy, consideration of another’s time, desire to avoid having a unnecessary disagreement that would cause tension in a relationship, or any other number of virtuous causes or motives]

Proverbs 10:20—“The heart of the wicked is worth little.”

[This probably means that the ontological core of people whose loves are selfishly oriented (and therefore not having to do with the things of God) is not pleasing to, or valued by, God]

Proverbs 10:23—“Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool and so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”

[This means that the wicked actually practice and strive to get better at their evil endeavors, and the wise likewise practice and strive to get better at righteousness]

Proverbs 10:27—“The fear of the LORD prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened.”

[this probably means that wicked people have more destructive habits in their life, and thus, all things being equal, are more prone to death.  Those who have a healthy fear of the LORD and his commands tend to have less destructive habits in their life, and thus, all things being equal, are less prone to death]

Proverbs 10:28—“The hope of the righteous is gladness, but the expectation of the wicked perishes.”

[This probably just underscores how the righteous have their hopes set on spiritual happiness in God and love of neighbor, while wicked people have their hopes set on things that will not ultimately fulfill the fullness of their spiritual core–e.g. material things, vain things, selfish things, revengeful things, etc.]

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How Academic Research Benefits Christian Ministry and Education

The following is a brief reflection on research and its benefits for a vocation in Christian ministry or Christian education, written by Bradley R. Cochran.

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Love demands some apprehension of the good that is loved. … Accordingly knowledge is the cause of love for the same reason as good is, which can be loved only if known.” – Thomas Aquinas[1]

Although I have rarely seen or heard writing described as a tool for human development, my own personal development has been greatly shaped by my own writing. This is because writing involves research, research involves reading, and words have the power of influence. It is difficult to measure how great of an impact certain writings have had on my thoughts, and therefore my actions, at various stages in my personal development. For example, when I became a Christian at the age of twenty, it was prompted—at least in great part—by the words I read in the Bible. It seems hardly controversial to note that in the history of our Western culture, the words of the Bible have profoundly changed the lives of countless people.  Although not all Westerners would find this a happy situation, it would be naïve to deny that the Bible has historically had a powerful effect on Western culture, ethics, education, philosophy, politics, and therefore, people. Although the Bible is not the only collection of writings that have profoundly influenced people, it is a convenient example of how words—written words in particular—have the ability to change people.

After becoming a Christian in the Protestant tradition (where the Bible is venerated as the singularly ultimate authority for all matters of life and doctrine), I was immediately faced with the challenge of living out the teachings of scripture.  For me, this began my journey into research. In my own experience, then, research began not as an academic enterprise, but as a highly personal enterprise of spiritual formation. In trying to live out my faith, I began to search the scriptures and read Christian books in order to know how to think and act as a Christian.  My biblical research was, from the start, a matter of determining how to live.[2]

With the help of a mentor, the Bible, and research, I was able to satisfy most of my questions and live out my faith with a clear conscience. Therefore, although research may not always play a substantial role in personal development for everyone, such development continues to be my greatest reason for valuing research. This paper will be a brief reflection on the importance of writing and research in my own studies and in my vocational goals. Because I also have vocational aspirations to teach and also continue as an active Christian minister, I will also mention ways theological research and writing are helpful in teaching and Christian ministry.  Since in many ways I see my vocational goals as depending on my own personal development, I will seek to emphasize specific ways theological research and writing are important to my personal development.  I propose that the ultimate importance of research and writing in my own studies is for personal development, and this personal development turns out to be of greatest benefit to my vocational calling.

 

Points of Clarification About Research

Although the process of research and writing is relatively complex and involves numerous subtleties I will be unable to cover in this paper (e.g. limiting the scope of research, evaluating sources, developing an argument, etc.), there are a few key elements in the creative process that need clarification before I discuss the benefits of such research and writing.  First, there is research and there is academic research.  Research could be defined so broadly as to include finding a telephone number in a phone book, but this is not the kind of research I have in mind in this paper.[3] Academic research involves systematically finding sources that are most relevant to your question or research topic and reading books and articles relevant to your subject matter.

Research in an academic context is refined and has a more complex ethos and more clearly defined guidelines.  If I could describe the ethos in one word, it would be objectivity.  The goal of objectivity shapes the entire process.[4] For example, good research is not simply believing and regurgitating whatever you happen to read,[5] but reading broadly enough to engage different opinions that bring various evidences into view.  One must have some relatively objective way of evaluating the reliability, coherency, and prejudices of a given source.  Reading only sources one already agrees with is also poor research for the same reason: objectivity.  If one never reads the other point of view how will they come to know whether their own views hold up against counter evidence or argumentation?  Besides, this would take the fun out of research! The idea is this: the more evidence you examine, the more viewpoints you consider, the more objective your research report will be. It would be naïve, however, to think that research takes away all bias.[6] Yet the research process is designed to work against one’s biases and prejudices so as to help one grow toward an ever-increasing objectivity.  Developing critical thinking skills is crucial to the process for this very reason.

Secondly, apathy does not lead people to research, interest does.  There is no such thing as a disinterested researcher.  Perhaps researchers can be more or less interested, but something must move the will to desire to do research—even if it is imposed on them from a teacher as a dreaded assignment!  The most crucial part in the research process is determining a topic for research.  There are many guidelines for how to go about this, but the point I want to emphasize is this: contrary to popular belief, the heart as well as the head can drive good research.[7] The more passion I have for a topic, the easier it is to discipline myself to study hard and leave no stones unturned.  Furthermore, my choice of subject matter can determine how practical and helpful the research report will be to me and to others.  The judgment will inevitably involve some level of subjectivity, for different things are more important to different people, and the same things are important to a greater or lesser degree to the same people at different times.

The Importance of Research For My Own Studies and Vocation

If research did nothing else than provide the researcher with a greater agility with words, a broader vocabulary to draw from in her everyday speech, and a more confident tone of voice in her everyday interactions with people, this would be of weighty significance.  Yet this is precisely the sort of personal development I have found to be the result of research in my own life.  The constant grind of academia—reading books and articles, writing out one’s thoughts, questioning and answering questions—has the potential to rapidly develop one’s ability to communicate.  This has immeasurable relational (as well as vocational) benefits.

For example, when I used to have disagreements with friends over religious topics, the discussion would always escalate into an intense debate that put significant strain on our friendship (at least for the moment).  I did not know how to handle the skeptical criticisms of friends who questioned the direction of my life into Christian ministry and my religious beliefs.  After exposing myself to a wide variety of philosophical and theological opinions, observing how authors of books and articles kindly and eloquently disagreed with each other, and reading books that helped me better understand my own faith tradition, I found myself not only able to have discussions on religious and ethical topics without getting tongue tied or without causing a tense debate, but even able to impress those with whom I disagreed by how I could articulate their own thoughts with more force and clarity than they themselves could (before explaining why I disagreed with the same sort of force and clarity).

Research and writing fosters healthier written and verbal communication between human beings—and this can have benefits for vocational goals.  I have an edge in public speaking—whether a Bible study, preaching, or teaching—because I have plenty to say and craft my words more carefully.  Being able to articulate myself has resulted in greater success in vocational tasks (e.g. trying to counsel teenagers who have no guidance and are struggling with all sorts of life issues, making sure I understand my supervisor’s intentions by asking key questions, communicating the vision of my ministry to those who support it financially, etc).  Because communication fosters better relationships, research and writing better prepare me for my vocational goals.  This would be true regardless of my vocational calling, but is especially true in vocational callings that require high degrees of personal interaction and public speaking (i.e. Christian ministry and education).  In a teaching vocation, such articulation is the life-blood of one’s daily affairs.

Research and writing not only help me to better articulate myself, but they force me to inform my opinions and become aware of the strongest arguments against my own convictions.  This can be a grueling process that humbles the intellect.  It can be a disorienting thing too, if one comes to realize that the persuasive arguments and rhetoric she inherited from her tradition to defend her beliefs simply cannot stand the test of evidence and counter-critique.  It fosters humility on the one hand, and respect and appreciation for those with whom one disagrees on the other hand.  It is important for people in a vocation of Christian ministry to understand and appreciate those within their own faith tradition who disagree with one another about how they understand the Bible and practical questions of church life.  Pastors should have well reasoned arguments in support of their ethical and spiritual teaching that makes sense within that faith tradition.  For a teaching vocation, having one’s opinions well informed is simply the default expectation.  For my vocational goals, then, the habit of reading arguments for opinions you disagree with is vital.

Whether I am serving as a Christian minister or a teacher (and Christian ministry most often involves teaching), I will be bombarded with questions.  The more research and writing I have done in my field, the more likely I will be to answer those questions in a way that satisfies the questioner.  After doing so much study and research, I may know of several books that treat the very topics church members or students are interested in. I may not always have the answers to all of the questions students or church members might ask, but after having acquired the skill of research, I may be able to either point the questioner to a helpful book or research the question myself and e-mail the questioner a response to their question.  In short, I will be able to better minister and teach.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica, 5 vols. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Benzinger Bros., 1948; reprint, Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1981.

Turabian, Kate. L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed. Revised by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Vyhmeister, Nancy Jean. Your Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008.


 

[1] ST I-II.27.2

 

[2] I was answering questions like this: Should I follow through with my engagement to a woman who is not a Christian? Is it wrong for us to be sexually active outside of a marital context? Should I continue deep friendships with friends who influence me to continue in drug abuse and criminal activity? What church should I join (Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, Methodist)? What should I say to Mormon’s who knock at my door? Should I only listen to Christian music? What can I do to grow in my love for God and for others? What school should I attend? What should I choose for my college major? Is drinking alcohol wrong? Is it still acceptable for me to hang out at nightclubs as a Christian? Is it wrong to be angry with those who try to hurt me? Does being a Christian mean that I cannot defend myself when physically attacked?

 

[3] For example, Turabian’s manual considers the mundane task of “finding a plumber” research.  Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed., rev. Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 5.

[4] The goal of objectivity makes intelligible the various ways of defining research.  For example, Vyhmeister defines research as a “systematic search for adequate information to reach objective knowledge of a specific topic.”  It includes “careful investigation of all evidence.”  Nancy Jean Vyhmeister, Your Guide to Writing Quality Research Papers: For Students of Religion and Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008), 1.

[5] This is why research is not simply “rewriting other people’s words and ideas into a neat description.”  Vyhmeister, Your Guide, 5.

 

[6] In this respect, I find Vyhermeister’s way of explaining research a bit naïve.  Does all research result in “objective knowledge”? The claim needs a great deal of clarification. Can one always be aware of their presuppositions as to neatly list them in their introductions? The very nature of some presuppositions escape our notice and others would be too mundane to list.  Deciding how to list one’s presuppositions is not as easy as she makes it seem.  For example, she presumes a great deal in her own book without listing them in her introduction.  Why is this?  Do researchers really have to steer clear of defending their own convictions and opinions?  This seems impossible.  Vyhmeister, Your Guide, 1,3,6. Turabian’s way of explaining research works much better.  “That is how a research report differs from other kinds of persuasive writing: it must rest on shared facts that readers accept as truths independent of your feelings and beliefs.”  Turabian, A Manual for Writers, 6.  This does not say whether these “shared facts” are true or false, only that they are “shared” and thus provide the grounds for persuasive writing.

 

[7] Cf. Vyhmeister, Your Guide, 2: “Research is done with the head and not the heart.”  The goal of objectivity does not, as she appears to think, rule out passion from the research process or the writing process.

Freedom for Excellence: Pinckaers Alternative to “Ockham’s Other Razor”

In our last post we looked at Pinckaers criticisms of Ockham’s Other Razor (i.e. William of Ockham’s notion of free will), which he calls “freedom of indifference.”  This post is Pinckaers description of what he thinks is a more accurate notion of human freedom: freedom for excellence.

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Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

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Freedom for Excellence

Freedom for excellence is first illustrated as akin to a child learning to play the piano.  She must have some predispositions to learn—an attraction to music and an “ear for it” (354).  In this case, her predispositions enable her to develop the freedom to play beautifully after much discipline (355).  Progress is developed by regular exercise, or, a habitus (355).  The ability, in the end, to play with ease, compose new music, and delight oneself and all who hear, is the stage of maturity corresponding to freedom (355).  Similarly, the virtue of courage is “acquired far more through small victories of self-conquest, repeated day after day, than through dreams of great actions” (356).  The author briefly mentions what he calls “the internal harmony of the virtues”—“true courage is worth little without wise discernment as to what should be done, and without self-control, justice, and generosity” (357).  A notion of freedom in this framework places predispositions and natural inclinations in service of freedom (rather than opposed to it, as with Ockham’s Other Razor), in fact enabling it (357).

The root of freedom is twofold: 1) a sense of the true and good and 2) a desire for knowledge and happiness (357).  These are the semina virtutum (the seeds of virtue).  Our natures are inclined to sense the virtues and give spontaneious praise to them, and this is the sequi naturam (follow nature) principle of the ancients and what St. Thomas calls the instinctus rationis (rational instinct).  “Far from lessening our freedom, such dispositions are its foundation.  We are free, not in spite of them, but because of them” (358).

The Stages of Development

Freedom for excellence “requires the slow, patient work of moral education in order to develop” (359).  The author takes us through these stages as he sees them.

Childhood corresponds to what we shall call the stage of discipline, adolescence to the stage of progress, and adulthood to the stage of maturity or the perfection of freedom. (italics added, 359)

The first stage is a delicate affair in which the moral educator must be neither authoritarian nor libertarian, but somewhere in between, making sure the “child” understands that the “discipline, law, and rules are not meant to destroy his freedom … Their purpose is rather to develop his ability to perform actions of real excellence by removing dangerous excesses” that “jeopardize his interior freedom” (360).  The student must experience the love of his teacher and the love of God (362).  This discipline “appeals to natural dispositions, to a spontaneous sense of truth and goodness, and to the conscience” (360).

The key characteristic of the next stage, the stage of progress is “taking one’s own moral life in hand, by a predominance of initiative and personal effort, by the development of and appreciation and taste for moral quality, and the deepening of an active interiority” (363).  In is in this stage that the virtues begin to form and take shape and the “adolescent” begins to find joy in the virtues themselves and develops strong dispositions for action (363).

The final stage is that of maturity (or “perfection” in the human sense of “complete,” 366).  This includes mastery of excellent actions and creative fruitfulness (366).  In this stage charity is “perfected” or matured such that the persons “chief concern is to be united to God and to find all their joy in him” (368).  Yet this joy passes from God to others so as to make their virtue beneficial for the community (367).  Pinckaers clarifies that this description in “stages” does not necessarily mean that in experience the process is perfectly “linear,” but involves a “certain dialectic” (372).  Also, one should not get the idea that once “maturity” or “perfection” is reached there is no room for growth (373).

Compared with Freedom of Indifference

Compared with the “delicate” process of moral education here, the “theory of freedom of indifference robs discipline and education of the profound, intimate rootedness they require.  Education becomes a battle; it can no longer be service or collaboration” (360).  Pinckaers attributes the cut-off point in moral education after only the first stage to the position found in the freedom of indifference (362).  Whereas freedom to do evil is essential in freedom of indifference, it is a lack of freedom in this model (376).  The reduced role of Scripture is also to be blamed on Ockham’s freedom of indifference (377).  Pinckaers concludes that freedom for excellence offers “a far better foundation for receiving revelation and grace, particularly through freedom’s natural openness to the true and the good” (377).

Ockham’s Other Razor: Pinckaers Account of Ockham’s Notion of Free Will

The following is the first of two posts dealing with Servais Pinckaers account of two different conceptions of human freedom: freedom for excellence vs. freedom of indifference.  Pinckaers thinks that the notion of “freedom of indifference” is bogus, and that the more classical view of free will, freedom for excellence, is much better.  NOTE:  Ockham’s Other Razor is my label, and does not occur in Pinckaers.

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Pinckaers, Servais, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics, Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

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Freedom for Excellence vs. Freedom of Indifference

Moral theories characteristic of the patristic age and the great scholastic periods were dominated by questions of human happiness and the virtues and conceived of human freedom as freedom for excellence.  Modern moral theories are predominated by notions of obligation and commandments and assume a notion of human freedom called freedom of indifference (329).

St. Thomas explained freedom as a faculty proceeding from reason and will, which unite to make the act of choice. … For him, free will was not a prime or originating faculty; it presupposed intelligence and will.  It was rooted, therefore, in the inclinations to truth and goodness that constituted these faculties (331).

Ockham, on the contrary, maintained that free will preceded reason and will in such a way as to move them to their acts.  ‘For I can freely choose,’ he said, ‘to know or not to know, to will or not to will.’  For him, free will was the prime faculty, anterior to intelligence and will as well as to their acts. (331).

Ockham’s Other Razor: Pinckaers’s Short Narrative of Moral Theory

Pinckaers is partial to Thomistic moral theory and assumes that freedom for excellence is much richer a concept for moral theory than notions of freedom of indifference (329).  His disdain for moral theories based on the notion of freedom from indifference is not intended to be subtle in his account of its origins and contours.  Pejorative language pervades his description of what he thinks the notion of freedom of indifference causes in moral theory—a “destruction” of the harmony between humanity and nature (333), a “banishing” of considerations of human nature and spiritual spontaneity (333), a “rupturing” of the human soul (335), “the upheaval of all moral ideas and their systematic organization” (335), a “shattering” of the beautiful Thomistic order (337), a “disruption” of the field of moral theory that yields bizarre and uncoordinated contours of human action (338).

The chapter’s basic narrative goes something like this: Moral theories were getting along wonderfully with a rich and orderly account of human nature and morality (based on Aristotle and the Fathers but expressed perhaps most fully in St. Thomas) when Ockham came along and tampered with the notion of human freedom in a way that ruptured the unity and coherency of moral theory and led to unnecessary disjunctions and false dichotomies.  Ockham’s view of human freedom was like a germ that infected every aspect of moral theory, completely restructuring it and redefining all its parts.  Moral theories have been infected with this disease ever since.

Although perhaps less known, this was Ockham’s Other Razor—the one that took the harmonized parts of the beautiful Thomistic synthesis between human nature and morality and cut them up into disjointed pieces.  By Pinckaers’s judgment, Ockham’s Other Razor slit the throat of Thomas’ brilliant synthesis, bleeding the life out of dynamic moral theory.

Pinckaers’s Fuller Account of Ockham’s Other Razor

In Ockham’s view of human freedom, although many things can potentially influence the will, nothing can be allowed to determine the will outside itself—not human reason, not God’s will, or human emotions/desires/passions (331).  Thus, it has to have the ability to choose to do what is contrary to reason, God’s will, and human passions.  So, for example, it can choose to be happy or not be happy.  This will is the ultimate self because even if one aspect of “the self” desires something with great passion, the will has to have the power to say “No!”  This freedom was thought to be at the very core of human nature—the very “being” of a person (332).  Pinckaers concludes that “this is doubtless the origin of the divorce between moral theory and the desire for happiness, which has been effected in our times” (333).

It is called freedom of indifference not because the human will cannot be influenced by something other than itself, but that it always must retain enough “indifference” (or autonomy) to never be determined by such outside influences, for if it is determined by anything outside itself, it is not ultimately “free.”  In fact, “it even seemed that freedom could find no better way of asserting itself than to struggle against” human sensibilities, habits, passions, etc. (335).  Only one passion can be considered primitive to man—his passion to self-affirmation, “to the assertion of a radical difference between itself and all else” (338).

No past action can determine any future action; all human action occurs in “isolated succession” such that personality, Pinckaers argues, becomes unintelligible (336-37).  Pinckaers complains: “Human discontinuity is one of the basic tenets of Ockham’s psychology” (338).  In this view of human freedom, anything that one might conceive of as being able to have a great deal of influence over the will is set against it (loyalty, reason, natural inclinations, desires, God will)—they become a threat to human freedom (340).  This also effects the doctrine of God.  The moral will is capricious because God is absolutely free—it cannot be derived from the nature of things (342).  Since God’s will is revealed in the human conscience, moral theory can be worked out apart from an account of God (349).  Reason’s imperatives, however, are irrational (they are not grounded in the nature of things or in the nature of God, 348).

Conclusion

A litany of accusations is leveled throughout Pinckaers’s account of Ockham’s view of human freedom that the reader must carefully consider.  It is the “origin of the divorce between moral theory and the desire for happiness” (333); it demands  human action occur in “isolated succession,” and thus makes what we call “personality” ultimately unintelligible (336-37); it sets God’s will over against the human will as one higher capricious will against a lower capricious will (342); it makes God’s will irrational because it is not based on the nature of things or on the nature of God himself (348); it creates all sorts of unnecessary dichotomies between freedom and law, freedom and grace, subject and object, etc. (350).  There is much overlap between Pinckaers’ critique of freedom of indifference and the more extensive critique leveled by American theologian Jonathan Edwards.

The next post will explore what Pinckaers offers as an alternative to Ockham’s notion of freedom: freedom for excellence.

Blogshot __–___–_______–10.17.10

1. Bryan Cross from Called to Communion: Reformation Meets Rome posted a piece written by David Anders about how John Calvin led him to Catholicism.  Interesting and ironic piece.

2. That reminds me. In case you missed it, a big leader in the Anglican Church just converted to Rome. Read about the splash here.

3. Ever wondered how Catholics view The Great Schism? For an interesting and informative historical survey of this Schism by Devin Rose, subscribe to his podcast: Catholic Apologetics and Faith Formation Podcast. He also has very interesting lectures about The Ecumenical Councils, The Papacy, Marian Dogmas, etc. He is a great lecturer and engages with classic Protestant arguments and concerns.

4. Ever wondered how close Eastern Orthodoxy is to Evangelical Christianity? Listening to Bradley Nassif’s Podcast, Simply Orthodox, has convinced me that they are closer than one might think.

5. The most interesting podcast I’ve listened to in a long time was a podcast at The Carnegie Council by Gregory Raymond: After Iraq. He draws comparisons between Ancient Greece and Persian Warfare ideology and modern American Warfare ideology. It was so interesting I went back and listened to it about 4 times in the past year.

6. A little chat about different strands of evangelicalism.  I thought Owen Strachan had some particularly weighty comments.

7. For some good laughs:

Quotations on Justification from Saint Mark The Ascetic, part 1

St. Mark was an early fifth century monk also known as Mark the Monk or Mark the Hermit.  The following quotations are taken from his writing entitled “On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty-Six Texts” in The PhilokaliaVolume One, compiled by St. Nikodimos and St. Makarios, translated and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1983).  The numbers that follow the quotations do not indicate page numbers but paragraph numbers.

One of the interesting things to note about St. Mark’s writing on this subject is his unwillingness to teach easy-believism, yet his equal unwillingness to teach that God gives us heaven or hell based merely on an examination of our external works.  St. Mark teaches that Christ will judge each man “according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith” in Christ (§22).  Whether we get into heaven or are condemned to hell, Mark teaches, depends on whether our works were done with faith in Christ.  This is a little different from the typical evangelical way of speaking about salvation.  This means it is based on works (in some sense), yet it is ultimately based on faith.  Could this early Father of the church be teaching something compatible with evangelical doctrine?  Let the reader decide for herself. And let her also feel free to leave her answer in the comment thread. 🙂

Those who, because of the rigour of their own ascetic practice, despise the less zealous, think that they are made righteous by physical works.  But we are even more foolish if we rely on theoretical knowledge and disparage the ignorant.  Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works.  For everything is established by being put into practice (§11-12).

When we fulfil the commandments in our outward actions, we receive from the Lord what is appropriate; but any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention.  If we want to do something but cannot, then before God, who knows our hearts, it is as if we have done it.  This is true whether the intended action is good or bad.  The intellect does many good and bad things without the body, whereas the body can do neither good nor evil without the intellect.  This is because the law of freedom applies to what happens before we act. (§15-17).

Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they posses true faith.  Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them.  Both are mistaken. A master is under no obligation to reward his slaves; on the other hand, those who do not serve him well are not given their freedom. (§18).

When the Scripture says “He will reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom.  On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer. (§22).

Funny … Faithful … Feelings

“Exegetical” Preaching is Unbiblical; Topical Preaching is Transformational

The following is a thoughtful response by Brad Bigney (pastor of fast growing Grace Fellowship in Florence, KY) to the exegetical dogmatism of many Reformed Christians who think exegetical preaching is the kind of preaching that is most faithful to the Bible itself (e.g. Mark Dever includes exegetical preaching as one of the marks of a healthy church and trains other pastors after this standard).  After sitting under Brad’s preaching for 3 months, I’m starting to think that a good measure of topical preaching is actually a mark of a healthy church.

Why Do You Preach More Topical Sermons than Exegetical (Verse by verse through books of the Bible)?

From time to time people will ask me why I do so many topical sermon series instead of picking a book of the Bible and preaching through it verse by verse.

Here are some of the reasons why I preach the way I do here at Grace Fellowship:

1. Jesus preached topical sermons – if Jesus thought it was effective… so do I! Seriously… when you read through the Gospels you don’t see Jesus gathering a crowd and then starting to preach or teach verse by verse through one of the Old Testament books of the Bible they had at that time. He used visual illustrations, and He met the people right where they were and taught using just a verse or two for the basis of His teaching. It was hard hitting, and did not compromise God’s truth, but it was not an in depth explanation verse by verse through a book of the Bible.

2. There is no biblical record of the Apostle Paul or any other disciples ever preaching exegetically, verse by verse, sermons from a book of the Bible. You can see examples of this with Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts (on Mars Hill and other places).

3. There is no command in the New Testament instructing pastors to preach or teach verse by verse through books of the Bible. In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he doesn’t take time to exhort him to preach in a certain manner. He simply says to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).

4. Many times the emphasis on preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible is driven by a belief that Bible information is the key to changing lives. Paul tells us that knowledge alone puffs up, but love edifies (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). Not always, but many times the preachers and churches that are characterized by verse by verse preaching through books of the Bible are heavy on information or Bible facts, and much lighter on how those Bible truths apply to your life. I think that Bible application is the key to changing lives. Sheer volume of Bible information is not what changes lives. In-depth Greek or Hebrew word studies is not what changes lives. Understanding how to apply God’s Word practically in our everyday lives is what produces a love and passion for changing & growing.

Too often the goal of exegetical preaching is simply “What?” “What does the Bible say?” Our goal at Grace Fellowship is not just “What?” but “So what?” and “How?” “How does that apply to your life today?” “How would you start doing what God’s Word says to do in that verse?” “What needs to happen for you to start obeying what is being taught there?”

The clear and practical application of God’s Word to a person’s life, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is what changes lives. As a communicator I certainly benefit from word studies, but I rarely choose to pass all the details of my study on to my listeners. Believe it or not… my goal is not the preaching or teaching itself… my goal is changed lives. I want to connect real people to a real God, through His life-changing Word.

5. Be sure you understand what I’m not saying. I’m not saying it’s wrong to preach verse by verse through books of the Bible, but I am saying if you choose to do that, be careful. Make sure you don’t get caught up in your exegesis, and the details of your word studies, and lose sight of the main thing… communicating for changed lives.

6. There seems to be an arrogance among Christians who prefer exegetical verse by verse teaching of the Bible… as if they’ve got the corner on the market… they love God more… and they honor God’s Word more. This isn’t true of everyone, but I run into it frequently when this question of preaching style comes up. I rarely hear any topical preachers criticizing exegetical preachers, but I do hear quite a bit of criticism from exegetical preachers, and Christians who prefer that format, towards preachers who preach more topical or expositional sermons.

7. Look at the end result. I can’t speak for every other pastor who’s chosen to preach topical sermon series, but God has been very good to us here at Grace Fellowship. People are changing and growing because of what they’re learning from God’s Word. So if changed lives for the glory of God is the final goal, then look at the fruit of our ministry. Are people being saved? Is the Gospel being preached? Is Christ being exalted? Is the cross central in the preaching and teaching? Rather than backing away or watering it down, do we preach and teach the whole counsel of God’s Word – even the hard places? Are believers being fed and grounded in God’s Word to know how to handle life effectively by handling God’s Word accurately? Are people more devoted followers of Christ? Is the Bible our source of authority for making decisions and setting direction in our church? Is sin being exposed?

If all of that is happening effectively, I see no reason for alarm or concern. The comment I hear more than any other at our church from new people is “I’ve never grown this much in my life at any other church.” If changing and growing more and more into the image of Christ is the goal (see Roman 8:29) then it appears that God in His mercy has been pleased to use both topical and exegetical sermons to get us there.

8. It could be that this question regarding the style or format of preaching is centered around a personal preference more than it is the issue of “right” or “wrong.” It is the same as people who want to argue hymns versus choruses. I’m aware of people that leave our church for this and other matters of personal preference, and they are not wrong to do so. However, God has been using the topical or expositional style of preaching here at Grace Fellowship to bring people to Christ and root them in His Word and His grace.

9. Preaching and teaching topical messages does not mean it’s lighter in theology or preparation time. My first priority is the sermon preparation; I spend more time each week preparing my sermon than anything else I do. Preaching a topical message does not mean that it was just thrown together at the last minute. Also, preachers who preach topical sermons are not more liberal in their theology, and they are not less committed to the authority of God’s Word. God has graciously used people to communicate His Word who have been more topical or expositional rather than exegetical. Charles Spurgeon was certainly not liberal in his theology or uncommitted to God’s Word, yet he rarely preached an exegetical sermon. However, he always preached a biblical sermon that was anchored by a verse or verses that he was driving home to the hearts of the people. He preached for changed lives, and God blessed.

10. Format or style of preaching is no indication of the level of love for God’s Word. I hope that my love for God’s Word and my submission to its authority is equal to any exegetical preacher. While my messages are not usually rooted in one passage that is being unpacked verse by verse they are rooted in the truth of God’s Word, and each point is anchored by a biblical truth or verse that from Scripture.

HT :: Grace Fellowship Sermons

Book Review: Participatory Biblical Exegesis by Matthew Levering

The following is a book review of: Levering, Matthew. Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. 310 pp. For the audio version (which has a more elaborate conclusion) click the play button below or download it to your itunes.  For a PDF version of this book review, click here.

Levering’s proposal in Participatory Biblical Exegesis poignantly addresses what R.W.L. Moberly calls “a curious situation” in Christian biblical exegesis (2). Modern Christian biblical interpretation has heavily relied on historical-critical methods that tend to preclude interpretations that invoke the most important divine and spiritual realities to which the biblical texts refer (2).  Since historical-critical inquiry and discovery has proven fruitful for a fuller understanding of the linear-historical realities of the biblical texts, rather than propose something less than historical-critical methodology, Levering hopes to redeem the valuable finds of historical-critical methodology for Christian interpretation by proposing something more: a broader understanding of history as including also a participatory dimension (1).

His proposal is that history is not merely linear-historical but also metaphysically participatory (finite participation in divine being).  Therefore in order to do justice to the human and historical aspects of exegesis, Levering argues that one must go beyond the linear-historical dynamics of the text to account for the realities beyond the words (the res, 11).  The ultimate argument of the book, then, is about the nature of history (3).

The Advent of Historical Critical Methods

Chapters one and two seek to demonstrate the “gradual displacement” of the patristic-medieval participatory approach to scripture (14). Levering hopes to shine light on exactly why history came to be conceived as purely linear-historical and divine realities as extrinsic.  This metaphysical shift takes place in “the Scotist rupture” of the fourteenth century (19).  Scotus rejected the Platonic understanding of participation and the Aristotelian understanding of ultimate teleology that Christian theology had, up to this point in history, largely appropriated in Christian theology (19).

After locating the origins of the modern understanding of history in medieval nominalism, Levering hopes to show the implications such a view of history has for biblical exegesis.  He does this by looking at how biblical commentary of the same text (John 3:27-36) drastically changes over time, starting with Aquinas’ exegesis that illumines the participatory elements of historical reality (25) and ending with modern modes of biblical exegesis that marginalize all such approaches (53).  For Christian interpreters, “commentaries do not [easily] blend history and theology” because the modern idea of history makes history “exegetically problematic” (52).

Participatory Biblical Exegesis

In chapter three, as Levering begins to offer a vision for participatory biblical exegesis, the real concerns come to the fore as he warns that notions of history and biblical interpretation that do not involve recognition of divine realities are ultimately “anthropocentric (and thus, from a Bible’s perspective, idolatrous)” (64).  Renewing the tradition of patristic medieval participatory biblical exegesis, on the other hand, offers Christian interpreters the sorely needed “theocentric model of biblical interpretation” (64).  Levering marshals the brilliance of St. Augustine’s insight into the nature of teaching: “all teaching is about res, realities” and therefore, “in order to understand true teaching one must learn how to judge the relative importance of various res, so as to be able to get to the heart of the teaching” (65).  To do otherwise would be to cling to “created realities, loving them without reference to their Creator”—a “doomed enterprise” that confuses the means as above the end (65).  (Here is the real heart of Levering’s proposal; the rest of the book is historical/theological/exegetical troubleshooting. In this chapter, most of his ideas find expression.)

The ultimate end of all teaching “aims at building up love of God and neighbor in ecclesial communion” (68). Humility requires that one recognize the “norm of Scriptural reading” of the Body of Christ (68). The scriptures ultimate telos (my word, not his) is to mediate an encounter with God: “’existential’ participation” that amounts to God’s own teaching which “re-orders” one’s loves (69).  This effectively reverses the hermeneutical priority from linear-historical to existential-participatory (69).  The author then further expounds on this key idea through Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of Scripture as “transformative sacra doctrina” (71) that must be understood as a unified whole rather than “a mere repository of facts and ideas” (75).

In the second half of chapter three, Levering is forced to take the reader a step back from the euphoric teachings of Augustine and Aquinas to revisit the muddled issues of contemporary biblical interpretation (76).  Levering by then, however, has made his point well: linear-historical tools cannot be employed in a “neutral” fashion (77): they either include or preclude the divine realities as part of real history.  Levering claims not only that a participatory mode of exegesis is necessary for discerning the divine res, but he makes the further claim that this approach is “required to account for even the linear-historical complexity of the biblical texts” (77).  But is such a participatory perspective able to capture fully the “unsystematic” messiness of human authorship and intention?

Levering argues that his approach does not demand “that all biblical authors/redactors, working in various genres, are saying and intending the same thing,” but only “that Scripture’s human authorial teachings and intensions be recognized as belonging to the participatory framework—divine revelation and inspiration—of the Trinitarian doctrina” (80). Problematic passages must be governed by the schema of doctrina, which includes abandoning a particular explanation of any passage “if it be proved with certainty to be false”  (81).  Levering backs this claim by appealing to Dei Verbum’s doctrine of inspiration that claims that Biblical interpretation “seeks salvific truth” (83-84).  This chapter concludes by an affirmation of the “centrality of God the Teacher, in whose teaching exegetes participate” (89).

God as the Teacher

Chapter four is concerned with affirming the necessary locus of receptivity to God the Teacher—the “divinely ordained fellowship” (90).  Here Levering is concerned to show that his proposal is more promising for finding common ground for dialogue with Jewish interpreters than the “comparative textology” of mere historians who ignore the divine and ecclesial aspects of biblical exegesis (96).  The Pontifical Biblical Commission document, in spite of its “good job” in some respects, is troubling on account of its “presumption of a solely linear-historical model” to both Jews and Christians who see Scripture as more than just “ancient texts” (96).  To do justice to real history, including the “communal participatory appropriation” of Scripture, biblical interpretation must heed the communal traditions in which the biblical texts are “operative” (99).  This aspect of historical transmission should distill the fears of “total semantic indeterminacy” (100).  To ignore communal interpretation is fatal because the true meaning of Scripture is “embodied” in this “communal, intellectual, moral, and liturgical” history (104, 102).

Communal Context of Kenotic Love

As we discover in chapter five, for Levering, the communal teaching of the Christian church that sets the context for all exegesis is “kenotic love” that includes “cruciform peace” and is therefore more promising that the Spinozian undermining of ecclesial authority (140).  In the end, Levering comes through with a robustly Christian biblical exegesis that “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” in ecclesial communion, understands the fullness of sacred scriptures because it participates in the realities to which they refer—specifically the “Christological plan of human salvation” (143).

Conclusion

Levering’s narrative of the origins of modern notions of history will need to be evaluated by interested historians, and his peculiar Platonic understanding of participation (though nowhere extensively explained) may not be shared by all Christians (although some account of our participation in God is indeed necessary).  Certainly, however, Levering has exposed a naïveté in Christian biblical exegesis by showing the woeful inadequacy of any interpretation that does not take the divine realities into account as real history.  In this respect, his work is a brilliant myth buster, forcibly deconstructing the illusion of neutrality in historical-critical methods that exclude the divine realities in history and perhaps an eye-opener to what should be more obvious to those who cherish this aspect of Scripture above all else.  This insight is especially relevant to those who use the historical-critical method in apologetic postures.

Although Protestants will perhaps wish to dispute his argument for ecclesiologically governed interpretation, I would argue (as a Protestant) that such Protestants engage in performative contradictions anytime they use the word “heretic.” Although Levering’s work still leaves certain questions unanswered, it appears to be more suggestive than comprehensive, inviting other Christians to join him in rethinking an authentically Christian hermeneutical framework that does not shy away from all useful critical tools but keeps the divine realities central to the task of interpretation.

by Bradley R. Cochran

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