Lament (Thomas Oden)

Oden, Thomas. Lament.

This isn’t so much Oden’s official memoir or autobiography.  Rather, it is the beginning of autobiography, for it seems this story must be told more than once.  He is documented his leaving of the liberal (or as he calls it, “liberated”) mindset.  This leads him to ask the question if the mainline seminaries can be reformed.

His narrative is structured around three feasts: Sophia, a Mass, and a charismatic eucharist.  In the first one a feminist polytheist came to Drew Seminary and preached a message on Divine Sophia. Oden knew he would have been communing with demons had he attended Eucharist afterwards, so he left.  The second one was a Roman Catholic Mass that he chose not to participate in.  The last one was when he accidentally found himself in a Chinese Holiness church in New York.

Oden writes this as he is leaving liberalism (or those whom he facetiously calls “liberated”).  It reads like a memo from the battle lines.  It’s depressing but he is moving in the right direction.  He has a good discussion of modernity, postmodernity, and how the classical/patristic position can address these problems.

Those whom we call “postmoderns” are simply hyper or ultramoderns.  They haven’t challenged the key assumptions (Note: whenever someone calls himself postmodern, ask him to deconstruct human rights and democracy).  Therefore, in Oden’s case postmodern simply means “after” modernity.

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Systematic Theology vol 1 (Kelly)

Kelly, Douglas F.  Systematic Theology: The God who is: The Holy Trinity. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008.

It is hard to explain how one feels about this volume from the highly-revered Douglas Kelly.  In many ways, this is not a normal systematic theology textbook. Some of Kelly’s chapters seem oddly placed.  Following every chapter, moreover, is an appendix (or appendices) that is highly technical and seems to detract from the flow of the book.  That is my one criticism of the book.  On the other hand, Kelly knows more about theological method and the Trinity than most professors, Reformed or otherwise, ever will.  

How do we Know?

Reality Comes First, and the mind second (Kelly ST I:41ff).  The question before us: how do you form beliefs in your mind? To which Kelly responds, there is a real world that imposes itself on your mind.  In other words, and with the historic Reformed (and classic) tradition, the order of knowing follows the order of being.  And the order of being is God himself.

As it stands, that paragraph is standard Reformed prolegomena.  Kelly takes it a step further. Kelly is one of the few Reformed theologians to include a section on how the mind, particularly the redeemed mind within the covenant community, forms beliefs. First, truth causes belief (17). “God’s reality imposes itself upon those whom He has made to know him” (17-18).

There is almost a “reflex-action” in the mind.  As Clement of Alexandria said, “Knowledge is excited by outwardly existing objects” (quoted in Kelly, 18). Faith, and here Torrance draws heavily from his mentor, Thomas Torrance, “involves a conceptual assent to the unseen reality.” Faith is the obedient response to truth.

Following the Stoics, though not blindly, Kelly remarks that the basis of the system “is the assumption that the real world imposes itself upon the recipient mind of man.”  An “outer reality presses in on the mind.”  This is “apprehensive presentation” (41).  Indeed, within the mind are “class concepts, which serve to give the mind clues into the objectivities of reality” (44). One can call them “proleptic pointers” that allow the mind to jump from clues to conclusion

Applied to theology, faith is the heart response to the aforementioned proleptic assent (46).

Kelly has several chapters on the Trinity, but no one chapter on the Trinity that neatly corresponds to standard treatments. At this point in the book (chapter four) he does not give a clear presentation.  What he does do, however, is press the meaning of the term “person” as it relates to the Trinity.  This represents a clear advance in modern systematic theology.  The key point is that the being of God leads itself to the concept of “person.”  That is good.  What is not so good, however, is Kelly’s use of John Zizioulas’s idea “being as communion.”  I think I know what Zizioulas means: being is being as communion.  It seems it means “the being of God” is the being as persons in communion.  Maybe.  The problem is Zizioulas will take the Person of the Father as the monarchy of the Trinity.  Kelly rightly rejects this move.  Athanasius (and for what it’s worth, Augustine) sees the being of the Father as the monarchy. This is much better, for it allows one to say that with the being of the Father, we automatically get the Son.  If we follow the Easter route of the Father as Cause, then we have introduced a sequence of causes in the Trinity.

I cannot go into detail here, but Kelly has a wonderful section on person and “modes of being” and why we prefer the former and not the latter (503ff). A person is inherently relational.  A mode of being is not. “The personal distinctions within God are constituted by eternal relations, as indicated by Father, Son and Spirit; or, by begetting and proceeding” (521).  With Didymus the Blind, we say the persons refer to the order of relations (kata schezein) rather than to the essence (521-522).

The later Cappadocians, excepting Gregory Nazianzus, account for the persons by the Father as cause or monarchy. They do not intend any latent Arianism by the word cause (since it happens before time), but, nonetheless, a person is now part of a causal sequence in the Godhead.

Conclusion

By no means is this a beginner’s textbook.  Kelly’s ordering of topics does not always follow the standard accounts.  Moreover, the reader risks getting lost in some of his appendices.  On the other hand, few Reformed authors today demonstrate Kelly’s grasp of Nicene Trinitarianism and the idea of person in the Godhead, and for that reason this volume is highly recommended to the intermediate student.

Blogging through Beale (Rev. 16-22)

Chapters 16-22

If the bowl/trumpet judgments are stretched out through the church age, then how should we expect these judgments acted out in history? The most likely reading is they are acted out at the end of the church age. Otherwise, the entire church age should be one of economic destruction (perhaps, see p. 814).  Historically, the opposite is true.  

16:16.  According to Beale, Armageddon is symbolic.  I think that is probably right.  In any case, I do not think the greatest battle in the history of humanity will be fought on the plains of Megiddo.  Because Armageddon is symbolic, so Beale argues, the “city” of “Jerusalem” is symbolic.  I do not think that is accurate. According to Zechariah 14, Jesus will stand on the Mount of Olives in the context of this battle, and when he stands there, the mountain will split.  Because the splitting of the mountain will create an escape route for the Jews, we know that Zechariah is speaking literally.  A symbolic reading cannot work.

17:10.  Beale picks up again his critique of preterism and its identification of the seven kings. He lists the following arguments:

  1. With which emperor does one begin counting: Augustus, Julius, or Caligula?  The text is not clear and any choice is arbitrary.
  2. Do we count the brief reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius “during the eighteen months between Nero’s death and Vespasian’s capture of Rome” (873)?
  3. “How could the eighth emperor also be one of the seven without introducing a figurative notion into an otherwise literal method?”

The Millennium

Foundational to any argument for amillennialism is the rejection that Revelation 20 is sequential Revelation 19.  Beale makes a strong case that it recapitulates the church age rather than follows the battle of Armageddon (974ff). Not every one of his subsidiary arguments, however, is good.  Amillennialism, despite its strong argument for recapitulation, must overcome a number of hurdles.

(1) Exactly how was Satan bound?  He was bound so that he could deceive the nations no more. Revelation 12-13, unfortunately, has him doing precisely that.  This is a fatal contradiction to the recapitulation theory. One could argue, perhaps, that Satan no longer deceives “all” the people in a nation.  That removes the contradiction, but it does not seem to be what John is saying.

(2) If Satan’s binding is co-extensive with Christ’s redemptive work, then does his loosing undo Christ’s work?  That cannot be right.  Beale is aware of this problem, but he thinks this only applies to Christ’s purchasing a people for himself.  True, Christ did that but it is not clear how that removes the problem.

As it stands, I do not think Beale has given sufficient rebuttals to the above charges. Before we become premillennial, I think another option is available.  Satan is bound so that he may not lead an assault on the “Mount of Assembly” (which is what har maggedon means in Hebrew) until the final hour.  That is a much better reading.

The next problem for an amillennial reading is the resurrection language. The main problem is that resurrection, on the amillennial reading, means spiritual in one clause and physical in the next with no clear indicator of a change. Beale counters that the New Testament speaks of our “being raised with Christ in the heavenlies,” and that clearly does not mean a physical resurrection.  Perhaps.

The death of the righteous (souls beheaded) is the first physical death of the saints. The second spiritual death of the wicked is spiritual (1005).  Therefore, since the two types of death are different, so also are the two types of resurrection.

It is logically possible, but by no means certain.  Beale asks another question: is it not wrong to have the glorified saints in heaven return to earth for a millennium?  Would they not be leaving their spiritual blessedness (1011)?  We need to be careful with this line of argument.  On the surface, it is Platonic, not biblical.

There are a few other problems.  This cannot refer to the whole of the “godly dead” in the church age, for John says they were specifically killed (beheaded, actually) by the Beast, whom Beale says is at the end of time.

So which interpretive theory is correct?  Probably amillennial, at least at this point in my reading.  I think the case for recapitulation is solid, but I do not think other amillennial arguments are that good.

Hopeful Imagination (Brueggemann)

One can appreciate the way Brueggemann reads the Bible. For all of Evangelicalism’s rejection of Plato and its (rightful, if not always self-understood) suspicion of Hellenism, Evangelicals are thoroughly Platonic when it comes to thinking about the Biblical text. Evangelicals see the Old Testament as one seamless unity in which all texts have equal applicatory power to the life of the believer. Brueggemann shows how untenable that view is. While sensitive to the fact this is God’s word, these texts reveal a highly dynamic sitz em leben. Not only do many texts of the Old Testament—moral and civil texts at that—not easily apply to today’s life, they didn’t even apply to the life of the “Old Testament” believer in many cases.

His Thesis

Brueggemann’s thesis is helpfully summarized in the final pages of the book: Jeremiah urged “grief” in order for newness to come out of brokenness, a brokenness caused by idolatry. Ezekiel posited God’s holiness as the only ground of hope, for only God’s holiness remains “undeconstructed.” 2nd Isaiah points the way back from exile with new community, new hope, and both by way of a “new memory” (131-133).

Brueggemann argues that 587 B.C. is a break in Israel’s prophetic history (2). After the Babylonian exile, the Prophets had Israel’s text—or better her “collective memory”—in a different way. For example, it would not have done any good to preach the covenant promises of Deuteronomy 28-30 to the captive community without radically altering the way they are applied. Therefore, the prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—had to draw upon new applications of Israel’s older memories. The older stories still work, but they have to work in a new way.

An Hegelian on Crack?

There are some difficulties with Brueggemann’s project. Brueggemann sets forth the prophet as the critic of the Bourgeois. The prophet calls against the moral and theological compromise in the power circles. That is good and there is no problem with that. It appears, though, that there must always be a prophet who is critiquing a system that is always corrupt and is calling forth a new system which, too, will soon become corrupt.

It is not fair to critique an argument simply based on the implications of how some will apply the argument—and I largely agree with what Brueggemann is saying. However, it would have been interesting to see how he develops the same true insights in a new setting. In other words, it would have been helpful for him to “imagine” a more normative, yet morally just setting in which these prophetic insights could play.

Prophetic Imagination (Brueggemann)

Brueggemann, Walter. Prophetic Imagination. Fortress Press.

As with all of Brueggemann’s works, it is rich in insight and weak in depth.

Great in terms of theoretical critique, weak in terms of solution. Brueggemann appears to advocate perpetual socialist crisis as the ideal for living faith. A number of problems with his approach: he advocates that community must be formed around a prophetic leader. I agree, sort of. But for WB this prophetic leader is useless unless he has something to prophesy against. Thus, there should be a perpetual bad guy, preferably white, male, and capitalistic. The philosophical marxism should be immediately apparent: perpetual crisis for perpetual flux and change.

Actually, for all of his talk about eschatology, he advocates a de-eschatologized marxism: perpetual class warfare without the “eschatological moment” when class is eliminated.

This book, for all of its problems, has its good moments. Unfortunately, its good moments only apply to communities that are highly disciplined and are able to appropriate their freedom in responsible manners. WB frames the debate in terms that the true solution cannot be mentioned (e.g., while it is good to talk about speaking the truth to power, this isn’t always the reason that communities are oppressed. Usually, the oppressive power is often connected with government bureaucracies).

Canon and Creed (Robert Jenson)

Jenson, Robert. Canon and Creed.

Robert Jenson invites us to see questions of canonicity in terms of God’s story. Canonization, such that it is or can ever be, is not a static process (ironically, both Protestants and EO/RCC act like it is). He notes, “The Old Testament and the New Testament are Scripture for the Church in different ways” (Jenson 14). The OT was Scripture for the apostles before they were apostles. It is antecedent to the church’s formal existence. Jenson suggests that the real question is, “Can Israel’s scripture accept this proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and this new movement within Israel?” (20) Jenson further claims that the “new gospel was justified by Israel’s scripture, never the other way around” (21, quoting Campenhausen, Entstehung, 68).

His thesis: “From the beginning the church has read the Old Testament as narrative of God’s history with his people” (Jenson 20-21). The most promising thing about this book is the connection between canon and story. Jenson does not develop this in any real detail, but it is a fascinating insight nonetheless. The canon emerges from the narrative. We can tie in with speech-act of God’s identity. The narrative (cf Irenaeus on divine cvenants’ structuring) justifies the claim that the canon emerges as a creation of the divine speech-act.

Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Horton)

Horton, Michael.   The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

In Tolkien’s Two Towers Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas attack a while-clad old man, thinking him Saruman. Realizing their error, they apologize to Gandalf saying, “We thought you were Saruman.” Gandalf says, “I am Saruman, or rather Saruman as he should have been.”  We may say with this work that Michael Horton is Karl Barth (or NT Wright; insert your favorite villain) as he should have been.

Horton has given us the first presentation of a systematic theology derived along dramatic categories.  Other treatises capture the drama of Scripture or its historical unfolding, but Horton sees the historical unfolding of God’s plan as a drama.   Narrative and systematics need each other. The narrative keeps theology from becoming abstract, and systematics shows “crucial implications of that plot and the inner connections between its various sequences” (Horton 21).  

The narrative structure also helps one’s epistemology.  Horton skillfully interacts with recent postmodern challenges and notes that many of the challenges simply miss the Christian story.   With Jean-Francois Lyotard, we agree that metanarratives are dangerous.  Horton simply denies the Christian story is a metanarrative in the sense that modernity is.

Horton’s section on ontology is quite fine.   He gives a summary of his “Overcoming Estrangement” essays and suggests that one’s epistemology follows one’s ontology.  If one sees the body as simply a prison of the soul, then epistemology will be a kind of “seeing the Forms” or “getting beyond sense experience” (47).  But if one holds to an ontology of covenantal embodiment or finitude as a divine gift, pace Plato, then the primary metaphors for knowledge will be “oral/aural” (49).  This is the real strength of Horton’s project.  He is able to show (with admirable skill) how non-Reformed and non-covenantal views simply default to a pagan metaphysics.

Horton is consistent in applying the speech-act theory.  God’s speech-acts, understood in a Trinitarian manner, rooted in Triadology, ground our understanding of inspiration.  The Father’s speaking is the locutionary act; the Son is the content or illocutionary act that is performed by the speaking, and the Spirit’s work is the perlocutionary effect (157).  As Horton notes, this keeps the model from being too “”mechanical (simply the Father’s speaking) or a canon-within-a-canon (as some Christomonic models intimitate) or enthusiam per hyper-Spirit models. 

Horton gives us a brilliant review of Christology.  He takes the key gains from Wright et al and reworks them around a Reformed covenantal approach–all the while maintaining the Chalcedonian and Nicene values. His review of historical Christology is good, though he didn’t address all of the tensions created by Chalcedon.  He (and I) rightly affirm Chalcedon, but Chalcedon’s other commitments to deification-soteriology and substance-metaphysics would prove troublesome for later thinkers.  I refer to Bruce McCormack’s fine essay on this point.

Criticisms and Concerns

To his credit, Horton is aware of Barth’s challenge to the term “person” in the modern world.  If person means something like “center of reflective self-consciousness” (which is usually how people today, Christian or otherwise, use the term), then it is obvious we cannot apply it to God.  In God, so reasons classical theism, there is one mind, will, and unity of operation.  The modern usage of the word “person” would imply at least three minds.  That is polytheism.  

Horton says we can save the term person by using it analogically of God (295ff).  This is certainly true.  The Father-Son relationship is the model from which we conceive of earthly father-son relationships.  But still, it is not clear how far analogical predication helps on the definition of person.  Even if we grant there is not a univocal relationship between the idea as it applies to God and man, it is still true that the definition as it applies to God (whatever it is, it cannot mean three centers of self-consciousness) and man (a center of self-consciousness) is, quite frankly, different.

On the other hand, despite Barth’s earlier usage of “huparchos tropos” in CD I/1 (which itself has a respectable Patristic pedigree and does not have the same problems as “person”), in later volumes he seems to have no problem using “Person” as it is used in traditional dogmatics (CD II/1: 284).

Horton’s most problematic area is where he thinks he is using the Eastern Essence/energies distinction.   On surface level it sounds good:  we can’t know God in his essence but only in his energies (operations towards us).  Fair enough.  He also says this is what the East believed.  Well, it depends on which Eastern father at which time.  As it metastaized in Gregory Palamas, the energies of God were the only way God could interact with the world.  For the post-Palamas East, nature and persons were hyper-ousia.  This means, among other things, that you can’t have a personal relationship with Jesus because he is beyond being; this is the precise critique that Orthodox writer Vladimir Moss made of John Romanides).

Horton is using “energies” as God’s covenantal speech-acts.  I like that.  It is really good.  It is simply the opposite of what the East means by it.  As Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw points out, the energies are the peri ton theon, things around God.   And contrary to Horton’s earlier (and good) criticisms, you approach these peri ton theon by means of apophatic negation and the ascent of the mind (shades of Origen!).   Eastern monks, as documented by John Meyendorrf, are very clear on this point.

Evaluation

Criticisms aside, this book is magnificent.  While it cannot replace Berkhof, Horton admirably deals with current challenges to traditional protestantism.  Few Reformed folk can really go toe-to-toe with neo-Hegelians like John Milbank.  Horton meets him head on and wins.  Horton also responds to recent Roman (Ratzinger), Eastern (Zizioulas), and Anabaptist (Volf) models with much skill.   His true value, however, is using Vosian covenantal insights to structure systematic theology.  

Orthodox and Modern (McCormack)

I originally wrote this in 2013. I still think McCormack has the correct reading of Barth. Because of that, though, I think Barth’s take on election is ultimately incoherent.

McCormack, Bruce.  Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth.  Baker.

Bruce McCormack suggests that the best model for understanding Karl Barth’s theology is Realdialektik–God is indirectly identical with the medium of his self-revelation.  It is dialectical in the sense that it posits both a veiling and unveiling of God. God is unveiled in Jesus’s flesh, but since it is in Jesus’s flesh, God is in a sense veiled (McCormack 145).   This is another way of using Luther’s Deus absconditus

What is Classical Metaphysics?

Barth’s project is in many ways an attempt to overcome the limitations of classical metaphysics.  Among other things, classical metaphysics (and it doesn’t matter whether you have in mind Eastern and Western models) saw the essence of God as an abstract something behind all of God’s acts and relations (140). 

The Cappadocian “Solution” and Further Problem

According to the Cappadocians, the Father is both the ground of divinity and a particular hypostasis of that divinity.  Taken together, we can now speak of a quaternity.  Secondly, the distinctions between the relations are empty of content.  What do the words “unbegotten,” “begotten,” and “proceeding” mean when any analogy between the divine essence and created reality is ruled illegitimate, as the Cappadocians insist (Tillich 77-78)?  The Augustinian-Thomist tradition at least tried to move this forward, even if its solution was equally unsatisfactory.

Further, with regard to the Person of Christ, essentialism connotes an abstracted human nature which is acted upon (McCormack 206).  Further, in essentialist forms of metaphysics the idea of a person is that which is complete in itself apart from its actions and relations (211).  A wedge is now driven between essence and existence.  Christologically, this means that nothing which happens in and through the human nature affects the person of the union, for the Person is already complete anterior to these actions and relations.

Election and the Trinity

Barth navigates beyond this impasse with his now famous actualism.  Rather than first positing a Trinity and then positing a decision to elect, which necessarily creates a metaphysical “gap” in the Trinity, Barth posits Jesus of Nazareth not only as the object of election (which is common to every dogmatics scheme), but also the subject of election.  How can this be?  How can someone be both the elector and the elected?

For Barth the Trinity is One Subject in Three Simultaneous Modes of being (218).  To say that Jesus Christ is the electing God is to say that God determined to be God in a second (not being used in a temporal sense) mode of being…this lies close to the decision that [Election] constitutes an event in which God differentiates himself into three modes of being (218).  Election is the event which differentiates God’s modes of being…So the event in which God is triune is identical with the event in which He chooses to be God for the human race” (ibid.)

Participation, not Theosis

Barth’s actualist ontology allows him to affirm the juridicalism within the Scriptures (which is markedly absent from many Eastern treatises) and the language of participating in the divine but without recourse to the theosis views so dependent on classical metaphysics.

Barth is historically-oriented, not metaphysically.  The divine does not metaphysically indwell the human so as to heal the potential loss of being.  Rather, the exaltation occurs in the history of Jesus Christ.  “The link which joins the human and divine is not an abstract concept of being, but history” (230).

For Barth, God’s ontology is the act of determining to enter human history (238).  God’s essence and human essence can be placed in motion–they can be actualized in history.

Exaltation, not indwelling

The terms describing Jesus’s history are agreement, service, obedience–they speak of the man Jesus standing before God, not being indwelt.

Reworking the Categories

If Barth’s criticisms of classical ontology hold, then a humble reworking of some categories is in order.  Instead of hypostasis, Barth uses the term “identification.”  The identification in question is an act of love.  Jesus is God, but God as self-differentiation.

Evaluation

I think the Barthian take on election is incoherent. That might be a bit strong. It is coherent enough. It is just unstable.

Here’s the problem.  McCormack said Barth’s theology necessarily posits that God’s identity is “constituted” by his decision to elect.  If true, this seems to mean:

  • God came into being via election.  Obviously, no one holds this but it is a problem.
  • I always get the funny feeling that it seems to mean that creation is in some sense necessary for God.  I do think this criticism is valid.  I’ve long said Barth was an Origenist.

The criticisms of Barth aside, and we in no way endorse his theology, McCormack’s work ranks among the definitive treatments of Barth.

Is there a Meaning in this Text (Vanhoozer)

 Kevin Vanhoozer focuses on the metaphysical implications of “meaning.”  His work surveys the collapse of foundationalisms, their postmodern alternatives, and his own speech-act hermeneutics that paves the way forward from the postmodern morass, albeit sympathetic to some of Jacques Derrida’s criticisms.  

Risking some oversimplification, Vanhoozer sees the three eras as the Age of the Author (we can know the author’s meaning in a text), the Age of the Text (e.g., late Modernity; we can’t know the author’s psychological intentions, but we can find meaning by focusing on the structure of the text), and the Age of the Reader (there is no transcendent meaning in the text; we create meaning).

Vanhoozer characterizes postmoderns as either “Undoers” (Derrida, deconstruction) or “Users” (Rorty, pragmatism).  Vanhoozer goes to great pains to understand postmodernism, even if he doesn’t affirm it.  Derrida is correct there is no pure realm of meaning and presence of which we have hermetic access.  All such knowings and readings are situated knowings and readings.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t know.  Derrida himself admits he is not a relativist.  He simply says if all meanings are situated meanings and that there is no Transcendental Signifier, what privileges one reading over another?

Vanhoozer’s answer is along the lines of the Trinity.  God is first and foremost a communicative agent. Being and Speech is not reduced to a monad.  It is indeed deferred.  There is differance (though not ontological difference) but not violence in the Trinity.  His very being is a self-communicative act.  Trinitarian hermeneutics affirms both the One and the Many.  There is meaning and unity in the text, but arrived by a plurality of literary methods.

With Paul Ricouer Vanhoozer agrees that metaphor is not simply literary window-dressing.  It has ontological significance.  The goal of Matthew is not to get to Romans.  Metaphors can actually “break” deconstruction: they are determinate enough to convey stable meaning without being exhaustively specifiable (130).  With Derrida we agree that all language is ultimately metaphorical (and thus problematic for metaphysics). But with Ricoeur and against Derrida, we believe that metaphors are meaningful and do communicate truth, even if they don’t exhaust the truth.

Pros

This book is magnificent.  I sing its praises.  Aside from the brilliant crash course in continental philosophy, Vanhoozer introduces readers to speech-act philosophy. He has a sensitive reading of sola scriptura which nicely rebuts communitarian claims.

Cons

Many of the chapters were excessively long (several were 300+ endnotes).  

Derrida and Deconstruction

  1. Derrida is a good example of the relation of literary theory to theology (Death of God = Death of Author).  
  2. Derrida tries to “un-loose” (gr.  analusis; analyze) the structures, usually those made of binary oppositions (hot/cold, good/evil).
    1. Logocentrism:  a preoccupation with meaning, rationality, and truth. Privileging presence (speech) over absence (writing).
      1. pharmakon: poison or cure.  Writing is both poison and cure.  It is poison because it threatens presence,  but is necessary for the transmission of thought.
    2. nihilism: nothing real in the world.  Only human creations.  No real correspondence.  Only immanence.  
  3. Signs: for Derrida signs are sideways.  It is not a link between a thing and a name, but between a concept and sound patterns.
    1. differance.  signs acquire meaning only in difference to other signs.  
    2. Deferral: meaning is only deferred.  The play of signs goes all the way down
      1. Defers presence.
      2. Metaphysics is the science of presence.  Derrida, argues, by contrast, that that presence is always already mediated by the play of signs.  Thus, there is no pure presence.

Masters of Suspicion: The Turn from the Subject

  1. Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche all argue that the human subject is neither self-conscious nor self-present
    1. our “self” is subject to numerous social and psychological factors outside our control.
    2. The self does not stand behind language but in the thick of it (Lacan).  
  2. Lessening the suspicious blow:  against totalizing
    1. totalizing is trying to achieve a unified perspective.  Reducing difference to the One.

Towards a Christian Response

  1. Jesus is God’s Sign of God’s Being and Presence.  

Undoing Metaphysics

  1. Demeaning Meaning
    1. Aristotle saw words as signs that point to a determinate reference beyond themselves.  A true idea is when the form is present to the mind’s eye.
  2. Grammatology:  writing is the site of differance.
    1. Textuality means that there is no knowledge that is not mediated by some signifying system.
    2. To affirm textuality is to affirm the text as incomplete in itself. 
  3. Ricoeur and Metaphor (129).
    1. Metaphors are not window dressings to the real truth that is propositions.
    2. Metaphors are irreducible.
    3. Metaphors can actually “break” deconstruction: they are determinate enough to convey stable meaning without being exhaustively specifiable (130).
      1. With Derrida we agree that all language is ultimately metaphorical (and thus problematic for metaphysics).
      2. But with Ricoeur and against Derrida, we believe that metaphors are meaningful.
    4. Metaphors are intertextual.
      1. this (Israel’s history) means that (Jesus’s history).
      2. This means texts are open.
  4. Levinas and the Other
    1. “other” :  that which the self encounters.  
    2. Ethics should resist the attempt to reduce the Other to the Same. 
    3. Transcendence and Immanence:

The Text as Communicative Action

The text moves in terms of parole, not langue.  

God’s Word is something God says, something God does, Something God Is.

Austin and Serle on Speech acts

Locutionary (The speaker)

Illocutionary (what is spoken)

Perlocutionary (the effects of the speech)

This triad collapses Rortian pragmatism.  Texts aren’t just something we operate on, but rather are themselves acts which have continuing effects. 

Paul Ricouer says texts create a world.  Discourse refers to the World of the Text.  

A formula (226)

M = F(p) 

Meaning = Illocutionary Force AND proposition

M = F(p) + x

x = author’s ulterior purpose.

A text is a communicatory act with matter (propositional content), energy (illocutionary force), and purpose (perlocutionary effect), 228).

“meaning”–like mind–is an emergent property.

  • a property that characterizes a higher-order phenomenon (like the brain) that has attained such a level of organizational complexity that it displays new properties (e.g., consciousness, mental rather than physical) and requires new categories (e.g., mind) to explain them (249).  
  • There is some level of discontinuity between meaning and text (though not total).
  • meaning supervenes on the written marks. 

“I believe in the reality of the author’s intention, for without it I cannot explain the emergence of meaning, that is to say, how meaning supervenes on written marks” (249). 

Sola Scriptura

  • textual meaning is independent of our interpretive schemes and independent of our communities.
  • If the community is what gives meaning to a text, then how can the community ever err in interpreting the text?  Who is to challenge them?  By definition, any such individual challenge will be wrong, even sinful.  
  • The canon functions as an instrument of ideological critique and a check against totalizing communities.  

Trinitarian Hermeneutics

Do texts have singular or plural meanings?

  • Monists: Only one meaning
  • Pluralists: many meanings
    • plurality of authorial intentions
    • plurality on the level of the text
    • plurality of readers and readers’ contexts
    • plurality of reading methods

God is first and foremost a communicative agent.  His very being is a self-communicative act.  Trinitarian hermeneutics affirms both the One and the Many.  There is meaning and unity in the text, but arrived by a plurality of literary methods.

Until Justice and Peace Embrace (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

This book was one of the last, true “Neo-Calvinist” manifestos and was written when Nicholas Wolterstorff was more of a neo-Calvinist than he is today. It champions the Calvinist Reformation as a “world-formative” Christianity (3). Indeed, Wolterstorff sees two types of Christianity: avertive and formative (5).

Wolterstorff defines justice:

P1: The enjoyment of one’s rights.

The early part of this book is more of a sociological essay, which, while interesting, will not be of immediate interest to the usual readers of Eerdmans publishing. However, Wolterstorff does advance several charged theses: namely, that societies also need to be redeemed. Further, if they are to be redeemed, one must also see where they are structurally flawed (or directed).

Discussion of Rights

Right to protection
Right to freedom
Right to participate in government
Right to sustenance

Classic Liberalism: do your own thing but do not interfere, positively or negatively, with your neighbor.

Sustenance Rights are basic rights–they are necessary for life (82).

Wolterstorff defines “right” as a “morally legitimate claim [to]…the actual enjoyment of a good that is socially guaranteed against ordinary, serious, and remedial threats (82).
a. A right places an obligation on others, a responsibility–and that is necessary to what it means to be human.
b. A right is the claim to the actual enjoyment of the good in question.
c. It is socially guaranteed.
d. This means that rights always involve social structures.

*Shalom as Delight-in-Justice/Beauty*

The medievals were correct that beatitudo is necessary. Yet this isn’t quite Shalom. Justice never enters the picture in the medievals’ discussions. Shalom incorporates our delight in the physical. This also means Liturgy. Looking back at Deuteronomy, we find three themes in liturgy:

*Remember
*Expect
*Take Heed

The book ends with suggestions to what Wolterstorff would later title his “Ethics of Belief.” As a whole his book is quite fine and occasionally inspiring. He does include a fine critique of liberation theology. Some of the sociological discussions, however, are quite technical.

Criticism and Observation

Let’s take one of his “basic rights,” sustenance. Who is to guarantee “sustenance?” He really doesn’t say, but one fears he has a candidate in mind: The Government. Okay, that raises some other questions: How does the Government determine how much sustenance one needs? By what rationality? These questions really can’t be answered, and it’s probably a good thing Wolterstorff didn’t broach them.