Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works

Davies, Brian and Evans, Gillian. eds. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

In 2005, I bought this volume before I left for seminary. It has been a constant companion ever since. Anselm did not anticipate every problem in contemporary philosophy of religion, but he did anticipate the most important problems. Even when his conclusions might not convince, one can only stand in wonder at how clearly he stated the problems.

Monologion

This is Anselm’s treatise on God’s being.  It should be required reading for all discussions on divine simplicity. In short, differing things can both be said to be “good,” yet it is clear they are not the same thing. They are good though a greater good. This ultimate good is good through itself. Anselm calls this the supreme good and ascribes the predicate “existence” to it. This is the first plank in the “perfect being theology.”  

Everything that exists, exists through something or nothing. Obviously not through nothing. There is either one or more things through which everything exists. Either one of these options will ultimately reduce to one thing.[i] Anything that exists through something other than itself is necessarily less than that thing through which it exists. Anselm calls this the divine essence. It is the highest good and efficient cause of all things.

Creation ex nihilo

Things didn’t spring from nothing as from a void.  Rather, they pre-existed in the Divine Mind. The Supreme Essence creates through an “inner verbalization.[ii]

Back to the main argument (sec. 15): “Now it is quite out of bounds to imagine that there could be some P true of the substance of the supreme nature such that ~P would be better in some respect.”  

God and Time

Sect. 21 gives the standard account of God’s timelessness. The Supreme Essence is not spatially in time.  Rather, it is present as a whole simultaneously to all places and times.

Sect. 23: We say God exists everywhere rather than in every place.

Sect. 26ff: Substance language.  In the rest of the treatise Anselm explores how the Son is of the Father.  It’s a good meditation but nothing new here.

Proslogion and Reply to Gaunilo

Either you are convinced of the ontological argument or you are not. I think it is more of a meditation on divine perfections than an actual argument. Gaunilo’s analogy to an island doesn’t work because an island, or a tree, implies contingency. A perfect being implies necessity.

Kant’s objection:  existence isn’t a predicate. A concept must contain as much content as possible.
Response: Kant’s objection holds for contingent things.  But if we are talking about modal necessity, it might not hold.

On Truth

In this dialogue Anselm begins by setting forth a roughly Platonic theory of truth: something is true by its participation in the truth.  That’s true (no pun intended).  It’s inadequate, though.  He sharpens it to mean: “A true statement has ‘its cause of truth.’”  There is something that just makes it true.  Modern analytic philosophy calls this something “a truthmaker.”  It is to Anselm’s credit that he anticipated this development. Of course, truthmaker theory is itself dense and this discussion can’t exhaust it.

He expands it to mean “truth is rectitude” (1.2). It fulfills its function of signifying rightly. In fact, he asserts that if both “truth” and “acting well” have the same contrary, then “they are not different in signification” (1.5).

This raises a problem, though.  If there is correlation between truth and being, then wouldn’t we have to say that some bad things (I’m deliberately not using the word ‘evil’) are true since they exist?  With these cases of “ought not to be,” Anselm opts for a “thinner” account. God only permits them.

On Free Will

Thesis: To be able to sin does not belong to the definition of free will (1.1).  However, we did have a capacity to sin or not to sin, yet this was not of necessity. We do have a “natural free will” of sorts (3). Our liberty of will is “the capacity of preserving rectitude of will.”

A truly free will is one that preserves rectitude of will for its own sake (13).

Why God Became Man

Aside from the ontological argument, this might be what Anselm is most known for. God became man because only a God-man could properly mediate between both God and man.  Seems simple enough.  Yes, this is substitutionary atonement, but not in the way a modern reader might think. Anselm’s primary argument is that only a God-man could restore the offense against God’s honor.  God, as our feudal lord, has been wronged.  This is not what we normally think of in the atonement.

That has always been my criticism of this book.  I was recently corrected on this by Mr. Philip Pugh.  He pointed out that Anselm’s model is closer to ANE covenant models than one might expect.  To be sure, Anselm knew nothing of such models. Nevertheless, if only by accident, he got much of it correct.

Conclusion

You cannot be called a serious student of theology if you have not read this book.  The Monologion and Proslogion could probably be read with profit every few years.  Other treatises, such as De Grammatico, are better read with commentaries on Anselm in h and.


[i] Davies and Evans, Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 13.

[ii] Ibid.

The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford (Richard)

Richard, Guy M. The Supremacy of God in the Theology of Samuel Rutherford. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008.

Given that Samuel Rutherford is the most important Scottish theologian of all time, one must ask why there is so little written about him. The same question applies to his many yet-untranslated works.  John Coffey’s standard-setting biography did much to address the problem, but it didn’t deal with his theology in full depth. There are quite a few hagiographical works about him, but they do little in the academic realm.

Rutherford’s Examen Arminianismi function as a systematic theology, as he viewed Arminianism as an attack on the whole of Christian doctrine.  Some areas, like his focus on the doctrine of God and the human will, are beyond compare.  His supralapsarianism demands to be taken more seriously.  That’s not to say he is always fair to his opponents, nor does he always give an in-depth analysis.  Earlier, I had asked why there isn’t much work on or translated by Rutherford these days.  I think I might know the answer. Turretin is still the gold standard.  Regarding divine justice, John Owen seems to have given the definitive response to Rutherford–and most of Owen’s stuff is already in English.

Abbreviations

EA: Examen Arminianismi

Key Theological Terms

Archetypal: the infinite knowledge God has of himself (26).

Ectypal: the theology which is available to the finite capacities of humans.

Duplex cognito Dei: the distinction between the knowledge of God the creator and the knowledge of God the redeemer (33).

Theologia archetype et ectypa

Like the rest of the Reformed tradition, Rutherford holds to natural theology (Divine Right, 66)..  As Richard states, “For Rutherford, natural theology not only exists, but it serves at least two important functions as well, as we will see–it renders all people without excuse before the divine tribunal; and it acts as an instrument in apologetics” (32).

Arminius, by contrast, on Rutherford’s reading, collapses the natural knowledge of God back into the supernatural knowledge with its doctrine of prevenient grace (36). Indeed, “all knowledge of the divine is supernatural.” This means, in the Arminian view, men and women already have supernatural knowledge of God prior to grace.

According to Richard, Arminius “redefines the scholastic distinction between theologia archetype et ectypa.” This means he collapses “Deus abscondita into Deus revelaturs” (42).

Scripture and Causes

Efficient cause of Scripture: God himself.
Formal cause of Scripture: divine truth
Final cause of Scripture: to teach us God’s holiness
Material cause of Scripture: subject matter

Doctrine of God

Rutherford inherited and upheld the traditional model of divine simplicity.  He did so, however, as an adherent of the nominalist schola Augustina moderna. Doing so allowed him to give a new angle on the traditional problem of divine simplicity: given that God’s attributes are identical, how can we distinguish them?  Rutherford notes that they aren’t “real distinctions (different res), nor are they formal distinctions…but they are distinctions of reason” (81).

From this He makes several deductions:  1) God isn’t perfectible; 2) He has being from himself

Rutherford’s rebuttal of Arminius on the Trinity is highly illustrative for us today. Arminius said the Father is ‘the source of the whole Deity’ (WJA, II, 693). This sounds like the Greek East, but the Eastern Fathers made sure that they weren’t saying that the Father is the source of the Son’s essence, only of his hypostasis. Arminius’s view is subordinationist.

The Knowledge of God

God’s own knowledge is twofold

Knowledge of himself.

Knowledge of objects outside himself

Simple Intelligence.  This is his natural knowledge. Knowledge of possibles.

Knowledge of Vision. This is God’s knowledge of all actuals.

Both Arminius and Rutherford held to a loosely Thomistic framework.  Arminius, however, denied that God’s knowledge involved causality (92).

Rutherford’s problem with Middle Knowledge is “that it makes the creature or fate the first cause of all things and the divine will the second cause, because God looks out of himself to see what free creatures would do before he makes his decree” (92). 

The Voluntas Dei

Although Rutherford is a voluntarist, this does not mean that the will functions independently of the intellect (95). The divine intellect logically precedes the will.  The intellect, though, does not “make” the will do anything.

Voluntas ad intra et ad extra

Ad intra: the divine will in God
Ad extra: the divine will towards objects outside of God.

Potentia absoluta et ordinata

Rutherford makes a distinction between omnipotency and sovereignty.  Omnipotency refers to the potentia absoluta.  The latter refers to the potentia ordinata. Regarding his absolute power, God can do all that is logically possible.  His decree limits this.  God’s immutability “restrains his potentia.”  Richard highlights a difficulty with this: if God’s immutability limits his sovereignty ad extra, why can’t other attributes do the same (99)?  I think there might be a way for Rutherford to get around this.  Will and intellect are primarily faculties, not attributes.  Moreover, take an attribute like mercy.  It’s easy to understand how the will acts.  It’s not clear how mercy qua mercy would act. In fact, the will would have to act for mercy to act.

Voluntas beneplaciti et signi

The voluntas beneplaciti is “the decree of God by which he determines all things” that come to pass (103).  The voluntas signi is the revealed will. These aren’t contradictory. He doesn’t command x and non-x at the same time.  However, he can permit something be done by his voluntas beneplaciti that he does not approve by his voluntas signi.

Premotion and the Voluntas efficiens et permittens

There is one more distinction. This allows Rutherford to maintain the free decisions of creatures. The voluntas efficiens is “the first and highest cause of all positive existents” (105).  This is the doctrine of physical premotion.  Richard footnotes a useful diagram by Van Ruler (“New Philosophy to Old Standards).

Prime Cause
a / \ c
Secondary Cause – Effect
    B

Supralapsarianism

Richard argues that Rutherfold has a supralapsarian framework with infralapsarian language. With the supralapsarians, Rutherford says election is prior to every other divine decree, “but [he] says nothing about reprobation” (118). (This is in the context of an unpublished mss.: University of Edinburgh Library, La.II.394, p.5). With this established, the rest of Rutherford’s comments on election are fairly standard among the Reformed.

He does speak of reprobation.  It has two acts. God passes over and withholds “efficaciou grace” (120).

He does have a positive argument for supralapsarianism. With others like Twisse, Rutherford says the “end must be acknowledged both first in intention, and last in execution” (121). God first decrees those who are to be saved, and then he decrees the means.  It would make no sense “decreeing the means to accomplish salvation before decreeing salvation itself.” 

Rutherford anticipates the argument that Turretin makes against supralapsarianism: does it make sense to speak of a decree about possible men?  Rutherford responds that “everyone who believes in the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo also makes a non-entity the object of the divine decree” (127).

The Atonement of Christ

Rutherford argues God is not obligated to exercise divine justice towards his creatures (134). Divine justice is an attribute ad intra. God’s will is hierarchically prior to justice. In other words, nothing ad extra can force God to exercise mercy. Lest this sound too severe, Rutherford does concede that there is a “relative necessity for him [God] to do so [i.e., act mercifully]” (135). 

This raises the other controversial issue for Rutherford on the atonement: could God have forgiven sinners apart from the death of Christ?  In terms of potentia absoluta, he could have.  Nonetheless, he has decreed potentia ordinata to forgive sinners by the death of Christ.

John Owen, by contrast, sees the justice of God as “the universal rectitude and perfection of the divine nature’, which is antecedent to all acts of his will’” (Owen, Works, X, p.498, quoted in Richard 136). Divine justice, then, is “the totality of the divine perfections.”  Carl Trueman has convincingly argued Owen’s case.  For Owen, the acts of God’s justice must conform both internally and externally (Trueman 93).

Soteriology

The material on covenant theology is fairly standard, so only a few comments will suffice. The covenant of redemption is “the relational context in which the decrees are given” (146). Richard has a good section on the nature of human willing. Does God’s grace violate man’s will?  No. Grace doesn’t “compel the will to act against its desires. It changes its desires” (174).

Conclusion

This isn’t merely a book on Samuel Rutherford. It is also a primer on Reformed categories.

Trueman, Carl. “John Owen’s Dissertation on Divine Justice: An Exercise in Christocentric Scholasticism.” Calvin Theological Journal 33 (1998), 87-103.

A. A. Hodge: Outlines of Theology

While this book can never approach the grandeur of his elder, neither will it have the literary quality of Shedd, it probably surpasses them both in its usefulness to the teacher. Unlike Shedd, Hodge doesn’t get distracted by side projects.  However, not all of Hodge is equally strong.  

The book follows questions 1-39 of the Shorter Catechism, though not overtly.   Hodge is strong in every single area that today’s Young, Restless, and Reformed are weak.  In other words, Hodge is strong in a lot of areas.

Arguments for God

Contra Hume, and anticipating Plantinga and others, Hodge notes that “order and adaptation can only spring from an intelligent cause” (37).

Pantheism denies the moral personality of God, man, or both (51).

On The Bible

Contra Rome: When Paul uses tradition, he signifies “all his instructions, oral and written, communicated to those very people themselves, not handed down” (83).

“Romanists appeal to the Scriptures to prove that the Scriptures cannot be understood, and address arguments to private judgment of men to prove that private judgment is incompetent” (91).

Attributes of God

When we say God is infinite, we do not mean that he cannot be an object of knowledge, as though knowing him would place a limit.  Rather, infinity means there are no limitations which involve any imperfections whatsoever (133).

The divine attributes are the divine perfections (135).

There can only be one infinite being.   “If there were two infinite beings, each would necessarily include the other, and be included by it, and thus they would be the same, one and identical” (139).

Per God as spirit: “Spirit is that substance whose properties manifest themselves to us directly in self-consciousness” (140).

Knowledge of God: the mode of divine knowledge: God perfectly, individually, distinctly, and immutably knows all things.  He knows them through himself, through his own essence” (145).  God’s necessary knowledge is the act of the divine intellect, without any concurrent act of the divine will.  His free knowledge is his knowledge being determined by a concurrent act of his will.

Relation to moral action.  God’s knowledge of future contingents makes the events certain, but it does not rule out moral certainty of creatures (147).

Will of God: we reject the liberty of indifference applied to God.  The decretive will of God is God efficaciously purposing the futurition of events.

The Trinity

“Substantia, as now used, is equivalent to essence, independent being” (164). True enough, but substance implies accidents, whereas essence does not.  A subsistence is a mode of substance

He is skeptical of the Johannine Comma (177).

He sees “sons of God” in Gen 6 as “angels” (178).

Eternal Generation: eternal personal act of the Father.  He generates the person of the Son by communicating to him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead (182).  It is a communication within the Godhead.

The Decrees of God

Immanent and intrinsic decrees are the generation of the Son and spiration of the Spirit

God’s decree doesn’t mechanically cause every event.  The decree provides in “every case that the event shall be effected by causses acting in a manner perfectly consistent with the nature of the event in question” (203).

When God decreed everything, he did so as a complete system, having its own internal causes and effects.  As a rational agent, I also act in relation to a complete system. God’s decree does not separate effects from causes and means. God’s decree makes the event certain in the future, yet “not as isolated from other events….but as dependent upon means and agents freely using those means” (212).

Angels

Nothing in Scripture says angels are completely destitute of all materiality; indeed, they took bodily form, ate food, and lodged in houses (252, referencing Gen. 18:8 and 19:3).

Preservation

Contra Edwards: JE says that what we call “the course of nature is nothing separate from the agency of God” (Original Sin, IV, ch. 3).  This makes God the only real agent in the universe, and so logically involves pantheism.

When God chose his great end, he also chose innumerable subordinate ends; these are fixed; and he has appointed all actions and events in their several relations as means to those ends” (262).

“All events are so related together as a concatenated system of causes, effects, and conditions, that a general Providence that is not the same time special is as inconceivable as a whole which has no parts, or a chain which has no links” (266).

Moral Constitution of the Faculties of the Soul

The faculties of the soul are the capacity of the one agent (280).  We choose not to speak of the liberty of the will, but the liberty of the man willing.

Df. will = the faculty of volition, together with all spontaneous states of the soul (282).  It acts in accordance with intrinsic moral tendencies in the soul.

A man is morally responsible if he is in possession of his reason, and self-decided in his will (285).

Df. virtue = a peculiar quality of certain states of the will.  Its essence is that it obliges the will (286).

Turretin: the essential nature of liberty does not consist in indifference.

Man may act against motives, but never without motives (290).

God from eternity foreknows all the free actions of men as certain, and he has foreordained them to be certain (291).

Creation of Man

Pelagians believe that man was created with no positive moral character (302).

Original Sin

We deny that the corruption is physical (excluding possible effects).  Rather, it is purely moral and “biases the understanding” (325). It consists in a morally corrupt habit.  It leads to a schism in the soul (329).

“A universal effect must have a universal cause” (330).

Inability

The permanent affections in the soul govern the volitions, but the volitions cannot alter the affections (339).

Contra Traducianism

I don’t think Shedd had published his Dogmatic Theology yet, for had he then Hodge’s charges wouldn’t hold. Hodge thinks traducianists hold to a “pure realism, which is a “single generic spiritual substance which corrupted itself by its own voluntary apostasizing act in Adam.  The souls of individual men are not separate substances, but manifestations” of this single substance” (351-352). Hodge is here quoting his father (II: 251ff).  Both are mistaken on what realism entails. Human nature is a substance, not the property or quality of a substance (see Shedd, 469).  It is individualized in a concrete person.

The problem here is that Hodge is operating under a faulty notion of realism.  First, our human nature isn’t a manifestation of “humanity.” It is in fact a real human nature.  He wants to argue that since the traducianists think human nature can be divided or partialed out, then it is false.  Shedd responds that in the beginning, human nature became four instead of two (Shedd 490, modern reprint). Is that a partialing of human nature?  It seems to be, yet it also seems correct.  There is a constant “diminution of the primitive nonindividualized human nature when once its division and individualization begins by conception.”

Hodge later says that this is 1) Indefinite, 2) fails to explain moral responsibility, 3) assumes laws of natural development limit God’s agency, and 4) doesn’t explain why only the first sin is the one for which we are punished (364).

In response
1*) ?????
2) Again, it isn’t clear.  We are also guilty for our own individual sins.  Yet, we are also guilty for concupiscence, which came from Adam.
3) Again, I am not sure why he thinks that.
4) On everyone’s account, we are only guilty for Adam’s first sin.  

Guilt and punishment.  Guilt is just liability to punishment

The Person of Christ

Mediatorial actions pertain to both natures (381).

Do we worship the human nature?  We distinguish between the ground and object of worship.  The ground of worship is the divine Person, but we do worship the human nature alongside the divine (383). Strictly speaking, we don’t worship, either.  Worship terminates on the person.

Nature of the Atonement

Following his father, AA Hodge gives a lucid account on the nature of guilt and punishment.  A penal satisfaction concerns crime and person.  A pecuniary concerns debt and things.  The former terminates on the person of the criminal; the latter on the thing due (401).

Hodge also denies that “Christ suffered Hell.”  This charge comes up on the internet against Protestants.  Hodge specifically states  that “He did not suffer the same sufferings either in kind, degree, or duration, which would have been inflicted on them, but he did suffer precisely that suffering which divine justice demanded of his person standing in their stead.  His sufferings were those of a divine person with a human nature” (406).

Sin as macula is not laid on Christ.  Sin as reatus is (408).

Effectual Calling

Regeneration: it is a conversio habitualis seu passiva, “the change of character in effecting which the soul is the object, not the subject” (449). Conversion is the opposite.

Justification

Standard stuff here, but Hodge does a good job contrasting the Protestant and Romish views. 

Rome: we have a first justification for Christ’s sake. We then (maybe?) have a second one through and in proportion to his merit.

We regard justification as a judicial act, they an infusion of grace.  We say the merits of Christ are the ground of justification, they the merits are made ours by sanctification.  We say faith is the instrument.  They the beginning and root.

Review: Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross

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Boersma, Hans. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.

Hans Boersma uses concepts like violence and hospitality, particularly in their recent philosophical venues, as a set of ciphers to explore the atonement. He succeeds brilliantly. I wish I read this book in seminary. It might, just might, have staved off a number of bad decisions later on.

Asking “Is the Atonement violent” sounds funny, and it is, but feminist and postmodern theologians think it is an important question. Unfortunately, they answer it. For Boersma, Hospitality is God’s work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ (Boersma 15). God comes to us in Christ to invite us into his eternal fellowship. Hospitality is a metaphor for the love of God (17).

Violence, then, is any exclusionary practice. Theologically, it could be something legitimate like church discipline, but raised to doctrine of God levels, it could be something more problematic: the decree of election which excludes others from God’s presence. Boersma will deal with this later.

Problem: Does “violence” negate God’s hospitality in Jesus Christ?

Boersma examines the three models of the atonement and notes that when they are abstracted and placed as *the* model, problems can arise. For example, the Christus Victor model is wonderful and scriptural, yet it doesn’t tell me *how* sins are forgiven. Boersma will place it within a larger Irenaean framework and show how it works.

Postmodernism, following Jacques Derrida, says that any act of true hospitality must be pure, unconditional. Pure hospitality means I forego all judging, analyzing, and classification of the other.”

Is the Derridean model coherent? Not really. Boersma points out that hospitality always takes place within the finite limits of space and time. By definition it will be limited in character (31). There is always this fear in postmodern literature that the limits of temporality are negative. Boersma wonders why. I think it goes back to the old Origenist problematic: the Fall and Finitude are linked.

Postmodernism isn’t on any firmer ground when it challenges violence. What is violence? It is something like “anything that contravenes the rights of another, or causes injury to the life, well-being, etc., of another” (quoted in Boersma 44). The problem is that this definition rules out all forms of corrective punishment. It also rules out self-defense, but perhaps worst of all, it is self-defeating when postmodernists try to “protest” systemic injustices. Boersma lists a number of defeaters:

  1. If I physically restrain my wife from crossing the road when a car is coming, am I offering violence?
  2. When the govt forces my kids to go to school, is that an act of violence?
  3. If I engage in economic boycotts, knowing that such boycotts will jeopardize the well-being of the average worker, how is that not violence?

Postmodernism cannot give a coherent reason why their good acts of physical resistance aren’t violent, yet “the other side” (Alterity!) is violent. The takeaway is that there can be good acts of violence. “Hospitality does not exclude all violence” (48).

Nonetheless, hospitality bespeaks the very essence of God. Violence is one of the ways he safeguards it.

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist (read: Supralapsarian) understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56). Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80). Israel isn’t elected for her own sake. While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history. Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms. That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical. Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal. Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112). He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading. Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought. Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism. While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth. If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence. But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early? Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

The book ends with several learned interactions with liberation theology and Radical Orthodoxy. This is one of those books that engages criticisms of traditional doctrine at a very high level. It stands within the tradition while seeking to clarify tensions that have arisen.

Violence, Hospitality, Cross: Notes, 2

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Chapter 2: Limiting Hospitality

Boersma argues that the High Calvinist understanding of double predestination draws violence back into the being of God in eternity (56).  Specifically, the violence (exclusion) of his hidden will overshadows the hospitality of his revealed will.

Boersma’s survey of Calvin is accurate. He avoids the Calvin vs Calvinist thesis and is free from any rebuttals from that side. His argument has some force and can’t be ignored. If the will that really matters is the hidden will, then I can never truly know if Christ died for me.

On the other hand, Boersma doesn’t deal with the “Owenian” challenges to non-limited atonement.

Chapter 3: Preferential Hospitality

In this chapter Boersma argues that Paul’s doctrine of election was focused on Jewish historical categories, rather than eternalist categories. Divine election, then, has four characteristics: 1) it is an act of sovereign grace, 2) it is an act of God in history, 3) it is a corporate act, and 4) it is an instrumental act (77).

The instrumental aspect links election and covenant (80).  Israel isn’t elected for her own sake.

While this approach certainly relieves God of having violence in his eternal being, it does play out rather violently in history.  Israel’s election means the Canaanites exclusion. To his credit, Boersma doesn’t balk at that hard fact. Today, we can make his argument stronger by linking the Canaanites with the demonic practices of the fallen beney elohim, per Michael Heiser.

Boersma concludes: “Precisely because God’s hospitality takes place within a history that is already marred by human violence, his hospitality cannot be pure or universal in character” (84).

The chapter ends with some good comments on authorial intent, justice, etc.

Chapter 4: Atonement, Metaphors, and Models

This chapter links the two sections of the book.  We have to speak of God’s action in Christ in metaphorical terms.  That doesn’t make them “less real.” Boersma asserts that all our language is metaphorical.  Indeed, I would have taken it a step further and said our language is analogical. As he notes, “All interpretive access is indirect, by means of association” (105).

Staving off charges of relativism, he notes that not all metaphors are created equal.  Some are root metaphors. While Jesus likens himself to a hen at one point, it’s better to speak of him primarily as a Son than as a chicken.

In terms of the three models of the atonement (moral, Christus Victor, substitution), Boersma suggests that the best way to unite the three models is by means of Irenaeus’s recapitulation model (112).  He takes it one step further: Not only does Jesus reconstitute humanity, but he does so as Israel’s Representative.

Chapter 5: Modeling Hospitality, Atonement as Moral Influence

Liberal theologians initially seized upon the Abelardian model of Jesus’s Atonement as a good moral example because it seemed to remove violence from God the Father. This ideal collapses upon a careful reading.  Boersma notes, “As soon as a moral-influence theory introduces any divine purpose at all into the crucifixion, an element of violence or exclusion is introduced into our understanding of the cross” (117).

Chapter 6: Atonement as Mimetic Violence

Boersma gives a fine summary of Rene Girard’s thought.  Girard argues that the only violence in the Cross is human violence “and that God uses the cross to bring about a nonviolent society” (134). The violence is one of a scapegoat mechanism.  While an attractive and compelling theory, it comes at a high price:

  1. Human culture is violent at its origin. This is a half-truth.  If he means all post-fall culture, then it is true that it can never be free of violence.  But if that’s the case, then it is not clear how the Scapegoat can create a violence-free culture.
  2. To say it another way, Christ has nothing to do with creation.But Jesus is the Word that spoke creation into being and in himself sets forth an “eternal hospitality” (145).
  3. Girard opposes any “penal” language about the cross, going so far to suggest that the early church corrupted the pure message (Girard, Things Hidden 180). If the cross on Girard’s reading is so obviously a scapegoat mechanism, then how did the church get it wrong so early?  Further, if Western culture is so violent at root, then how can Western culture (presumably by way of the Cross) also have the seeds of democracy, equality, etc.?

Chapter 7: Hospitality, Punishment, and the Atonement

Anselmian tradition: economy of exchange

Did Constantine Ruin Everything?

According to some feminist theologians, Constantine marked the shift from a more Christus Victor model to the satisfaction/substitution model.  Historically speaking, this is silly. The truth behind it, though, is that with Constantine and Christendom enshrined, there really wasn’t a point to the Christus Victor model anymore.

Boersma explores substitutionary and even penal language in the fathers.  It’s there, but I would caution against reading too much into it (and Boersma doesn’t).  There is no one atonement model and to say that the fathers taught penal substitution is misleading.  

The violence of the atonement in Augustinianism

Boersma, and he isn’t alone, notes that the Augustinian tradition faces the temptation to “juridicize” the atonement at the expense of other models. This is exacerbated by some forms of federal theology. The high point is seen in the pactum salutis where the members of the Trinity engage in a transactional exchange.  Boersma notes, “In federal theology, therefore, the world of God’s eternal decrees overshadowed the historic covenant relationship and diminished its significance” (166). In a footnote Boersma attributes this mindset to Klaas Schilder, citing a passage from Berkouwer’s Providence of God.  Yet Schilder didn’t believe this.  True, he rejected common grace, which seemed to be Berkouwer’s point, but Schilder’s own critique of federalism is very much in line with Boersma’s.

An inference from this is the individualization of the atonement. It’s not clear how God’s dealings with Israel in history function in this scheme.  Boersma counters with a brief Pauline study on law and salvation. He calls it a “national-historical reading” (174). It contains penal elements but places them within the larger recapitulatory action of Christ. The curse falls on the people as a whole, which Christ, the reconstituted Israel, takes upon himself for his chuch.

Therefore, there is certainly substitutionary language, but it should be seen more in terms of representation than a 1:1 exchange (177).  God’s justice is restorative justice (178).

Review: Calvin and the Calvinists (Paul Helm)

Overview:  early summary of the Calvin vs the Calvinists debate but excluding the Barth factor.

Application for today:  Good early rebuttal against some Federal Visionists who sometimes tend to pit Calvin against Calvinists.

This is an early response to the line of argument that said Calvin taught the sweet doctrines of the Reformation until the Puritans came along and ruined it. Paul Helm responds to RT Kendall’s book on Calvinism. While Helm vindicates Calvin, that is secondary in my opinion. The book is a fine, short read and gives helpful ways of thinking about Christ’s work.

Unity of Christ’s work of intercession and death. 

The question of the hour: Did Calvin teach Limited Atonement? Kendall takes Calvin’s silence as a “no.” Helm rebuts by showing what the atonement actually means for Calvin. It produces actual remission (Helm 13).

We are going to jump ahead and examine a claim by Kendall: Christ died for all but intercedes for the elect. Helm points out that such a view means Christ’s death wasn’t enough. The efficacy had to be completed by his intercession. But this is not what Calvin said: Christ discharged all satisfaction by his death (Inst. II.xvi.6). If that’s true, then what remains to be accomplished by his intercession (Helm 43)?

The Christian and Conversion

Kendall said that Calvin saw faith as God’s act; it is passive. The Puritans saw faith as man’s act, and Kendall quotes Inst. III.13.5 for proof of the former. Helm, however, shows that Kendall moves too quickly. Calvin said in that passage that faith as regards justification is passive, but not faith simpliciter.

The final problem Kendall has with the Puritans is their emphasis on “preparationism.” He sees them as proto-Arminians, as though man can prepare himself to be saved. But this isn’t what the Puritans meant. They denied man could prepare himself, but they affirmed that man could find himself in a state of being prepared (that is, by using means such as hearing the Word, etc.).

Conclusion

I read this book in about an hour. It is short and clear. Highly recommended

Review: Delivered from the Elements

My earlier notes here.  A potential problem with Leithart is that most people who read him either “join his camp” or “attack his camp.” I don’t want to do either. I actually think the book is quite good.  It has a lot of promise for evangelism and missions and steers a path through the problems with New Perspective on Paul. It is also a good book on metaphysics.

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.  Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

One interesting point is that he draws attention to the word “nature.”  Yes, the NT uses “substance” language, but not the kind usually thought.  The NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).  When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).

Here is the problem: given what is wrong with the world, how does Jesus’s death as my substitute fix the world?  Leithart will defend substitutionary atonement, but he does not the problem in most popular accounts.  If the goal is to cash Jesus out as the credit card on my account, then did it matter that he was a Jew?  Framed another way: how does Christ’s dying for me deliver humanity from ta stoichea?  You have to be able to answer this question.

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Justification

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.” It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193). Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Conclusion

The book has several appendices of varying interests.  My main problem with the book was it could have been about 50 pages shorter.  The chapter on Presbyterian Buddhists was neat, but could have been reduced to a footnote.

Review: Berkouwer, the Work of Christ

Berkouwer follows the movement of the Apostle’s Creed in showing forth the work (economy) of Christ. Berkouwer wants to maintain the unity of the Person and Work of Christ, so he sees the Incarnation as contingent upon man’s fall.

Message of the incarnation:  not the elevatio of human nature but its deliverance and restoration by him whom the father had sent (29).

Christ’s Office

Pivotal point:  Christ’s name, Anointed One, is in analogy with the office-bearers of the Old Testament (62). Contra Rome, there is no need to mediate the munus triplex to us, since Christ doesn’t need a mediator (78).  Christ is fully present in all of his work, so there is no need for a vicarious representative (79). The Mass:  the sacerdotal office replaces the munus triplex. Lost is the historical progression in Christ’s work from humiliation to exaltation.  And for the kingly office, while Rome says Christ is head of the nations, he isn’t really king in his church (85).

Half of the book was a remarkable analysis of key Dutch Reformed positions in the modern age.  The chapters on the Offices of Christ and the Sessio are outstanding.   The other chapters on reconciliation are good, but nothing unique about that.