Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock,
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder comb
Our childhood used to know”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Something to be Hoped for
This poem by Thomas Hardy expresses something that we all feel; that is, it talks about responding to the call of faith even when doubt abounds. The last two lines capture the sentiment perfectly, “I should go with him in the gloom, / Hoping it might be so.” Hardy doesn’t paint an overly romanticized portrait of the state of things. No, he wraps up all of human experiences with one noun: “gloom.” While I’d like to point out that it isn’t all together accurate (I mean c’mon life isn’t all “gloom” it’s filled with joy too!) I recognize that now is the time of the year when life often feels like mere “gloom.” The rains—though we have still got our fair share of sun—are upon us, many have exams, nearly all of us (except the wee ones) are feeling financially pinched with the all the present buying, we’re over committed with Christmas and other holiday events, etc, etc.
Hardy ends with important words, “Hoping it might be so.” They’re the words of someone who’s doubting their belief in God. Still though, I am struck by the fact that the speaker “[goes] Hoping it might be so.” This shows that, despite our emotions and rational arguments, which seem to point us elsewhere, the best counter to the “gloom” is belief in a God who was willing to take on flesh—enter into the “gloom”—and eventually redeem it on the cross.
Maybe you feel as if the “gloom” is overwhelming. Maybe you are struggling with all the pressures that exams and end of term bring with them. Perhaps you’re buckling under the credit card bills that pile up on the kitchen counter. Whatever your situation, I would say come to the one “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:6). There is more than enough in him, more than enough reason to have the assurance to “[hope] it might be so.”
Thursday, October 25, 2007
While listening to NPR's Speaking of Faith the other day I heard Krista Tippet (she did an MDiv. at Yale) interview a documentarian who recently finished a project on Bonhoeffer. Here was one of the quotes that I particularly enjoyed.
The first service that one owes to others in community consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives His Word but also lends us His ear. …Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and, in the end, there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.
Then while reading John Webster's Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch I ran head on into another Bonhoeffer quote:
"The child poses a problem to theology"
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The early Christians understood this brilliant truth. For instance the earliest church history book—the biblical book Acts—tells us, “[all the believers] had everything in common […] Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” They’d do things like fast regularly so that they could give the money they didn’t spend to the needy. They did this to help those in need, and to grow in their relationship with God, as with distance running their discomfort produced joy.
Perhaps the reason why this sounds odd, discomfort producing joy, is because it’s a truth that has been more or less forgotten. Just as the sacrificial way of the early Christians ran counter to the prevailing norms of the Roman Empire we too in live in culture which tells us “do whatever you want” or “you deserve indulgence” and “you’re entitled to happiness, and this will give it to you.” If you don’t believe me start paying attention to the billboards, the ads on busses, and the commercials on your television. Now far be it from me to say something silly like “happiness is bad.” That’s crazy talk. However, I think our culture’s love affair with pleasure has stifled its joy.
The biblical author Peter calls Christians “sojourners” and “nomads.” What he meant was that the world has a way of doing life that runs counter to the higher way, the way of Christ—because of that the Christian lives a life on pilgrimage, never fully comfortable in a world that seeks first itself. This non-conformity to the world’s paradigm became for them a spiritual act of worship; it became joy.
Running—at least for me—helps to foster this deep way of life. When I am running up Spanish Banks hill after a hard 15k I can remember that deep truth: “discomfort often produce joy.” This of course isn’t just a big plug for running—though I highly recommend it—however, it is a big plug for recapturing this way of life; a way of life not curved inward towards indulgence but oriented upward in worship and outward in service.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Oftentimes parties grow too loud for couples hoping for a conversation of greater depth than that of the tastiness of a certain appetizer. They long to hear “come with me” away from this noise to a place we can talk and listen. This situation where noise prevents the conversation of a married couple is not unlike the current discourse regarding Christian marriage. There are loud voices, on both sides, neither position providing the furniture that makes conversation comfortable, or safe. Because of this I hope to diffuse the noise of discourse while creating a space for, as I see it, the deepest of Christian marital ethics: listening. I will do this by examining the polarized models commonly referred to as: hierarchalist and egalitarian; arguing that both approaches carry with them presuppositions. These presuppositions, I will show, effect the hermeneutic they employ and limit their vision. I will then demonstrate that the nature of an abstract model of marriage appropriated in a marriage often takes the form of abuse, hierarchalist or egalitarian. From there I will describe listening as an alternative marital ethic that is not only rooted deeply in the biblical landscape but is also a pregnant metaphor for how a Christian couple might “do marriage” given the fluidity of life. Furthermore, I will argue that listening as the formative marital ethic not only calls spouses to each other in inward movement, but also sends them out together to engage transformatively in culture.
Hermeneuticists agree that a text is “polysemous or capable of generating multiple interpretations.” The converse of this argument is precisely that all readers approach texts with presuppositions, which “are often conditioned by their social historical and cultural location.” John Bartowski, in his essay Beyond Biblical Literalism and Inerrancy highlights two popular evangelical writers representing both poles within the evangelical marriage debate. Bartowski’s project is to look at the particular hermeneutic employed by these writers and then examine the presuppositions that inform this hermeneutic. He chooses Larry Christenson as the representative voice advocating a hierarchalist model of marriage. Bartowski believes to have found two presuppositions that inform Christenson’s hermeneutic, they are: (1) women need a husband’s protection because women are subject to attack (physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological), (2) Women are more likely to sin than men. While conservatives might argue that Christenson’s presuppositions themselves are rooted in biblical passages others have demonstrated that current hierarchalist models of marriage, such as the very model Christenson advocates, owe just as much to a post-industrial revolution model of “doing marriage” as to an exegesis of certain biblical passages. Further, Christensen’s claim that a woman needs a male’s protection seems to simplify an important and poignant complexity, that being: oftentimes women are in need of protection from their overpowering and abusive husbands. If an ethos of privacy and submissiveness is prized how does an abused wife cry out?
For an example of the egalitarian perspective he chooses Ginger Gabriel’s book Being a Woman of God. The presuppositions Bartowski believes to find in Gabriel’s hermeneutic are: (1) equality of sexes rooted in God’s ungenderedness, (2) and the equal distribution of emotional and rational attributes among the sexes (rather than rational/male, emotional/female). Certainly biblical passages come to mind that give Gabriel’s position strength. Paul’s charge of mutual submission within a marital relationship and his call to bodily oneness are not the least. However, this biblical grounding to feminist arguments is not always the case. Douglas Shuurman writes, “In the same way that Luther was eager to throw the Epistle of James out of the Canon because it seemed to teach works-righteousness, so too some feminists are ready to dismiss several of the Pauline letters because they seem to teach patriarchy.” It seems to me that this canonical flexibility is closer to the page tearing Marcion than anything Luther ever advocated. An example of this is Letty Russell who has written that,
Feminist readings of the Bible can discern a norm within Biblical faith by which the Biblical texts themselves can be criticized. To the extent to which Biblical texts reflect this normative principle, they are regarded as authoritative. On this basis many aspects of the Bible are to be frankly set aside and rejected.
The critical eye observes a few things: (1) a specific notion of gender-equality in the Bible is prized above all other propositions and narrative elements, (2) the definition of “gender-equality” is rooted in a modern liberal definition which sets autonomy as the main standard of equality. Further, an observation of Elizabeth Achtemeier’s is important here, she writes, “Many [feminists] do not want to trust a Lord—that basic requirement of the Christian faith. The Lordship of Jesus Christ, in whose service is perfect freedom, smacks too much to them of a hierarchical domination.” A western egalitarian hermeneutic is further culturally contextualized when understood as just a piece within a larger global feminism, which often accepts more traditional approaches to married and family life.
Through this we can assuredly say that both hierarchalists and egalitarians approach the biblical text with their own presuppositions. Further, the interpretations informed by each hermeneutic produce abstractions, ideals, and models. While this is not altogether bad when doing systematic theology; abstractions when exported into the flesh of real life—specifically married life—carry with them a potential for abuse.
Models are in a fundamental way abstract, they propose ends that do not necessarily conform into real life. If a given marital model is deemed absolutely necessary then there is little to prevent the growth of an abusive marriage relationship. This form of abuse begins with a reversal of ends and means. This is seen in a marital relationship when one or both spouses cease to value the other as an end but begin to see the other as a means. To put this exchange in the terms of the 20th century Jewish philosopher Martin Buber: the I-Thou mode of relating becomes an I-It mode of relating. Describing this in greater depth Monica Fishbane writes, “the I-It mode entails seeing the other through the lens of one’s own needs or distortions […] I-It can take the form of abusive or exploitive relationships, in which the other is dealt with on the basis of desires and projections, regardless of the damage done to the other.” Conversely, an I-Thou mode of relating sees the other as an end in itself—there is no abusive functionality placed on the other. This reversal of ends and means—where a spouse is made the means—is abuse because, as alluded to above, the other becomes secondary and thus the other’s consciousness must be filtered through the primary (the given marital model) if the consciousness of the spouse is to receive validation. Contrary to this abusive mode of relating Buber tells us that, “Love does not cling to the ‘I’ in such a way as to have the thou only for its ‘content,’ its object […].” When a husband makes his wife the means to accomplishing an end—he reduces his marital relationship to abuse; he makes his wife merely functional “content.”
Of course it might be argued that this form of abuse is, perhaps, odd and only happens on occasion. Why would a couple actually care for a particular marital model, at least that much? There are, as I see it, two prominent and potential reasons for why this reversal might take place. The first might be our common desire to “fit in.” When a married couple is surrounded by a community that uniformly prizes a given model of marriage it becomes tempting for a spouse to implement that model without listening to the other’s not readily conformable particularities. The spouse is then relativized—made the means—for the sake of becoming like the surrounding community. From this it is indeed a small step to the abusive mode of relating mentioned in the prior paragraph. Further, it might be added, no particular model, be it hierarchical or egalitarian is free from this temptation; whether a wife privately belittles her husband for not living up to a standard of masculinity or a husband pushes his wife into the marketplace against her wishes, this abuse is no respecter of ideologies. Christ speaks to the heart of this matter, telling the Pharisees: “you justify yourselves in the eyes of men.” This desire to be justified among men subverts Christ’s call that the husband, and by extension the wife, “leave his father and mother and be united to his wife two […] become one flesh.” Christ’s call is one that draws the couple face to face in oneness rather than outwards with hopes of social justification.
This form of abuse might also surface if one or both spouses orient themselves around a given model of marriage hoping that it will provide a quality of marital life. While it is certainly good to have goals or aspirations within a marriage it is not advisable to seek out those goals at the expense of the marriage. This is important particularly with regard to marital goals, as they most directly involve the life of the other. Christian theology might describe this as “idolatry.” That is, when a Christian is oriented around a model or idea, and the Christian believes that the model or idea itself will, apart from the person Jesus Christ, provide a certain quality of life, then necessarily the Christian’s spiritual life with Christ suffers. Augustine articulates the root of this argument when in the City of God he writes “the better the objects of love, the better the community, the worse the object the worse the community.” He in essence is saying that whatever a community is oriented around determines the quality of life of that community. To further illustrate Augustine’s point we might contrast two scriptural passages. The first, from Deuteronomy, reads: “You must not [worship like the Canaanites] because they would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods […];” the second passage from Acts reads: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” While the Canaanites, because of their idolatry burnt their children; those who “believed” sold their possessions to distribute to all had “need”: true quality in life is found in allowing yourself to be oriented around Christ not around idols, be them fashioned from stone or a marital model.
Though the Bible certainly contains concepts and ideas even the most abstract meanderings are rooted in the flesh of real life. As Eugene Peterson has observed, “Biblical […] religion has a low tolerance for ‘great ideas’ or ‘sublime thoughts’ […] apart from the people and places in which they occur.” Thus far I have followed this line of thought arguing that abstractions should not be the sole determinant for how to “do marriage”. The late fiction writer Andre Dubus begins to illuminate another method rooted more in narrative and listening rather than abstract models; when describing an appointment he and his wife had with a marriage counselor, he writes,
What we did in the counselor’s office was tell stories. A good counselor won’t let you get by with the lack of honesty and commitment we bring to abstractions. And when we told these stories we discovered the truths that were their essence, that were the very reasons we needed to tell the stories; […] we did not know the truth of the stories until we told them.
Dubus’ counselor does not provide any certain model, or abstraction to implement; the counselor has Dubus’ and his wife tell stories. And, if we are to take Dubus as an honest man, it was in the telling and listening of their stories that a “truth” was discovered. This begins to suggest that the health of a marriage is not determined by how well an abstract model is actualized within a marriage, but rather by how much a spouse is listening to the other. In, perhaps, more popular terms: while abstract models call for a top-down approach: legislating models based upon generic ideas of personhood; a marital ethic of listening begins with a bottom down approach by listening to the other and allowing spouses to be their particular selves.
“Listening” then is what I propose as an alternative method to doing marriage. It is a relational metaphor rather than an abstract model, therefore it does not carry the baggage that models often do. Further, it is an ethic deeply rooted throughout the biblical landscape. Job cries out in confusion and pain, “Oh, that I had someone to hear me!” In the beginning of Exodus we are told that “God heard [Israel’s] groaning.” James encourages his readers to be, “quick to listen and slow to speak.” And in Revelation Jesus tells John, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” Though these texts do not talk about marriage specifically they do demonstrate the gravity the Bible gives to “hearing” and “listening” in multiple contexts, further they begin to provide a window through which we might better see the biblical landscape of listening. That is that they demonstrate that it is through “hearing” or “listening” that not merely a message, but oftentimes, those essential messages are communicated, or passed on. To examine this further I will look at Deuteronomy 6:4 in greater detail. In doing this I will also show how the biblical call to “hear” or “listen” can be viewed in relation to marriage.
Towards the beginning of Deuteronomy, in the fourth verse of the sixth chapter we read: “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord your God is one God.” This statement is the crux of what is referred to as the shema—shema in fact meaning “to hear, or listen.” This exhortation became a central confession of the Jewish faith, by the 2nd century A.D. it was recited by the devout Jew every morning and evening. In the shema the call—“Hear, Oh Israel […]”—is a call to understand God’s essence; those faithful are called to “Hear” that “God is one.” So it is through Israel’s listening that they understand the fundamental essence of their God.
The marital life is not altogether different, for in marriages knowing the essence of the other is the fruit of listening. The example Andre Dubus’ gave us describes this: “And when we told these stories we discovered the truths that were their essence, that were the very reasons we needed to tell the stories; […] we did not know the truth of the stories until we told them.” As Dubus tells us it is through the interplay of talking and listening that an essence is conveyed. Much like the Israelites understanding God’s essence only after hearing, spouses can only begin to understand the other’s essence if they first hear or listen. Rowan Williams articulates this when he advocates for “[a] listening [that] tries to listen to the other relations in which the speaker stands.” He goes on describing what he means by the phrase, “other relations in which the speaker stands,” telling us that
Recognizing a soul is, […] recognizing the other you confront is already invested in […] other relations over which you have no control, is being made themselves by a complex of agents and factors. Listening to the other is listening for those others, for the communicative and symbolic world inhabited by the speaker.
While Williams is speaking specifically about the role a therapist should take, spouses also should be extremely sensitive to the “communicative and symbolic world” their spouse possesses. However, I would add that this sensitivity should always be checked with the trajectory of the Gospel—“sensitivity” should not be taken as affirming spiritual lethargy. Certainly the question of how to appropriate exhortation in a marriage is a difficult one, yet, for the married Christian couple it is a necessary one. Nevertheless, it is from listening that understanding flows and listening and understanding should always preclude any form of exhortation.
Through the rhythm of time spent listening to each other’s stories one begins to behold the other’s true essence, that is, the other in all of their complexities and mysteries. Monica Fishbane describes that, in part, a couple’s journey must move from “magic” to “mystery,” writing from a psychologist’s perspective she asserts: “The challenge is to help the couple move from their state of disenchantment with each other, not back to the innocent magic of their early time together, but rather toward a sense of mystery.” Fishbane goes on to describe that if one spouse relates to the other in terms of “resentment” or “magic” they are relating to the other through “projective identification”—one part of a spouse is blown out of proportion so as to hinder truly beholding the other. A marital ethic of listening allows for this movement from “magic to mystery” to take place, indeed it facilitates the movement by creating space for spouses to behold the other.
Further listening, as I have described it, teaches spouses to heed to the other. That is they are asked to “drop” their own programs, projects and expectations to engage with the other—rather than engaging primarily with the self. It is in this heeding and listening that the other becomes whole, becomes “mystery.” Further, as might be expected, this heeding is mutual; both spouses must listen, both spouses must share themselves. About this Buber writes, “Only he who himself turns to the other human being and opens himself to him receives the world in him. Only the being whose otherness, accepted by my being, lives and faces me in the whole compression of existence, brings the radiance of eternity to me.” It is in the heeding to the other, submitting to the other’s voice, that the essence of the other is discovered as a whole person, as a “mystery.” Yet, there is of course a tension to hold here; while the whole self is in fact “mystery” scripture teaches us that the self is also bottomless in its consumptive and inverted qualities. So there is of course a tight rope walk—there must be balance between the inward impulse in a marriage, that which draws spouses together in rest, and an outward impulse that brings them out—oftentimes together—to simply be Christians in the world.
It is about this heeding that I believe Paul is speaking about when he tells the Ephesians, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” However, Paul’s last three words are of extreme importance; submission is because “of reverence for Christ.” For while during periods of infatuation it may feel easy to heed to the voice of a spouse, conversely (and perhaps this is more often the case) it is easy to develop a rhythm of avoiding intimacy. Much of the time we are angry, busy, or too self-involved to heed to the other in listening. But Paul tells us that our submission to the other should be out “of reverence for Christ.” The placement of a reference point outside of the spouse issues a call to another heeding. This form of heeding, or “reverence,” is interrelated to the heeding we engage in with our spouse. For example, our reverence for Christ, our heeding to him, is articulated by our willingness to heed to the other. In this light the married life is pointed at the transformation of essence; and this interrelated heeding helps a married couple develop a mutual trajectory out of the bottomlessness of self –a trajectory oriented towards Christ.
The Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian articulates a helpful distinction between “privacy” and “intimacy” which further elucidates what I mentioned above as interrelated heeding. Guroian maintains that while “privacy has gotten defined as an objective sphere away from the public. Intimacy connotes no such division of life into two spheres.” Surely a married couple needs privacy, listening in fact warrants it, yet the Pauline end of mutual submission is “out of reverence for Christ.” Therefore we must again discern a balance between our outward and inward impulses. And it is because of this need for discernment that Guroian’s distinction is helpful. Our call to be “in the world” is not one that calls us from our spouse; “intimacy” can exist with our outward impulse, although “privacy” cannot. More simply, the call outward need not be a solitary call outward. Guroian articulates this ecclesial nature of marriage when he writes,
Like a monastic community, marriage is an institution with a purpose which transcends the personal goals or purposes of those who enter into it. It is an upbuilding of the Church in service to the Kingdom. Marriage is not only something which happens to the individuals who are wed and the children which they bear by the grace of God. Marriage is something which happens in and to the whole Church.
Guroian does not mean that spouses deprive themselves of the other. Rather he is arguing that a married couple remains kingdom oriented in a non-kingdom oriented world. The husband and wife should be face to face in submitting “to each other out of reverence for Christ” therefore receiving a fuller understanding of the other’s essence, and from there assist in the process of essence transformation of the other so that they allow their relationship, home, and wider community to become, as Chrysostom put it, “Christ’s general receptacle.”
Author and poet Jill Patterson asks us “[…] who among us cannot see that [Jesus] understands how mercy comes when we least deserve it, how God grants leniency as he sees fit, how sometimes divorce is the same thing as grace.” Surely, one understands her sentiment. Indeed, there are often times when marriages do exist within the cold rhythms of criticism and amongst calcified hearts. Under those circumstances, knocking down the doors that vows have locked may indeed appear to be the only way to freedom. But I also am reminded of Jesus who told his listeners that Moses permitted them divorce because “[their] hearts were hard.” And I am also reminded of how scripture teaches us that a hardened heart is unable to hear, or listen. It is only through listening that we are able to break up the calcification around our hearts, the hardness that prevents us from listening in the first place. This is what I have advocated for throughout this paper, that is, the primacy of a marital ethic of listening. In doing this I have described the insufficiency of the abstract marital model, and I have demonstrated the gravity the Bible itself gives to listening generally, and by extension within the marital life. I have also showed how listening, as a marital ethic, both draws spouses towards the other, and beyond the other towards their God.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Welcome to the 2007-2008 school year at ECS! God has given us a new year to glorify him! I am thankful that after all the thought and preparation put in by the staff, students, and parents for this year, it has finally begun. Relying on His grace, we are ready to work diligently for Him, throughout this year and in everything that we do here at school.
That is how things work here. We rely on His grace every day, in all things that we attempt, in all things that we work at, in all things that we face. By his grace he has given us Jesus, who works everything out for his glory and our good. So in our weakness we rely on him for everything we need and for everything this school needs.
At the same time, and because we have received his grace, we work diligently. Our work is not an attempt to gain favor or to impress God. We work because God has already worked in our lives. God loves us so much- we saw that at the cross- and there is no way to make him love us more. This causes our work to come from joy and gratitude to God, not from fear of disappointing Him. Our diligence comes from the grace that God has given us in Christ. We always rely on his grace, and then joyfully work in the task of education that he has called us to.
Parents, rely on Him in your home, as you seek to raise Godly children. Teachers, rely on Him in your classroom, teaching them to read and write, and think and share. Students, rely on Him in your friendships and in your homework, in your recesses and in your class time. Pray for each other that we might be able to do these tasks. This year let us all rely on his grace in everything that he brings to us, and let us work diligently in the vocations where he has called us, for his glory.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
I have been leading a study on Ephesians for the past year, and the previous post is part of a summary that was put together so we could review a lot of material at once. Anyways, the main thing that has struck me is the two halves of Ephesians. Chapters 1-3 are exclusively about God's work on our behalf. There is only one imperative, found in 2:11, "remember". And in chapters 4-6, there are over 90 imperatives for us. It is a good reminder, that our work always follows God's work, that we must never try to "do" Ephesians 4-6, without our minds and hearts firmly rooted in the gospel, in God's story of salvation in Eph. 1-3.
Ephesians 2:10 is my favorite example of this: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
(from a study by matt)
No longer walk as the Gentiles do,
in futility of mind,
in darkened understanding,
alienated from the (Trinitarian) life of God,
in hardness of heart,
given up to sensuality,
corrupt through over-desires,
NO! You have learned Christ, the truth that is in Jesus,
SO, put off the old man,
be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
then put on the new self,
you will become truly righteous and holy in God’s image once again!
This new image pleases the Holy Spirit (and does not grieve him) by:
Speaking the truth, because we belong to each other
Getting angry but does not sin or let anger last more than a day
Not stealing, but trusting and works, and gives.
Building people up with words that are not corrupt.
Giving grace to those around.
Putting away all bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice.
Being kind to others.
Forgiving each other tenderheartedly.
Yes, this new image is truly an imitation of God.
Because we are beloved children,
and because Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
we will walk in love.
We will have no part in idolatry, in any form, because our inheritance is in the
We will not be sexually immoral, impure, covetous, filthy-mouthed, or unthankful.
Some people make excuses for this behavior, but we know that these things bring God’s wrath.
We will not associate with such people, walking in the darkness.
We will walk as children of light-
the light that makes fruits of goodness, righteousness, and truth.
And so our pursuit will be finding out what pleases the Lord.
When people see the fruit of the light that shines from Christ in us,
their deeds will be exposed,
and we pray that they will rise from death,
and Christ will shine on them too.
Yes, in our new image we will be wise:
God the Father has made his eternal purposes and wisdom our guide.
We will walk with Him.
God the Holy Spirit fills us and makes the worship of our lives from the heart.
We will sing to each other and to the Lord with all of our hearts.
God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is our access to this life of God.
We will be thankful always and for everything in his name.
Among all the saints there will be mutual submission out of reverence for Christ.
We will be full of love:
In those ways:
Wives will submit to husbands,
Husbands will love their wives,
in the knowledge that their love should be like Christ’s love for his Church,
and that marriage is a beautiful signpost and tangible example
to the world of the union of Christ with his people.
Children will honor and obey their parents,
this is their way of living out their new image.
Parents will not provoke their children to anger,
they will instead bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Slaves will obey their masters,
just like they obey Christ, from the heart and not just to be seen.
Masters, you will treat your slaves the way you would want to be treated,
for God is an impartial judge.
Friday, June 01, 2007
I've been asking myself the above question for a while now. The answer, provisional as it is, is no. Too often, whether pouring over Augustine, reading a commentary by Calvin, or catching up on something more recent, I skim over the word "God". If not that, I fall in love with the concept of Jesus as...(fill in the new stylized theological term) while forgetting the intimate nature he has as my savior. What this tells me about myself is that I have a propensity for loving facts, or gaining knowledge. This of course is not bad, but when I don't remember that words like "Jesus" and "God" correspond to real people, real relationships, I end up missing the whole point of the theology, that being: worship.
This ended up being a lot more personal than planned. I think it applies to many more than me though, and perhaps it'll be helpful.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Here's a paper by a friend of mine. It's pretty informative if you are interested in Neo-Cavinism or Abraham Kuyper.
Mark Noll, in his acclaimed book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, bemoans the fact that most evangelical Christians today are unprepared for serious intellectual engagement with postmodern culture. In casting about for any example of such intellectual engagement among Christians, Noll points to the Dutch Reformed tradition1, and more particularly, to the man who played such a decisive role in shaping that tradition: Abraham Kuyper.2 The feature of this Dutch Reformed—also called Kuyperian or neo-Calvinist—tradition which is invariably invoked in its engagements with contemporary culture is the concept of worldview.3 The term became a part of the Dutch Reformed tradition through a series of lectures delivered at Princeton University in 18984 in which Abraham Kuyper presented Calvinism not simply as a denomination or collection of doctrines, but as a worldview or, to use Al Wolters’ definition of the term, “[a] comprehensive framework of one’s basic belief about things.”5 In this essay, we shall briefly examine how the worldview concept worked its way into the discourse of nineteenth century intellectuals and how it came to be applied to Christianity in particular. Then we shall turn to Kuyper himself and examine how the Calvinistic worldview, as he referred to it, developed in his thought and action in the years leading up to 1898.
The term worldview6 is something of a new term in the English language. The term first appeared in English in a letter by J. Martineau in 1858 as a translation of the slightly older German term Weltanschauung. Weltanschauung first appeared in a work by Immanuel Kant entitled Critique of Judgement published in 1790. The term was used only once by Kant himself, somewhat incidentally and without the connotations and robust meaning it would come to have. However, his disciples, most notably Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), seized on the term and used it extensively. For Kant’s followers the term came to mean, according to David Naugle, “an intellectual conception of the universe from the perspective of a human knower.”7 Weltanschauung soon became a favourite word among German philosophers and within twenty years was used in the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Novalis, G. W. F. Hegel and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. By the middle of the nineteenth century the term had spread into the discourse of a number of other disciplines including history, music, linguistics, and even physics. At the same time the term began to spread into other European languages. By 1898, the year of Kuyper’s Stone Lectures, Weltanschauung or worldview had become embedded in the intellectual discourse of Europe and North America and occupied a place on the same conceptual plane as philosophy.8
Worldview was first used to refer to Christianity in a series of lectures by the Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr (1844-1913). Orr delivered these lectures to the United Presbyterian Theological College of Edinburgh in 1891. They were published two years later under the title The Christian View of God and the World. Their purpose was to defend the Christian faith to a European culture which was in the midst of a massive and, in Orr’s mind at least, catastrophic shift. C. S. Lewis referred to this shift as the “un-christening of Europe”9: the move from a Christian age to a ‘post-Christian’ age through the modernist revolution. The strategy which Orr used to make his defence was to speak of Christianity as a comprehensive Weltanschauung. Orr recognised the futility of trying to defend specific doctrines to a European audience which was growing increasingly suspicious of Christianity and saw the need to deal with Christianity more comprehensively as a worldview:
The opposition which Christianity has to encounter is no longer confined to special doctrines or to points of supposed conflict with the natural sciences,…but extends to the whole manner of conceiving of the world, and of man’s place in it…. It is no longer an opposition of detail, but of principle.10
This worldview had implications for all thought, not just the religious. Orr’s Christian worldview was based on the firm conviction that belief in Christ “committed [the believer] to much else beside.”11 The believer is committed to certain views of God, man, sin, salvation, and human destiny which are unique to Christianity and which stand in stark contrast to the purely scientific or philosophical worldviews. Thus Orr paved the way for and inspired Kuyper who, five years after the publishing of The Christian View, would seize on this idea of worldview and make it the centre of his thought. Before delving into how that came about, a brief biographical note is in order.
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) possessed, among other things, a very big head to the extent that, when he was child, his parents feared that he suffered from water on the brain.12 Whether or not he also possessed a big head in the egotistic sense is open to debate. But if anyone could ever be justified in having such a disposition, Abraham Kuyper was certainly such a one. The list of accomplishments of this man are quite considerable.13 After receiving a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of Leiden, he served ten years (1864-1874) as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. He founded two newspapers, De Heraut (The Herald) in 1871 and De Standaard (The Standard) in 1872, and was editor of both for more than forty-five years. In 1874 he was elected to the Dutch Parliament. In 1879 he founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party, the first modern, organised, and popular political party in the Netherlands. He served as its leader for more than forty years including four years (1901-1905) as Prime Minister. He was an academic theologian and in 1880 founded the Free University of Amsterdam. In the early 1880s he led a protest movement in the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) which result in a schism in 1886 and the formation of the confederation of Gereformeerde Kerken (Reformed Churches). He wrote more than two hundred books and over a thousand articles on a broad range of subjects. He spoke several languages and travelled extensively throughout Europe. He was also married and had a number of children.14 Perhaps unsurprisingly he suffered three nervous breakdowns during his lifetime. All the while, he managed to maintain the love and loyalty of the Dutch people, almost to the point of hero-worship.15
James Bratt has aptly commented that Kuyper’s life is characterized by “a work ethic gone gargantuan out of a conviction that, though the world theoretically lay in God’s hands, the project of proving that fact in detail had fallen to him on every front.”16 Kuyper himself put it this way in the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of De Standaard:
One desire has been the ruling passion of my life…. It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God.17
The “worldly opposition” which Kuyper is referring to here is modernism, which he saw as being represented in the ideals of the French Revolution, German pantheism, and Darwinian evolutionism.18 The tool, or weapon, which Kuyper used to defend against such opposition was worldview. It was his conviction that, if modernism, which was based on idolatry, could be ‘stretched out’ to apply to all facets of life, could have such wide implications, then Christianity, which was based on obedience to God and faith in Christ, must be similarly ‘stretched out’ into an equally comprehensive view of reality. This is what Kuyper’s Stone Lectures were meant to show. We have seen how this concept developed generally in the philosophical discourse of the nineteenth century and how it came to be ‘Christianized’ through the work of James Orr. What about Kuyper himself? How did his concept of the Calvinistic worldview develop in his own thought in the years leading up to the Stone Lectures?
While Kuyper gave his idea of worldview its fullest expression in the Stone Lectures and indeed did not use the term ‘worldview’ or Weltanschauung in its full sense in any of his discourse up until that time, a number of its key features appeared much earlier. First, he discovered the impact of worldview on his own personal thought and action. In his reflections upon his 1863 ‘conversion’ from liberalism to orthodox Calvinism, he acknowledged that his former life was based upon a foundational, unifying principle or “spiritual orientation of the…heart”19 which directed all his thought and action. Through conversion that principle changed and thus his thought and action were redirected accordingly. Thus the realisation that one’s life is inherently guided by one’s worldview. Second, he discovered how worldview, particularly the Calvinist worldview, can shape the life of a community. This development came during his first ministerial assignment in the village of Beesd (1863-1867). Here he was struck by the villagers coherent Calvinist way of life and way of looking at the world. Kuyper describes his discovery rather poignantly:
There was not only knowledge of the Bible but also knowledge of a well-ordered world-view, though of old-Reformed style. It was sometimes as though I was sitting on the lecture-room benches hearing my talented mentor [at the University of Leiden, J. H.] Scholten lecturing on the ‘doctrine of the Reformed Church,’ but with inverted sympathy. And what, for me at least, was the most attractive, was that here spoke a heart that not only possessed but also understood a history and experience of life…. Those ordinary working people, hidden away in a corner, told me in their rough regional dialect the same thing Calvin had given me to read in beautiful Latin. Calvin could be found, however misinformed, among those simple country-folk, who had hardly heard of his name. He had taught in such a way that he could be understood, even centuries after his death, in a foreign country, in a forgotten village, in a room floored with tiles, with the mind of an ordinary labourer.”20
Thus Kuyper discovered that a specific worldview could be lived out by a group of simple country-folk, i.e. it was not simply an intellectual category relegated to the ivory tower of philosophy. But perhaps more importantly, for the first time he experienced a specifically Calvinistic way of life, a Calvinistic worldview. Third, he discovered the importance of worldview for scholarship. This discovery was spelled out in Kuyper’s 1871 lecture Modernism: The Fata Morgana in the Christian Domain. In this polemical speech against theological liberalism, Kuyper describes a change in worldview of his former professor, J. H. Scholten. In 1858, when Kuyper was studying under Scholten at Leiden, the professor upheld the Johannine authorship of the Gospel of John. Six years later however, Scholten changed his mind on the issue, which he himself acknowledged to be the result of a shift in his own thinking from a Platonic to a more Aristotelian worldview. While Kuyper did not hold this shift against Scholten and still held him in high esteem, he used this shift to illustrate that every scholar’s conclusions are dependent upon their worldview.21
Despite these elements of worldview thinking in Kuyper’s thought, Peter Heslam has argued that before the Stone Lectures Kuyper made no attempt at articulating the Calvinistic worldview in a deliberate and specific way.22 While this may be true and while it is important not to read his later ideas back onto his earlier ones, greater nuance would perhaps be more helpful. For while the terms Weltanschauung or ‘worldview’ might not have appeared in Kuyper’s writings, key elements of what would come to known as the Calvinistic23 worldview were developed in the period between 1871 and 1898. These cannot simply be passed over. Kuyper’s activity in both press and politics as well as the formulation of the ideas of ‘sphere sovereignty’ and ‘antithesis’ during this period must be seen as being in continuity with what he discovered early on and what he articulated in the Stone Lectures.
In 1874 Kuyper was voted into the Dutch Parliament. In order to be sworn in, Kuyper first had to give up his clerical office. This change in careers did not mean a forsaking of his religious concerns but rather was an opportunity for Kuyper to increase his influence in pushing for the reformation of Dutch society. Already at this time, Kuyper conceived of Calvinism as being much more than simply a collection of doctrines, but as having real implications for the right ordering of society and politics (over against the real implications of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution).24 As such, “Kuyper saw it as incontestable that the Calvinistic…movement had to be active not only in the religious domain but also in society and political life.”25 It is this vision of Calvinism which motivated Kuyper in all his various roles. He worked tirelessly in his political career not only to work in Parliament for the reformation of society, but also to raise public support and sway public opinion through his daily editorials in De Standaard, often by appealing to the Calvinist national heritage of the Netherlands. This vision of the social and political implications of Calvinism would become a hallmark of the Kuyperian worldview. Thus the idea that Calvinism could be used as a comprehensive framework for the ordering of society was beginning to crystallize in Kuyper’s thought well before 1898.
The theory of ‘sphere sovereignty’ must also be considered in the development of Kuyper’s thought between 1871 and 1898. “Sphere Sovereignty” was the title of Kuyper’s address at the opening of the Free University in Amsterdam in 1880. In it, he put forth the idea that all of human life is divided into separate spheres.
Just as we speak of a “moral world,” a “scientific world,” a “business world,” the “world of art,” so we can more properly speak of a “sphere” of morality, of the family, of social life, each with its own domain. And because each comprises its own domain, each has its own Sovereign within its bounds…. The cogwheels of all these spheres engage each other, and precisely through that interaction emerges the rich, multifaceted multiformity of human life.26
Towards the end of his address Kuyper, in perhaps his most famous utterance, cried, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”27 This theory would play a tremendous role in the formation of Kuyper’s Calvinistic worldview. Precisely because Christ is sovereign over all spheres of life, there is no sphere in which Christian activity is illegitimate, and it is therefore possible to construct a Christian worldview which comprehends all spheres.
Also present in the “Sphere Sovereignty” address, Kuyper makes mention of two different “credos [which] stand squarely against each other”28: one is derived from the confession that all sovereignty rests in God; the other denies this confession and cannot think of a higher sovereign than the state. Again, while it would be presumptuous to read the worldview concept into this, this mention of two “credos”—or “life convictions” as he also referred to them—is of particular significance as an early expression of the idea of antithesis. A key aspect of Kuyper’s thoughts on worldview had to do with there being essentially two different kinds of people: the regenerate and the unregenerate. As Kuyper later expresses it in his Encyclopaedia of Sacred Theology (1893-1898): “Both are human, but one is inwardly different from the other, and consequently feels a different content rising from his consciousness; thus they face the cosmos from different points of view, and are impelled by different impulses.”29 In the Stone Lectures Kuyper would apply this concept to the two different and opposing worldviews fighting for the soul of Europe: the Modernistic one and the Calvinistic one.30
Thus in the period between 1871 and 1898 three key features of the Kuyperian worldview made their appearance in Kuyper’s thought: first, the idea that Calvinism is much more than a collection of doctrines and has implications for politics and society; second, that human life is divided into multiple spheres over which Christ has claimed supreme sovereignty; and third, the concept of antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate.
In an 1896 address to the general synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken, Kuyper bemoaned the fact that there was no Calvinistic worldview which could oppose the modern pagan worldview. Here for the first time Kuyper intentionally and decisively—and, in a way, finally—adopts the concept of worldview into his thinking. Here the influence of James Orr must be considered. The Christian View of God and the World was published in 1893 and while Kuyper makes only passing mention of it in a footnote of his Lectures on Calvinism, his concept of worldview bears striking resemblance to that of Orr’s.31 It is apparent that Kuyper was familiar with Orr and had read his work before 1898. Perhaps it was his reading of Orr which motivated Kuyper’s complaint. Whatever the source of Kuyper’s angst, he seems to have taken the matter into his own hands for, when a letter arrived in October 1896 from the faculty of Princeton University inviting him deliver the prestigious Stone Lectures, Kuyper seized on the opportunity to articulate the worldview which he saw as so necessary for the fight against modernism: “Calvinism, as the only decisive, lawful, and consistent defence for Protestant nations against encroaching, and overwhelming Modernism,—this of itself was bound to be my theme.”32
In formulating the content of this Calvinistic worldview, Kuyper did not have to do a whole lot of original thinking. Key elements of that worldview had been developing in his mind in the decades leading up to the Stone Lectures. Since his conversion he had at least pondered the significance of a guiding principle for the life of an individual. In the village folk of Beesd, he had discovered how such a principle could guide the lives a group of people. Through his work in politics and the press he not only embodied the practical implications of worldview for the life of a society but also realized the comprehensive nature of worldview. In his theories of sphere sovereignty and antithesis he had a coherent framework within which to construct his worldview. And it had a foundation on the historical, practical Calvinism which he had discovered in the village folk of Beesd. Thus Kuyper’s adoption of the concept of worldview did not indicate a major shift in his thought but as something into which his life and thought up to that point could become more clearly and coherently defined and defended against the overwhelming “storm of Modernism.”33
Thus we see, not only the historical development of the concept of worldview, but how this concept developed in Abraham Kuyper’s thought and life. In setting up Calvinism as a comprehensive worldview with implications for all ‘spheres’ of human life, Kuyper not only found a way in which to define and defend his vision for Dutch society, he provided his followers with a conceptual framework which continues to be a resource for guiding Christian intellectual engagement with contemporary culture.34
Bolt, John. “Editorial.” Calvin Theological Journal 31 no. 1 (1996): 9-10.
Bratt, James D. “Abraham Kuyper: Puritan, Victorian, Modern.” In Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo, 3-21. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
De Bruijn, Jan. “Calvinism and Romanticism: Abraham Kuyper as a Calvinist Politician.” In Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo, 45-58. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Henderson, R. D. “How Abraham Kuyper Became a Kuyperian.” Christian Scholars Review 22, no. 1 (1992): 22-35.
Heslam, Peter S. Creating a Christian Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.
________. “The Meeting of the Wellsprings: Kuyper and Warfield at Princeton.” In Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo, 22-44. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000
Kossmann, E. H. The Low Countries, 1780-1940. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Kuyper, Abraham. Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader. Edited by James D. Bratt. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998.
________. Lectures on Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931.
McGoldrick, James E. Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man. Auburn: Evangelical Press, 2000.
Naugle, David K. Worldview: The History of a Concept. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Olthius, James H. “On Worldviews.” In Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen, and Richard J. Mouw, 26-40. Lanham: University Press of America, 1989.
Wolters, Albert. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.
________. “Dutch Neo-Calvinism: Worldview, Philosophy and Rationality.” In Rationality in the Calvinian Tradition, ed. Hendrik Hart, Johan van der Hoeven, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, 113-131. Lanham: University Press of America, 1983.
________. “On the Idea of Worldview and Its Relation to Philosophy.” In Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen, and Richard J. Mouw, 14-25. Lanham: University Press of America, 1989.
1 “The Dutch Reformed tradition has been the single strongest intellectual resource for the renewal of Christian philosophy” (Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], 237).
2 John Bolt, “Editorial,” Calvin Theological Journal 31 no. 1 (1996): 9-10.
3 For recent examples of such engagements see Appendix A in David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2002), 349-356.
4 These lectures, endowed by the Stone foundation and known as the Stone Lectures, were also published in book form: Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered at Princeton University Under the Auspices of the L. P. Stone Foundation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931).
5 Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 2. A more comprehensive (and more lengthy) and perhaps more satisfactory definition of the term can be found in James Olthius, “On Worldviews,” in Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul A. Marshall, Sander Griffioen, and Richard J. Mouw (Lanham: University Press of America, 1989), 26-40.
6 The terms ‘world- and life-view’, ‘life perspective’, or ‘confessional vision’ all mean roughly the same thing, as does ‘life-system’ which was used by Kuyper in the Stone Lectures.
7 Naugle, Worldview, 59.
8 Ibid., 58-67.
9 C. S. Lewis, “De Descriptione Temporum,” in Selected Literary Essay, ed. Walter Hooper (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1969), 4-5, 12; quoted in Naugle, Worldview, 6.
10 James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World as Centering in the Incarnation (Edinburgh: Andrew Eliot, 1893), 4; quoted in Naugle, Worldview, 8.
12 James E. McGoldrick, Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man (Auburn: Evangelical Press, 2000), 11.
13 It was once remarked of him that it was as if he had “ten heads and a hundred hands” (John Hendrick de Vries, biographical note to Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, iii).
14 The fact that none of the biographies of him consulted for this paper made mention of how many children he had perhaps indicates the level of importance which Kuyper ascribed them.
15 For example, de Vries, Lectures on Calvinism, ii: “It was by his almost superhuman labors, no less than by his strength and nobility of character, that he left ‘footprints on the sands of time’ with such indelible clearness, that in 1907, when his seventieth birthday was made the occasion of a national celebration, it was said: ‘The history of The Netherlands, in Church, in State, in Society, in Press, in School, and in the Sciences of the last forty years, cannot be written without the mention of his name on almost every page, during this period the biography of Dr. Kuyper is to a considerable extent the history of the Netherlands.’”
16 James D. Bratt, “Abraham Kuyper: Puritan, Victorian, Modern,” in Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Luis E. Lugo (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 6.
17 Kuyper quoted in de Vries, Lectures on Calvinism, iii.
18 See Peter S. Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 96-111.
19 Abraham Kuyper quoted in R. D. Henderson, “How Abraham Kuyper Became a Kuyperian,” Christian Scholars Review 22, no. 1 (1992): 31.
20 Abraham Kuyper, Confidentie: schrijven aan den weled. Heer J. H. van der Linden (Amsterdam: Höveker, 1873); quoted in Heslam, Christian Worldview, 33-34 (Kuyper’s emphasis).
21 Henderson, “How Kuyper Became Kuyperian,” 34.
22 Heslam, Christian Worldview, 92.
23 It should be noted at this point that Kuyper defined Calvinism rather broadly, tracing it back to Augustine and Paul’s letter to the Romans, thinking of it as the highest expression of Christianity. See Lectures on Calvinism, 33-34.
24 See Abraham Kuyper, “Calvinism: Source and Stronghold of Our Constitutional Liberties (1874),” trans. Reinder Bruinsma, in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), 279-317. Kuyper would echo this in Lectures on Calvinism, 14-15.
25 Jan De Bruijn, “Calvinism and Romanticism: Abraham Kuyper as a Calvinist Politician,” in Religion, Pluralism and Public Life, 52.
26 Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty (1880),” trans. George Kamp in Centennial Reader, 467-8.
27 Ibid, 488.
28 Ibid, 468.
29 Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, trans. J. Hendrik de Vries, introduction by Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 154; quoted in Naugle, Worldview, 21-22.
30 “Two life systems are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat” (Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 11).
31 For full discussion of the similarities between Orr and Kuyper see Heslam, Christian Worldview, 92-95.
32 Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 12.
33 Ibid., 10.
34 For a listing of thinkers and institutions influenced by Kuyperian thought see Heslam, Christian Worldview, 5-8.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Since Jerome-Hermes Bolsec wrote his slanderous biography of Calvin in 1577 there has been a sustained polemic against the reformer. To this day Calvin resides merely as an enigma of a stern and heartless authoritarian--that is if he is remembered at all. The question we are faced with is simple: Is the stereotype true? Was Calvin a heartless “autocrat with a quick temper” or is this merely a gross caricature that still haunts our conceptions of the reformer? It is my intent in this paper to show that the above caricature is wrong-headed and unfair. Further, I hope to demonstrate that Calvin, rather than being a cold-hearted despot, was a devoted pastor. I will show this by contextualizing Calvin within his personal history and public theology. By doing this I hope demonstrate his pastoral-theology as both very consistent and positive. Furthermore, I will argue that Calvin’s actions within society along with his social thought were largely the products of a pragmatic and edifying theology, thus, showing Calvin to be primarily focused with the spiritual growth of the Genevan church.
However, before entering into the argument proper it seems important to dispel some ghosts haunting the stereotypes of Calvin. Alister McGrath, in his work A Life of John Calvin, remarks that, “it is probably fair to suggest that Calvin was not a particularly attractive person […]”. From this it seems untenable to maintain that Calvin was particularly jovial. But before making too many assertions regarding Calvin’s chilly disposition we must look at his life—particularly his adult life, in the hope that we might understand him more fully. Here it’s important to note that Calvin had never intended to stay in Geneva (the town he is so closely associated with); he was originally just an exile passing through en route to Strasbourg. However, Calvin met Guillame Farel who he describes as “burn[ing] with a marvelous zeal for the gospel.” Farel convinced Calvin that it was more or less God’s will that he stay in Geneva. Calvin stayed. No matter what a compliment Farel’s plea must have been we must understand that Calvin’s personal desires were far different from that of public life. Calvin clearly states his hope for what he might find in Strasbourg: “I had several private studies for which I wished to keep myself free.” Further, Calvin’s desire to lead a scholarly life is apparent by his authorship at this point in his life, he had written three works (including the commentary of Seneca’s De Clementia and his Institutes of Christian Religion). So from the very beginnings of Calvin’s ministry we see the sacrifice of a desire. This theme is evident throughout Calvin’s life. In May of 1538 both he and Farel are exiled from Geneva. Calvin finally makes his way to the destination he had originally intended: Strasbourg. Once there he begins to actually enjoy it, though he is now twice an exile. Then, in 1541 Calvin, upon the invitation of Geneva and the convincing tongue of Farel, returned to Geneva, he expresses his distaste for this return when we says, “[I] prefer[ed] a hundred deaths to this cross”. His distaste for returning to Geneva is quite understandable being that he was invited back by the same group who had exiled him, but also while in Strasbourg Calvin seemed to have been easily able to balance his scholarly ambitions with his pastoral responsibilities, thus the return to Geneva, as poignantly expressed above, is again a sacrifice. This vocational sacrifice is coupled with relational sacrifice. Calvin married the widow Idellette de Bure in 1540 ; two years later she gave birth to a son, Jacques who quickly died. Idellete then plunged into sickness only to eventually die in 1549. Calvin’s reflections on this loss are expressed in a letter to his friend Viret:
Though the death of my wife has been a very cruel thing for me, I try as much as possible to moderate my grief. And my friends fulfill their duty in a fine way. But I confess that for them and for me, the results are less than might be hoped for. However, the few results that I obtain help very little. Actually, you know the tenderness of rather the softness of my soul….Of course, the reason for my sorrow is not an ordinary one. I am deprived of my excellent life companion, who, if misfortune had come, would have been my willing companion not only in exile and sorrow, but even in death.
From an understanding of Calvin’s vocational and relational sacrifice we can safely posit that he endured a high level of personal pain and emotional turmoil. Calvin’s sacrifices coupled with his waning health in his later years provide a possible explanation why he became progressively bad tempered. In this light Calvin’s actual petulance (not merely the specter kept alive by his enemies) is placed in a personal context of: (1) geographic exile, (2) vocational sacrifice, (3) and deep relational loss. Moreover, there seems to be a continual element of relational unrest between Calvin and the political leaders in Geneva. This then demonstrates Calvin as man whose life warrants much more empathy than disdain.
However much Calvin suffered during his life it seems that his mind was never suffering from a lack of erudition. This is, perhaps, seen most obviously in his seminal work The Institutes of Christian Religion (from now on The Institutes). Most salient to our present purpose within The Institutes is the opening where Calvin articulates a type of double-reflection; he argues that there is no true knowledge of God without self-knowledge, and conversely he states that there is no true self knowledge without knowledge of God. Both sections of his argument are rooted in two theological assertions: humankind’s “depravity and corruption” and the “purity and righteousness that rest in the Lord alone.” A man or woman can only truly know God if they first recognize their inability and insufficiency and a man or woman can only know themselves if they first know the true goodness of God, thus stifling the growth of undeserved pride. Further, Calvin opens up The Institutes maintaining that, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Here Calvin shows us the importance of our predicament, both our knowledge of God and of ourselves are simultaneously important but given that humankind cannot know God without knowing itself and humankind cannot know itself without knowing God we are left wondering how it all happens. Simply put, Calvin’s answer to the apparent dilemma between God’s holiness and humankind’s sinfulness is obedience. It then makes sense that the following section of The Institutes is written emphasizing the importance of complying to God’s law; Calvin seems to be articulating his thesis when he writes, “[…] all right knowledge of God is born out of obedience”. So, from this section of The Institutes we begin to see how Calvin’s belief in humankind’s “depravity” and God’s “purity and righteousness” would inform Calvin’s pastoral theology.
Upon Calvin’s return to Geneva it seems that he was better prepared for pastoral leadership. The strong and idealism that had caused such conflict was now tempered with a much more practical Calvin, as McGrath says, “The inexperienced and impetuous young man who had left in 1538 was now replaced by an experienced and skilful ecclesiastical organizer.” It is this “experienced” Calvin that is truly the pastor—the idealism is tempered with a biblical pragmatism. For example Harro Hopfl concludes in The Christian Polity of John Calvin that regarding scripture Calvin’s primary “[…] concern was with the ‘use’ and ‘edification’ to be derived from the texts”. Along similar lines McGrath sees Calvin’s “ordering of the church [… as] thoroughly pragmatic.” And Calvin’s pragmatism is not restricted to theology and the church he “saw the value […] of formal arrangements that facilitate commercial transactions,” in this we see that Calvin understood the importance of governance, a mark of a pragmatic mind. Further, it is safe to assert that Calvin’s emphasis on practical matters is rooted in his theology of humankind’s falleness; it is only a theology rooted in edification and obedience that can deliver man to God. William J. Bouwsma highlights a number of situations in which Calvin’s emphasis upon utility is apparent:
The utilitarianism is basic to Calvin’s program for a society that exists to serve fundamental human needs; without society human existence would differ little “from that of cattle and beasts of prey.” Calvin regularly evaluated human arrangements for their utility. In this perspective marriage is good because it “preserves respectability and checks lascivious wanders,” and monogamy is better than polygamy because “there can be no conjugal harmony where there is rivalry among wives.
In further support of Calvin’s pragmatism he ridicules medieval scholasticism because “[…] anyone can easily […] and readily prattle about the value of works in justifying men. But when we come into the presence of God we must put away such amusements! For there we deal with a serious matter, and do not engage in frivolous word battles.” By way of contrast this provides with an interesting picture of Calvin’s theology. Indeed Calvin being deeply informed by his humanist background sees scholasticism as “frigid speculations.” As mentioned above, knowledge of God comes not from rationality but from obedience. Again, this places Calvin’s theology as pastoral and pragmatic.
It is, as I briefly mentioned above, in Calvin’s emphasis on practicality and utility that he takes the “depravity” of humankind and the “purity and righteousness of God” truly seriously. Calvin is aware of the self’s skill in turning away from God to gratify its own desires so his theological program provides bulwarks for the believer. It therefore seems that by focusing on practical matters Calvin hoped to pastor his fellow Genevans to a deeper faith in Christ. Moreover, Calvin’s theology though engaging and clearly the work of a great mind is not, strictly speaking, only for the schoolman—it is a theology for the schoolman and the lay woman. This theme is apparent when examining Calvin’s sermons and his commentaries, Hopfl writes, “[the] lessons he found in the various texts are much the same in both sermons and commentaries: they are always the uplifting themes of God’s providence and mercy, especially towards the church, of justification […] of the need to curb passions both en gros and en detail.” Hopfl also notes that often times Calvin took sermons verbatim from his commentaries. This shows us that even in Calvin’s scholarly writing the aim was to build up the church. Even The Institutes, a work usually coined as the first protestant systematic theology, often reads more as book on discipleship; for example:
But if in the believing mind certainty is mixed with doubt, do we not always come back to this, that faith does not rest in a certain and clear knowledge, but only in an obscure and confused knowledge of the divine will towards us? Not at all. For even if we are distracted by various thoughts, we are not on that account completely divorced from faith. Nor if we are troubled on all sides by the agitation of unbelief, are we for that reason immersed in its abyss. If we are struck, we are not for that reason cast down from our position. For the end of the conflict is always this: that faith ultimately triumphs over those difficulties which besiege and seem to imperil it.
Here Calvin is most clearly a pastor, and here Calvin takes his theology most seriously. Here Calvin is truly the consistent theologian, because he is writing in regards to human “depravity.” Calvin is here a pastor because he comforts the doubter declaring that doubt never “ultimately triumphs.” This theme is further developed when we look at the placement of his doctrine of predestination within The Institutes. McGrath writes,
[predestination] follows his exposition of the doctrine of grace. It is only after the great themes of this doctrine—such as justification by faith—have been expounded that he turns to consider the mysterious and perplexing subject of predestination.
Calvin seems to be very conscious of the importance of this placement since in preceding editions of The Institutes he places it under the doctrine of providence, not salvation; it is only in the final edition that he places it under the doctrine of salvation. McGrath goes onto argue that logically it would make sense to place predestination prior to “the great themes of [grace]” instead Calvin gives it to us afterwards, it is then—in a loose sense—an afterthought. This then demonstrates again The Institutes pastoral element; Calvin denies predestination its logical placement to appease his pastoral sensibilities .
Therefore, in the representative text above and in his placement of the doctrine of predestination in The Institutes Calvin is the typical pastor-theologian. This point might at first seem small but it is important to remember that the quoted text was not from a sermon but The Institutes; also we might recall this in contrast with the scholastics with their propensity to wax towards abstraction.
It does not instantly follow, however, that because Calvin was consistent he must have been amiable. Indeed, I have already conceded that it seems that Calvin did not at all times have a particularly cordial disposition. Yet, while that might be the case we still have record of many of Calvin’s interactions, many showing deep kindnesses. For example, in writing a letter to a father on the death of his son, he writes: “When the news first reached me of the death of Master Claude and your son Louis, I found myself so distracted and confused in spirit that for several days I could do nothing but cry.” Further, Calvin “accepted the responsibility of the guardianship of the orphans” after his friend Guillaume de Trie had passed away. Though it seems that Calvin was a bit colder in disposition we now have many windows by which we can see a visibly more gentle Calvin than the tyrannical enigma passed down to us.
However, even if Calvin was proved to be the kindest man in Geneva, to judge his pastoral efficacy strictly on his kindness is not altogether sensible. I propose then that we assess Calvin’s pastoral efficacy with two standards: (1) consistency, (2) trajectory. These two standards function well as a measure because while consistency between thought and action does not necessitate merit and is only valuable if it is focused towards a worthy trajectory, having a good trajectory is only truly valuable if it is coupled with consistent action. I have already stated that Calvin is largely consistent in regards to his theology and pastoral practice. His view of humankind’s depravity informs his pragmatic theology the end of which is focused towards edification, and consequently a movement away from depravity and towards God. Undoubtedly Calvin had many trajectories for his reform but it seems that among them obedience to God features very prominently. Therefore the consistency so noticeable in Calvin is focused clearly towards obedience to God. So it seems to be the case that Calvin had a high level of consistency between his thought and action, also we can see that his trajectory was aimed at obedience, via edification. From this it is safe to say that Calvin as a pastor was very efficacious, often at the cost of his personal life.
At the “Reformer’s Wall” in Geneva, Switzerland John Calvin is looking downward, his finger is slipped between pages of the Bible showing apparently both his love for scripture and learning. Also he seems more solemn and reflective than the other reformers. Perhaps the sculptor catches something vital here because the look is not of a cruel tyrant; instead it is one of a man bordering on exhaustion. The fatigue is certainly not without understandable reasons, especially taking his considerable hardships to mind. Despite the challenges that Calvin was presented with throughout his life, in this paper we have seen that he was an advocate and proponent of a theology that was simultaneously steeped in learning and purposed towards the edification of the church. From this it seems tenable to say that Calvin was a thoroughly devoted and caring pastor. The Calvin of history and his statue at the reformer’s wall possess one last likeness, it is: their propensities to cast shadows. But shadows have an unfortunate ability to draw the eyes away from the person. This has happened with Calvin, the unfortunate stereotype is the result. When we look more at Calvin’s influence in contemporary politics or what became of predestination in later expressions of ‘Calvinism’ we miss the man who was both an exile in Geneva and a pastor, we forget the man whose life was run through with sacrifice but still pointed towards redemption.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Flannery O’Connor, in her essay “The Church and the Fiction Writer” begins by referring to Graham Greene being too often the reference point of the Catholic novelist. I would like to say something similar, that is: regarding the question of the ‘Christian writer’ we cannot always point to the C.S. Lewis among us. The Narnia books hold a dear place in my heart—especially The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe—they served as an early on ramp by which I merged into the lanes leading to that vast city where literature and faith intersect. But it is my fear that Lewis and Tolkien have become an off ramp leading to a cul-de-sac, rather than an on-ramp leading to a city. The intent then in this paper is corrective. I will argue that the fiction of Lewis and Tolkien is at times both literarily and theologically suspect. If this sounds at all iconoclastic it might be fitting due to the hagiography which has ensued recently. I will end by offering other possible options for the Christian interested in the contemporary literary landscape.
Even as young child I remember understanding that Narnia’s Aslan wasn’t just Aslan. When looking back or rereading The Chronicles of Narnia it is hard to miss the myriad biblical allusions and hidden homiletic points. For all this it would seem that Narnia, theologically speaking, is beyond reproach. However this is not entirely the case. Fundamental to the fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis is a notion of ‘escape’ and it is this motif which, I contend, is literarily and theologically suspect. For instance, Christianity naturally has an outward impulse clearly articulated by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit […].” While this outward impulse must be tempered with renewal and rest, to escape is not only to flee an enemy but also the great commission. This escape impulse was defended by Tolkien in his work “On Fairy Stories” he writes, “Escape is, evidently, as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic,” In my mind Tolkien’s position rings more of a Stoic’s suicide than a Christian renewing in rest. The notion of escape also comes across in a few senses in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Not only do the children escape
Regarding the literary merit of the Inklings we might learn something from T.S. Eliot who in writing on the various types of “religious literature” quickly passes over Chesterton, because his “literary works […] are sincerely desirous of forwarding the cause of religion: that which may come under the heading of Propaganda.” One cannot help but think he was also alluding to his contemporaries: the Inklings. Eliot favors those whose writing illustrates the “relation between Religion and all Literature,” not merely “religious literature”. That aside, we can clearly say that the Inklings were intelligent and able writers but it is bad logic to then move to accrediting the Inklings with endless literary merit. Surely Tolkien and Lewis were able writers but as Christina Brooke-Rose has argued “the techniques of realism […] invading the marvelous […] push the genre into allegory,” a genre that is not only worn thin but denies personhood in favor of ideas. I can already hear the voices resounding like gongs, “But who cares what some lit critic says anyway, shouldn’t we take our cues from Christian authors?” Perhaps; so in a similar vein Flannery O’Connor writes:
The world has been flooded with bad fiction for which the religious impulse has been responsible. The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process […].
Also Greg Wolfe, a man who currently has the best handle on the nexus of faith and literature, has written a landmark essay titled “The Christian Writer in a Fragmented Culture” without mentioning a single Inkling. Blasphemous? I’d say no, Wolfe has a crystalline vision of writers working prophetically in a growing secular culture. His genealogy goes: Nathaniel Hawthorne, T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy.
The question remains: What would a contemporary Christian project look like? In partial answer to this question I submit the genre of magical realism (MR). This genre, including such prominent and diverse names as: Thomas Pynchon, Salmon Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, blends supernatural elements within an otherwise realist narrative. Rather than creating another world and importing realist strategy there (e.g. Middle Earth and Narnia) these writers are including the miraculous within the ordinary. Rushdie offers us a fine summation when he says, “You must use language in a manner which permits God to exist—the divine to be as real as the divan I am sitting on.” With a statement such as this, one wonders whatever happened to the tight secular knots naturalism had once tied us in. John A. McClure, in his essay titled “Postmodern/Post-Secular: Contemporary Fiction and Spirituality” describes the contemporary literary landscape as favorable to spirituality. He even considers MR in terms of a “post-secular project of resacralization”. He is correct in asserting the ‘project’ nature of MR. Many have noted that MR as a genre confronts cultural imperialism and western secularism. Wendy Faris, perhaps the most important scholar of MR, writes, “irreducible elements of magic question post-Enlightenment science’s empirical definition of the world.” Furthermore, it seems that people have been longing for this reintegration of the miraculous and the mundane, Faris quotes John Updike as referring to MR as “a now widely available elixir.” And the Christian cannot help but agree, with its subversion of western dualisms and its “resacralization” project. So while MR is not a ‘Christian’ genre it does give a voice to the marginalized while sharing in fundamental Christian projects (e.g. a distrust of western secularism). Because of this, MR--I’d like to believe-- could be understood as one venue through which literary Christians (and would-be literary Christians) can engage with the current literary landscape. Here there is no escapism; the Christian engaging with MR can freely assert the reality of God in a post-secular climate. This project would not be a superficial; Christians have authentic voices to add to the genre, voices that offer an honest narrative and a forceful worldview which, like the rest of MR, confronts western secularism. While to some having such a strong philosophical under-girding might make us ripe for the same critique Eliot offered Chesterton, that of being propagandist. However, I’d argue that all the great writers—those who are certainly not propagandist--have been conscious of their philosophical/theological assumptions, certainly Eliot was among them.
In the beginning of this essay I lamented that the Inklings were becoming an off-ramp by which Christians exit into a comfortable cul-de-sac; my intent is that this same phenomenon will not happen with MR. The Christian’s responsibility is to stand firm in Christ, not in a literary genre; things change with time so just as we should not exit off to the Inklings we shouldn’t fall into the same trap with MR. This city where literature and faith meet is too diverse for a ghetto. For instance there are many other writers not engaged in MR but wildly committed to the nexus of faith and literature. MR is therefore an opening, a way past the escapism of fantasy and the secularity of naturalism; it presents promise for the writer who is both committed to Christ’s kingdom and the contemporary literary landscape.
 Flannery O’Connor, “The Church and the Fiction Writer” O’Connor. (Literary Classics: New York, United States, 1988).
 Miriam Hendrix describes this situation by saying the following: “In recent years we have seen people who are more familiar with the geography of Tolkien’s Middle Earth than with that of their own country or state; we have known adults who would rather reflect on Christian truth in Lewis’s Narnia books than read his or anyone else’s theological works.” (Miriam Hendrix The Christian Imagination “Why Fantasy Appeals” ed. Leland Ryken 358 Shaw Books 2002
 In no way will I, nor do I intend to even allude to the possibility of, questioning either Lewis’ or Tolkien’s faith.
 I think the C.S. Lewis and Tolkien book industry is evidence of at least some hagiography.
 Entirely is an important word here.
 Matthew 28:19 NRSV Renovare Study Bible 1989
 J.R.R. Tolkien. “On Fairy Stories”. The Tolkien Reader 1966.
 Greg Wolfe. “Why the Inklings Aren’t Enough” 2006 Image
 In no way do I intend to advocate the Narnia children should be sent to
 Graham Greene. The Ministry of Fear. 56 Penguin Classics
 Thomas Wendorf. “Greene, Tolkien, and the Mysterious Relations of Realism and Fantasy. 2002. Renascence. 79-100. Fall 2002.
 T.S. Eliot. Ed. Leland Ryken. “Religion and Literature”. Shaw Books Colorado Springs, CO. 2002.
 Ibid 201.
 Quoted in Wendy Ferris pg. 95-96
 Flannery O’Connor. Ed. Leland Ryken. “The Novelist as Believer”. The Christian Imagination. Shaw Books Colorado Springs, Co. 2002
 Greg Wolfe, ed. Greg Wolfe. “The Christian Writer in a Fragmented Culture” The New Religious Humanists 1997 Free Press
 quoted in Wendy Farris 98 Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative.
 John A. McClure “Postmodern/Post-secular: Contemporary Fiction and Spirituality. 141-163
 Ibid pg. 144
 Wendy Faris pg. 23.
 Quoted in Ibid pg. 29.
 While looking somewhat similar to the Inklings project magical realism is fundamentally simply because while the inklings export the supernatural to a sub-creation magical realists reintegrate the supernatural in the world.
 Greg Wolfe, ed. Greg Wolfe. “The Christian Writer in a Fragmented Culture” The New Religious Humanists 1997 Free Press