Monthly Archives: September 2012

Bad Postmodern Models by Christians

From William Edgar’s Introduction to the Second Edition of Van Til’s An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God:

Various post-evangelical Protestants espouse their own versions of these schools [Christian alliance with kinds of post-Kantian views, that is, postmodern philosophy]. Stanley Grenz was drawn to postmodern models advocating, as he did, a christological center and a “non-linear” outline for redemption, over against the older creation-fall-redemption ground motive. The problem with such accommodations is that they are not able to relate the human creature with God the Creator in objective categories. Lacking a true theology of the Creator-creature relationship, they cannot assert the historical nature of the fall into sin from the state of integrity. And because of this they cannot fully appreciate the moral revolution that led to the fall, and so the problem in the human condition is not so much moral guilt as it is finitude, at least to some extent. As a result, redemption is not fully of God’s mercy, with a transition from wrath to grace in history, through Christ. Instead they must grope after divine liberation, turning revelation into a project of the self, rather than seeing it as God’s merciful self-disclosure to fallen humanity (3).

OT: Christ Jesus

Christ Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” Christ is the fulfiller of Law and Prophets. Christ is the Prophet of Prophets. There is a need, therefore, for us to keep Matthew 5:17 in our minds whenever we take up and read the older Testament, for it was “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2a).

Joseph Addison Alexander noted, in the Introduction to his translation and commentary of Isaiah, that the role and function of a prophet was tied to the general design of the old economy; the office/institution was “no after-thought” but was provided for by the Law. Deuteronomy promises that in time a prophet like Moses will come–Deuteronomy 18  “comprehends the promise of a constant succession of inspired men, so far as this should be required by the circumstances of the people, which succession was to terminate in Christ” (Isaiah: Translated and Explained, 3). Christ is the Prophet of the constant succession of Prophets tied to the general design of the old economy, whose message was, as John Frame has said, “God is Lord”–that message dovetailing into the newer Testament’s message “Jesus is Lord!”

Christ Jesus is Lord. Lordship is the final reference point in all predication (Van Til), therefore, Christ is Center. If Christ is not at the Center, if Christ is not the hub of the wheel whose stories/spokes connect back to the Center, then we have made a grave mistake, and this mistake can occur even when the storytellers tell the individual stories about the world, which include the stories about the prophets (e.g.,  Joshua, the prophets of the Book of Judges, the prophetic ministry of the “eminent prophet” Samuel, the establishment and disestablishment of the Monarchy, and the exile in to and return from Babylon) chronologically! We may know all of words to the song, we may understand the Syntax just fine, but if Christ is not Center then our Semantics are off, our meaning is off, and this means the tune is off, too.

The Old Testament is never just a story about God revealing himself to Israel in such and such a fashion at such and such a time. The message and oracles of the older Testament was revealed to Israel by prophets who were servants of and whose office terminated in the Prophet of Prophets. Many teachers of the Bible today do not have Christ at the Center, and this is why they think Scripture is inharmonious, fraught with errors, not inerrant/not infallible, self-contradictory, etc. Utter nonsense, that. If you understand that the linear and merciful story of the law and prophets terminate in Christ Jesus, if you understand that the old economy was designed with the institution of a a succession of prophets that both developed and applied the law/grace of the old economy, and if you understand that in the old economy everything pointed towards the prophet greater than Moses, the Person in whom the prophets terminated and were fulfilled, it is only then that you can rightly read and interpret History, the stories about the linear and merciful Story of King Jesus and His beautiful, perfect Bride, the Church.

American Churches: Unchurch Christians

From the Conclusion to Part I – Empires in Scripture:

God’s empire is founded on the self-sacrificial death of Jesus and of the firstfruits of His people. It is renewed by ritual commemoration of Jesus in Eucharist, which forms a community readied for martyrdom [Leithart uses this term in its original sense of “witness”]. God’s empire is not a transhistorical aspiration, an ideal, or a sentiment of fellow feeling among nations. It takes concrete form in a catholic church, where rival rulers and emperors, rival nations and empires, become table fellows and, under the church’s discipline learn the Lord’s ways of peace and justice. Under Jesus and filled with the pentecostal Spirit, the ecclesial empire is a historical form of international community. The church is the eschatological empire already founded (52).

 From the Conclusion to Part II – Americanism:

Checks and balances among the branches of the federal government are an inadequate guarantor of liberty. No American church is allowed to become independent or powerful enough to challenge American policy effectively; few try. . . . When was the last time an American politician was excommunicated? When was the last time an excommunication had any effect on American politics? . . . Individual Christians do not have the virtues necessary to function as citizens of God’s imperium because American churches have discipled them to function as citizens of the American imperium instead (111).

Americanism: Freelance Imperialism

In Chapter 5 (“Chanting the New Empire”) of Between Babel and Beast, Leithart strings together a summary of the American “small wars” (e.g., the multiple U.S. Marine landings/deployments of the 1800s, the Commercial Wars/Barbary Pirates, and the 19th century “butcher and bolt” South Pacific hostilities), ending the survey with a sobering reflection (partially comprised of a quotation from Boot’s Savage Wars): “‘No matter how tiny, the navy had little trouble overawing pirates and tribesmen with its vastly superior technology and training. With the navy’s help, U.S. exports soared from $20 million in 1789 to $334 million in 1860. In short, naval captains were doing more or less the same job performed by the World Trade Organization: integrating the world around the principle of free trade.’ Freelance imperialism has been a recurring feature of American history” (103).

American Eschatology: Nationalist Typology That Infused American Rhetoric and Damaged Catholicity

“By the time of the Revolution, the residual ecclesial sensibility among the original Puritans had nearly vanished. A sense of national unity was strengthened by the Great Awakening and the French and Indian Wars, and the possibility that the church might function as a counterweight to national sentiment or state power was drowned in waves of revivals, each of which further damaged the catholicity of American Christianity” (Peter J. Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, 72).

Book: This Is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought by Thomas J. Davis

I just finished This is My Body by Thomas J. Davis. It is an “academic” book; the author has taken a series of prior essays, presentations, and articles and redrafted and compiled them for publication in a single volume. The book does not, however, feel regurgitated. As I read each of the chapters got better and better.

The last chapter, Hardened Hearts, Hardened Words: Calvin, Beza, and the Trajectory of Signification, is absolutely fantastic. Davis’ aim is to “undercut stereotypes” of Reformers (Calvin, Beza, & al.) by arguing that “a basic change in the orientation of signification occurred . . . as early as the thirteenth century . . . which did not begin the process of gaining cultural hegemony until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” Which means that “[s]ignification made a shift toward the literal, where direct lines were drawn between sign and thing signified, and both were drawn into closest relationship until one observes almost a collapse of distances between sign and thing signified” (172). Interestingly, Davis appeals to and comments at length on the woodcuts and paintings of Albrecht Durer, Leon Battista Alberti, and Leonardo da Vinci as evidence of his thesis.

This chapter alone is worth the cost of the book.

The Minister as Mirror

“As God is loving, as God is paternal, as God moves in all gentleness, so too should the minister mirror all that, so that not only the words but also the life of the minister reflect God’s goodness as in a mirror” (Thomas J. Davis, This is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought (Baker Academic, 2008), 125).

The Christ Who is Present

“Christian preaching cannot be about a future that does not impinge on the present. Eschatology is less about the future per se than it is about how God’s future works itself into present experience and expression. I think this corresponds well to Calvin’s understanding: in the Christ who is present, Christ’s past action is wed to his future kingdom, and the Christian finds oneself in a community living out God’s purpose with Christ as one’s head” (Thomas J. Davis, This is My Body: The Presence of Christ in Reformation Thought (Baker Academic, 2012), 111-112).