Aristotle for Everybody (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J.  Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy.

Even with the advances in science, Aristotle’s shadow is unavoidable.  We still operate with concepts like “part,” “whole,” “motion,” “change,” etc.  Despite modern pedagogy in the university, we still use logic and assume it is valid.

“Great Divide”

First problem: What differentiates “all living organisms from inert bodies” (Adler 5)? From this we draw a line between some living organisms and others.  Aristotle keeps drawing these lines and classifying individuals.  In order to do this, he posits that each thing has a nature. He finally arrives at the conclusion that man is a rational animal.

On one side of the line are “bodies.”  On the other side are “attributes.” The key idea is that an attribute exists in a thing but not of itself.  A stone’s weight exists in the stone, but no one thinks that the weight of a stone exists on its own.  Moreover, a body changes; the attributes do not.  The attribute of hardness doesn’t become “smoothness.”  Rather, the stone becomes smooth.

We can best discuss man by seeing him in three different dimensions:

Man is:

Making (Beautiful).  This covers the metaphysical angle.

Doing (Good)

Knowing (True)

Man the Maker

A work of art is man-made. It is more accurate to say that man produces; he does not create.

Change and Permanence

The problem is how can something always be in a state of becoming, always in change, yet remain the same.  One type of change is motion (a change in place), alteration (a change in quality), and a change in quantity.  All of these changes take place in time.

The Four Causes

I can’t do any better than to quote Adler:

1. Material cause: that out of which something is made.
2. Efficient cause: that by which something is made.
3. Formal cause: that into which something is made.
4. Final cause: that for the sake of which something is made 

To Be or Not to Be

To understand Aristotle on being, we need a firm grasp of “matter,” “form,” “potentiality” and “actuality” (50).

Privation is a lack of a certain form. Potentiality is when you predicate the words “can be” of a thing.  A matter can lack a form but nonetheless have the potentiality for it. “Matter always has a limited potentiality for acquiring other forms” (53).

Man the Doer

Man usually acts towards a goal. This is practical thinking, thinking about means and ends. Means are the ways we achieve our goal or other means.  For Aristotle the end to which we aim is “living well.” However, when Aristotle says we are to aim for the right ultimate end, this isn’t relative.  There is an actual objective Good to which all seek to aim. People who do not aim for this objective end have disordered passions.

This is happiness.  It is important to note that ancient man didn’t consider those who were still living to be truly happy.

Man the Knower

“The senses are the doorway to the mind” (130). They are instruments, and in a nice turn of the phrase, the mind, too, is an instrument.  It is the “form of forms” (134). Thinking does more, as it also “relates the ideas it produces.”

The next chapter is on the laws of logic.  In some ways, that chapter alone is worthy of an entire review.  On the other hand, there isn’t much in it that isn’t also found in other logic texts. Some comments are appropriate, though.  For example, the term in both major and minor premises is the middle term. It functions to connect the major premise and the conclusion.

Moreover, if the major premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.  A positive conclusion cannot follow from negative premises.

I recommend this book to any starter in philosophy.


Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  The Big Book of Christian Apologetics.

 I read the original “Baker Encyclopedia” in college.  I’m partial to that one for nostalgic reasons.  This one is good, too (and is the same thing, more or less).

When Geisler sticks to Evangelical Thomism, few can compete with him.  His take on causality, analogy, and being is one of the few essential takeaways from this book.

Geisler’s “Twelve Points” is the outline of his apologetic thrust.  They are helpfully outlined here.:

  1. Truth about reality is knowable.
  2. Opposites cannot both be true.
  3. The theistic God exists.
  4. If God exists, then miracles are possible.
  5. Miracles can be used to confirm a message from God.
  6. The New Testament is historically reliable.
  7. The New Testament says that Jesus claimed to be God.
  8. Jesus’ claim to be God is confirmed by miracles.
  9. Therefore, Jesus is God.
  10. Whatever Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.
  11. Jesus taught that the Bible is the Word of God.
  12. Therefore, it is true that the Bible is the Word of God (and anything opposed to it is false).

Analogy, Principle of. Analogy is based in causality. A cause communicates itself to the effect.  Being communicates being. “The cause of being must be a Being. It cannot give what it don’t got.” Analogy between God and creation is based in efficient causality. We are like God because Actuality communicates actuality, but unlike God we have limiting potentiality.

Principality of Casuality

  1. Every effect has a cause.
  2. Every contingent being is caused by another.
  3. Every limited being is caused by another.
  4. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
  5. Nonbeing cannot cause being.

No potency for being can actualize itself, for it would have to have been in a previous state of actuality.

Edwards, Jonathan.  Used a good cosmological argument.  Some problems concerning panentheism and an overly rigid view of free choice.  No one is moved to act unless God acts on him.  We act according to our free desire.  This self-destructs when applied to Satan and the angels, for it seems God would have to have given them their desire for sin.

First Principles

These are so good I am probably going to write them in the cover of my bible.
B means being;

Bn means Necessary Being;
Bc means contingent being;
-> means causes;
-/> cannot cause;
Act means actuality;
P means potentiality (or potency).

  1. B is or exists (principle of existence)
  1. B is B (principle of identity)
  2. B is not non-B (principle of non-contradiction)
  3. Either B or non-B (principle of excluded middle)
  4. Non-B -/> B (principle of negative causality)
  5. B-/Bc (principle of contingent causality)
  6. Bn-/>Bn (principle of impossible causality)
  7. Bn->Bc (principle of positive causality)
  8. Bc is (exists) (principle of contingent existence)
  9. Bn is (exists) principle of necessary existence)
  10. Act is Act (with no potency) (principle of pure actuality)
  11. Bc is act/potency (principle of potency)
  12. Act ->act/potency (principle of analogy
  13. Act is similar to act
  14. Act is different from potency
  15. Bn is not (principle of negative attributes)
  16. finite (= is infinite)
  17. changing (=is immutable)
  18. temporal (=is eternal)
  19. multiple (= is one)
  20. divisible (=is simple)
  21. Bn is (principle of positive attributes)
  22. actual
  23. intelligent
  24. personal
  25. good
  26. truth
  27. Beautiful

Geisler’s take on creation/flood is interesting.  He holds to Old Earth (or rather, the strongest argument for YEC don’t obtain because there are gaps in the genealogies).  On the other hand, he holds to a global flood.

Hardening of Pharaoh

This isn’t as against Calvinism as it might seem.  Our scholastic fathers held to free choice and that God doesn’t work mechanically against our wills.  If that is true, then we shouldn’t have to big a problem with Geisler’s conclusion that God doesn’t harden initially, but subsequently; not directly, but indirectly; not against free choice, but through free choice; not as to the cause, but as to the effect.

Hinduism. Some comments. The only way I could know that all is an illusion is by using my senses.  These same monists tell us to use our senses to listen to their lectures or read their books.

If illusionism is true, how could I know it?

Gospel witnesses:  The gospels couldn’t have been myths because not only do myths not develop in under a generation, but myths also do not develop while the eyewitnesses are still alive.

Bart Ehrman on the manuscripts’ having errors: if we apply the same reasoning to his own books, we note that his first edition had sixteen errors.  One hundred thousand copies were pritten.  This means he made 1.6 million errors, but that is silly.

First Law of Thermodynamics.  The point isn’t that energy can’t be created or destroyed.  It isn’t making a statement about the origin of the universe.  Energy remains constant, albeit the usable energy decreases.

Van Til. We’ll end the review with his critique of Van Til.    CVT says that for Aquinas God’s existence is only probable, whereas Aquinas said it was rationally necessary (ST 1a., 2, 3). Aquinas would believe with CVT that truth depends ontologically on God.  Yet CVT never fully realized that finite man must ask how he could know.  CVT confused the order of knowing with the order of being.

Even worse, if the unbeliever experiences everything with a “jaundiced eye,” how would he ever understand Van Til, since the rules of logic and grammar are being experienced differently?  CVT seemed to see this tension (IST, 15).  It gets worse, though. If the unbeliever with his jaundiced eye cannot account for creation, then he’s off the hook since there is no way for him to suppress a truth that he doesn’t even understand.


Unfortunately, Geisler holds to some form of the subordination of the Son.  To be honest, I think he is just confused, for he first anchors the subordination in the economy.  However, he does use the unstable category of “function.”  There is no evidence, though, that he is using this model to drive a particular view of male-female relations.  He might in other books, but not here.  What makes it more frustrating is that his overall Trinitarianism and Doctrine of God is so good.

Principles of Sacred Theology (Kuyper)

I am a sympathetic critic (with emphasis on critic) of Abraham Kuyper. I fully reject what he says on covenant, common grace, and the church. This book, though, is quite interesting and worth reading.

Argument: theologically science should begin organically because knowledge is inter-related.  It is the unbelieving world that can’t integrate knowledge (I:iv).

Science: a collected body of knowledge independent from the activity of the knower.  It is a “connected form of knowledge.”

If there were no organic relationship between subject and object, “then thinking man in our age would have an entirely different object before him” than in other times (II:1).  Kuyper is addressing the old problem regarding the relationship of universals to particulars.

Threefold relationship:

  1. Organic relation between object and our human nature
  2. Relation between that object and our consciousness.
  3. Relation between that object and our world of thought.

Older scholastic view of faculty: 


“The formal function of the life of our soul which is fundamental to every fact in our human consciousness” (37).

Chapter 3: The Twofold Development of Science

The Christian is determined by a palingenesis, which leads to an enlightening, which changes a man in his very being (50).  Kuyper: “This regeneration breaks humanity in two.”

Chapter 5: Theology in the Organism of Science

Theology finds its object in the revealed, ectypal knowledge of God (81).


Chapter 1: The Conception of Theology

The Influence of Palingenesis upon Theology and Science

It implies that all existing things are in ruins and that there is a way they can be restored (83).

Conception: the way of knowledge which we travel.

Idea: views the end independently

Man: man is no spirit but a spiritual being and exists simultaneously psychically and somatically, so that a great deal of his inner life manifests itself without the person being conscious of it (97).

(Kuyper rebuts the donum superadditum on pp. 104-105)

Common grace: the act of God by which he negatively curbs the operations of Satan (111).

Revelation, Humanity, and History: revelation goes out to humanity taken as a whole.  Since humanity unfolds itself historically, this Revelation also bears an historic character.  Since this humanity exists organically, having a centrum of action, this Revelation also had to be organic, with a centrum of its own (112).

For Hegel and Schleiermacher, man is the archetypal theology and God is the ectypal theology.  True being and knowledge is only in man, while knowledge of God is a dim imprint.

Regeneration and Knowledge, Again

“Regeneration is not an element in knowing, but in being” (142ff). What I think he is saying is that regeneration penetrates to the whole man.

A principium of knowledge is a living agent, and it is from this agent that knowledge flows.  As such, obviously, the bible is not an agent.  Nevertheless, it is proper to call Scripture the principium unicum theologiae if understand as a plant, “whose germ as sprouted and budded” (143).

Sharpening our antithesis:  if Holy Scripture is the principium of theology, then there is an antitheis between this principium and the common principium of our knowledge (153).

Really good section on the relation of natural and special revelation.  Rather than two mechanical principles that never really integrate (e.g., as in Protestant and Roman Catholic scholasticism), they “possess a higher unity, are allied to one another, and, by virtue of this unity and relationship, are capable of affecting each other” (157).  Their unity is God, as he is the source and object of both kinds of knowledge.  

Question:  Can Natural Revelation judge Special Revelation (159ff)?

Muslims isolate the principium of knowing from the principium of being (175).  I think Kuyper means is that there is no organic connection between the two.  Kuyper mentions a “dictated inspiration” in connection.

But for the Christian, what binds these streams together–the recreative divine energy?  Kuyper wants to avoid the idea of “inspiration” as some kind of donum superadditum.

Summary of sub-section: the special principium in God directs itself as the principium of knowledge ot the consciousness of the sinner, bringing about inspiration/illumination.  As principium of being, its spiritual and material re-creative acts are called miracles.  The world of thought and the world of being do not lie side by side, but are organically connected (178).

On Miracles

Miracles organically recreate the cosmos from within.  Away with silly discussions of “violating natural law.”  Renewal in Scripture is not a new power or a new state of being, “but simply a new shoot [that] springs from the root of creation itself” (182).

Theaetetus (Plato)

Plato returns to his criticism of Protagoras’s claim that man is the measure of all things.  Granted that such an argument is wrong (and silly), we explore the nature of knowledge and why it can’t be sense impression.

Theaetetus has just come back from the Sophists who argue that knowledge = sense perception.  The larger context is Protagoras’s claim that “man is the measure of all things.” We will call this claim (P). We will distinguish this from Theaetetus’s claim that knowledge is perception, called (T).

Socrates asks him that if (T) is true, then knowledge must also be perceiving, to which Theaetetus agrees. If this is true, then a thing’s appearing-to-me must also be a thing’s being or existence.  Our claim now entails that such knowledge is unerring (since it is connected with being).  This, however, is manifestly false. Case in point: we perceive things in dreams, but no one thinks dreams are real.

Theaetetus retreats from this claim and attacks from the Heraclitean point of view that “motion is the source of being.”  Flux, not stability is primary.  There is no self-existent thing.  Everything is becoming and in relation. He has the nice phrase “Partisans of the perpetual flux.”  Indeed, we can’t even say man or stone, but only an aggregate of x.  This is word-for-word Karl Marx (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, Thesis VI).

Let’s return to (P). If it is true, then there is no reason to believe that Protagoras (or the modern university professor) is correct. If knowledge is sensation, and I can’t discern another man’s sensation, and yet Protagoras purports to be true, then why prefer him to anyone else?  This was the first response to postmodernism long before postmodernism came on the scene.

Another problem: I can have knowledge from memory, yet memory isn’t a sense.

Another problem: I can have knowledge of abstract entities and categories, yet these aren’t present to the senses.

Let’s return to the Heraclitean claim.  If nothing is at rest, and everything is supervening upon everything else, then every answer is equally right, since all we have are moving targets.

There is yet another diversion where Socrates explains that the soul perceives some things by herself and others by means of bodily organs. The soul has something like “wax” in it that handles the impressions.  If a soul is deep and virtuous, then the impressions sink to the heart of the soul.

The dialogue ends with discussions of justified, true belief.

Arguably the most important of his “epistemology” dialogues, it is somewhat a difficult read as Socrates goes through numerous diversions.

Review: Bavinck, Prolegomena

Bavinck’s project consists of drawing upon the strengths of the Magisterial Protestants while formulating theology in response to the modernist crisis of his day. To do so, he realized he could not slavishly mimic older platitudes and simply “hope for the best.” Bavinck represents a very exciting yet somewhat embarrassing hero for modern Calvinists. Exciting, because his work is simply awesome and coming into English for the first time ever. Embarrassing, because modern Calvinists generally dislike the movement “neo-Calvinism,” yet Bavinck is the unofficial godfather of it.

Bavinck takes the traditional terminology of principia, yet in the background is an ever-present urgency to respond to modernism. Therefore, he takes the terminology and reframes it around the neo-Calvinist slogan, “Grace restores Nature.” There is an antithesis and dualism, to be sure, but it is not between nature and grace, but sin and grace.


God himself is the principle of existence for theology (principium essendi). Objective revelation of God in Christ is recorded in the Scriptures and this is the external source of knowledge (externum principium cognoscendi). The Holy Spirit is the iternal source of knowledge. This leads Bavinck to a line he repeats throughout the book: there must be a corresponding internal organ to receive the external revelation. This anticipates the later Reformed Epistemology school.

Contrary to the convertskii, everyone’s reception and evaluation of his or her ultimate authority will be subjective in some sense. One often hears the refrain, “You Protestants make yourself the Pope and judge of authority while we simply submit to the Church.” Unfortunately, at one time this convertskii had to make a decision–using his own sinful Western-influenced reason–between Rome, EO, Assyrian Orthodoxy, Monophysitism and Nestorianism. Whatever the external source of knowledge-the Church, God’s Revelation, etc.–the religious subject will have to respond to it. Since the subject is responding, the response and evaluation is, quite naturally, subjective. Bavinck hits a grand slam on this point.

Circular Reasoning and First Principles

Bavinck does not try to hide the fact of circular reasoning. He asserts, quite rightly, that first principles in any science are by definition circular. If they were proven by other principles, they would not be first principles! With this acknowledged, Romanism and Orthodoxy are in no better position than Protestantism. Positing either the Pope or the Church as the external principle of knowledge is highly laughable–and bears witness to my argument given that few even try to do that.

Towards the Future of Reformed Epistemology and Apologetics

It’s obvious that Van Til read Bavinck. It is also obvious, if perhaps less so, that the Reformed Epistemologists follow in Bavinck’s train. It’s interesting that while Van Til drew heavily from Bavinck, I don’t think they are always saying the same thing on apologetics. Bavinck used the categories of presuppositionalism, but he knew when to stop the train. I think he kept himself from many of what would later be some of Van Til’s errors, or at least weak points.


The book isn’t always easy to read. If the reader does not have a background heavy in European Rationalism, many of Bavinck’s sparring partners will be over one’s head. Conversely, if one does have such a background in those disciplines, then there is little point to read Bavinck on them, since he is merely given a cursory reading of them

The Lion of Princeton (Riddlebarger)


Riddlebarger, Kim. The Lion of Princeton: B.B. Warfield as Apologist and Theologian. Lexham Press.

Classic Reformed apologetics is making a comeback, and who better to serve as the focal point than B. B. Warfield? This is an accessible version of Riddlebarger’s dissertation on Warfield.

Warfield the New Testament Scholar

In a somewhat ironic fashion, the man today vilified for defending inerrancy was attacked in his own days for opening a Pandora’s Box. Theodore Letis called attention to this fact. Warfield’s inductive, scientific approach to textual criticism, including his endorsement of Westcott and Hort, was no different from a liberal.


Riddlebarger argues that your opinion of Warfield’s apologetic method depends on how favorable you are to Scottish Common Sense Realism.

For Warfield, apologetics is an offensive, rather than defensive, science. It is theological prolegomena. Indeed, Warfield doesn’t hold back on his language: apologetics will “reason its way to the dominion of the world” (review of Bavinck’s De Zekerheid des Geloofs). Following Thomas Reid, Warfield’s project would look something like this:

a) Man as imago dei has the capacity for knowledge. Faith is complete trust in Jesus Christ, “about whom one must possess objective knowledge.”
b) We must establish the grounds of faith by evidences.

Warfield has five subdivisions
1) Philosophical apologetics–being of God
2) Psychological apologetics–man’s religious nature
3) Reality of the supernatural in history
4) Historical apologetics
5) Bibliological apologetics

Warfield’s focus is more on the resurrection than the proofs for God, which is also how the NT presents it. While such an approach might be probabilistic at points, Warfield applies the law of non-contradiction to Jesus’s claims, giving them an “absolute” character.

Warfield’s epistemology: He draws upon Calvin. Revelation provides the objectivee ground for our knowledge of God. The Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit provides the subjective ground. Faith is different from knowledge, not because the latter is “better,” but because the grounds of it is more direct. This lines up nicely with Warfield’s Scottish realism as “an element of trust is always present in our knowledge.”

Systematic Theology

“The Idea of Systematic Theology.” While much of this is standard prolegomena, Riddlebarger provides a nice graphic.

Contemporary Critics of Warfield

Concluding question: does common sense realism compromise Reformed theology? It’s not immediately clear how it does. Rogers/McKim say Warfield overlooked Calvin’s antipathy towards Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. But it’s not immediately clear what Common Sense Realism has to do with either. Indeed, if you want to trace a genealogy of common sense realism, you won’t go to Thomas or Aristotle. Rather, you would find it in Reformed guys like Dick, Thomas Chalmers, and William Cunningham (and Charles Hodge and Dabney and Thornwell).

Riddlebarger draws upon Paul Helm to note several advantages that the Reformed thinker would have seen in Common Sense Realism
1) A ready reply to skepticism
2) Everyone uses the same faculties for testing truth.
3) It is compatible with Baconian methods of inductivism without the problems of pure empiricism.

Faith and Reason

Instead of labeling people “closet Arminian,” let’s see what the greatest Reformed theologian of all time, Francis Turretin, said about reason. Turretin affirms for reason a “ministerial” authority, not a magisterial one. Reason is an instrument of faith.

Warfield doesn’t disagree with Kuyper that sin colors one’s reason. The problem is that Kuyper had so absolutized the difference between Christian and non-Christian that communication was rendered (at least in theory) impossible.


Riddlebarger successfully defends Warfield from the charge that he was a “rationalist.” He was anything but, and that on certain levels. Warfield was much closer to an empiricist, which by definition rules out rationalism. Riddlebarger calls attention to Wafield’s indirect dependence on Thomas Reid, and if genealogical arguments are to be trusted, Warfield bypasses Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle and drinks from Reid

Torrance: Christian God (One Being; Three Persons)

This covers much of the same ground as his earlier *The Trinitarian Faith,* though with some new material. Such material, however, does not replace The Trinitarian Faith and if money is a factor, then get TTF instead.

Torrance centers his argument around the homoousion. It guarantees how we understand the internal relations in the Trinity. Not only are the persons homoousion, but so are the relations. Only in Christ is God’s self-revelation identical with himself” (Torrance 1). In Christ God has communicated his Word to us and imparted his Spirit. God’s revelation of himself as Father, Son, and HS in the economy of salvation is grounded in and derived from the eternal being of God” (80).

Torrance makes several key, epistemological gains in this work. Knowledge of new realities calls for new ways of thinking–new concepts and new thought patterns (Contra Arianos, 1:23; 4:27; De Synodis 42). We interiorize what we seek to know and rely not just on external evidence (38). The object naturally integrates into us and we let it disclose its depths of meaning to us.

P1: Our conceptual statements must be open-ended and point beyond themselves.

Top Level: More refined scientific theory/Trinitarian relations in God


Middle Level: Theory/ Economy of Christ

Ground level: day to day experience/ Evangelical apprehension and experience

Each level is open to the others.  When we move from one level to another, we seek to order the basic concepts from the lower level to the higher.
Torrance has an illuminating discussion of the Divine Monarchy. The monarchy means there is a specific order to the divine Persons. It is the order manifested in the history and revealing of God’s saving acts (176). The Son is begotten of the Father, not the other way around. If one presses the cappadocian distinctions too far, then we are left with the claim that the person of the Father causes, deifies, and personalizes the Being of the Son, Spirit, and even Godhead!

We can say, however, that the monarchia of the Father is cause not of their being, but of their mode of enhypostatic differentiation (179). Torrance wants to see the monarchia referring to the Being of the Father, rather than strictly the Person. For him this points back to the intrinsic relations of the Being: The Being of the Father as Father means the Being of the Son of the Father.


This is a good book, but it repeats a lot of material from his earlier work and the discussions aren’t always clearer

Reality and Evangelical Theology (Thomas Torrance)

Torrance, T. F. Reality and Evangelical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, reprint 1999.

There is an ontological connection between our minds and reality. Whenever we sever these with dualisms, we will see the effects of the breach. Rather, evangelical theology should seek to repair “the ontological relation of the mind to reality, so that a structural kinship arises between human knowing and what is known” (Torrance 10).

Chapter 1: The Bounds of Christian Theology

What is the nature of the correlation between our knowledge of God and our knowledge of ourselves? Our knowledge of God must be real but it cannot be cut off from our own modes of knowing as contingent creatures. God the Father has opened himself to us in the economy of Jesus Christ, whose work (and knowledge) was undertaken within our own space and time restrictions.

There is no intermediary in this knowledge. Jesus isn’t an intermediary (in a Neoplatonic sense, although he is a mediator in a soteriological sense) between us and the Father. He eternally inheres in the Being of God.

This is fairly standard stuff, yet Torrance advances a new line: although Jesus mediates this knowledge to us, he does in the context of our world. We have the following triad of relations: God/ourselves/world or God/man/world (25). If theology is simply reduced to a God-man relation, we run the risk of an epistemological dualism.

And if this triad holds, then it implies a necessary relation between theological and physical concepts (27). This allows us to get beyond primitive man’s mode of knowing as observations and phenomena, which when applied to theology becomes symbol.

When we study things, we study them according to their natures and their intrinsic relations. We move from subject/object looking at object/object, yet our own subjectivity is controlled from “Beyond….by reference to the ontological structures of the realities investigated” (28).

The God/man/world triad forces the knowing subject outside himself into the “open field of God’s creative interaction with the world of space and time” (29).

The Movement of Knowledge

Following Michael Polanyi, Torrance says that scientific knowledge comprises three levels: the base level of experience, the actual level of science, and a meta-scientific level. Theology is the same. The base level is Scripture and liturgy, the second level is the economic relations of Jesus, and the highest level is the ontological controlling concepts (36).

God’s being is person-constituting (43). Following cues from Athanasius, Torrance sees person as an “onto-relational reality.

The Nature of Realism

At its most basic level, there is a real relation between sign and referent (58). Torrance writes, “The lesson that is constantly being taught is that there can be no satisfactory theory of truth within the brackets of a dualist frame of thought, for it can only yield the oscillating dialectic between coherence and correspondence” (60). If we overly privilege the subject pole of knowledge, we get idealism and coherence. If the object pole, then correspondence and mechanistic modes of thought.

Torrance sharpens the definition to mean “a unitary relation between the empirical and theoretical ingredients in the structure of the real world and our knowledge of it” (60).

Any sort of realism has to address the problems Plato mentioned in Cratylus. To what extent, if any, do names correspond with their referents? If there is no real relation, we have nominalism. If the relation, however, is too strong, then we have no need of the referent and are dialectically thrust back onto nominalism.

The key is seeing that there must be some detachment between names and referents. Torrance writes, “Our concepts are to be transparent, open structures of thought, forged under the impact of divine revelation in the Scriptures, structures through which the Truth of God is allowed to disclose itself to us in ways appropriate to it” (71).


Some have suggested this is the best place to begin with Torrance. I’m not so sure. True, all of Torrance’s favorite talking points are here: Athanasius, Newtonian space = bad, unity of being and act, etc. All that’s good, but he is offering them as conclusions, rather than arguments (which arguments are found in other writings). With that said, it is a good, quick read that is operating at some of the highest levels of human thought

Creative Word: Canon as Model for Education

Brueggemann, Walter. Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Education.

*Canon is transmission process. Brueggemann argues it would have shaped education (Brueggemann 3). I think he has some interesting suggestions, though this certainly does not function as a complete curriculum. I do think in some ways it can be a necessary corrective to some classical models.

Canonical Criticism

Von Rad: early credos like Deut. 6:20-2426:5-9, and Josh. 24:13 could have functioned as early canons. Further, these texts are education. They were both continuous and discontinuous in receiving and repeating new data.

The dynamic of the canonical principle (stability/flexibility; recieving/repeating new data) is also epistemologically determinative: it engages both text and community (6).

Jeremiah 18:18:

“Inside the summons to conspiracy is a summary of Israelite authoritative knowledge:

Surely (ki) the Torah shall not perish from the priest,
Nor counsel from the wise
Nor word from the prophet” (7-8).

These represent knowledge and authority structures. Each of these three patterns of knowledge has a special substance and distinct mode.

Premise: what Israel knows and how Israel knows it are linked (10).

Narrative as Israel’s primal mode of knowing

  1. Dialogical. Ritual serves to evoke a teachable moment. The children see the “secret” and want to belong to it (16).
  2. The answer is a “set recital,” not an answer made up on the spot. Approaching Torah involves a “practiced naivete” (17).
  3. The child asks the questions, not the teacher. Epistemological structure: Knowledge in the Torah is a gift given with firmness, because it is undoubted–with graciousness, because there is eagerness to share–with authority, because the speaker both owns and is possessed by the story.
  4. Torah as Nomos as articulation of “world-coherence” (19). It shapes a reliable order, a barrier against the chaos that waits so close (Jer. 5:22). Torah stands against the ominous structures of Babylon, Canaan, Egypt.
  5. The mode of articulation must match the substance of the articulation (22).
    1. Story is the primary mode of education in Torah.
      1. Story is concrete
      2. Story is open-ended.
      3. Story is a practice of imagination
      4. Stories assume a public, shared experience.
      5. Story is the bottom-line. “It is told and left” (26).
    2. “The narrative form of Torah intends to nurture insiders who are willing to risk a specific universe of discourse and cast their lot there…The question was always alive to Israel: Shall we risk these stories? Shall we take our stand on them? If we do, we must do so with the awareness that not only the substance, but our modes of knowing are suspect and troublesome in the world” (27)

The Subversive Consensus of Torah

Events of taking/receiving the Land.

  1. Intervention of a new God whose name was not known before (28). Revelation and disclosure.
  2. The substance of the response is “wonderment.”
  3. Core tradition is about a shift in power among the gods in the arena of economics and politics
  4. Celebration of power but also a criticism of power. Torah delegitimizes Pharaoh.
  5. There is a paralle between Gen. 2.15-17 and Deut. 6:20-24.

    Vocation: “to till and keep it”
    Gift : “You may freely eat of the garden”
    Prohibition: “But of the tree…

Stories are defiant acts of politics: they invite the listener to live in the world of “this community” and from the “truth” of this community, and so to defy and to delegitimate every other world and truth” (129 n19).

The Disruption for Justice

The word of the prophet is a mode of knowledge that is not known until it is uttered (41). This prophetic epistemology challenges all public structures of knowledge:

  • Jeremiah’s prophetic knowledge ends the king’s social imaginary.
  • The king is supposed to have all the formal channels of intelligence, yet he is the one going to the prophet.
  • “There is no reliable one-to-one correlation between the structures of society and the in-breaking of the new truth from God” (43).

Poetic Rationality

A prophetic mode of knowledge concerns psychology (46). A spiritual power “impinged upon them from outside of their culture.” “Prophets operated with a sense of reality that lay outside of royal rationality” (47).

Sociology of the prophets: epistemology is partly shaped by our contexts, interests, etc. Epistemology has communal overtones. Prophets are “peripheral communities” (50).

Poetic rationality: by poetry the prophets create new arenas for discourse.

Brueggemann calls for a kind of teaching as an “imaginative ad hocishness” (80).

Bureaucratic consciousness is based on the notion that life is not organically connected (Berger, quoted in Brueggemann 84). There is no Logos. There are no logoi that instantiate the Logos.

Obedience as a Mode of Knowledge

Brueggemann sums up his earlier claims about knowledge: knowledge has a social dimension and it incoroprates intangible dimensions such as memory, but always in the context of obedience to Yahweh

Locke (Edward Feser)

Image result for edward feser john locke

One of the leading Thomist thinkers today, Edward Feser, gives a fine outline of key Lockean ideas and the tensions within Locke’s own thought.  The book is concise and well-written. We will begin with a survey of medieval scholastic thought, for this is Locke’s foil.


The Form of a thing is the organizational structure of a thing. It is not reducible to the sum of its parts.  For Aristotle it exists “in” the thing or at least gives structure to it. A Substance: it is an independently existing thing.  Its attributes or accidents cannot exist apart from it.

For Thomas Aquinas a Right (jus)  is a right ordering in a social context.  It is objective. It wasn’t originally thought of as a moral claim inhering *in* a subject.

Key idea: Locke held many similar aims with the scholastics: both sought to prove the existence of God, personal immortality, and natural rights. On the other hand, Locke rejects almost all of the key scholastic terms such as essence, quality, causation, etc.

The Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Against innate ideas. An idea is the object of understanding (Locke E.2.1.2).  All our ideas come from sensation or reflection (our observing mental images). A simple idea is one that has a uniform appearance. A complex idea is composed of simple ideas.

Locke’s substance: combination of simple ideas representing a particular thing capable of subsisting by itself.  A mode is something that cannot subsist by itself. Locke held to a “substratum” underlying all our ideas (E. 2.23.1ff). Locke understands there to be both real essences and nominal essences (i.e., complex ideas). A real essence is the internal constitution of a thing (E 3.3.15).

Problem for post-Lockean nominalists: there are mind-independent cases of “resemblances” between entities.  Resemblance is a universal. Two particulars agree because they have a “property” in common. The German mathematician Gottlob Frege delivers the killing blow: if the meaning of our words were identical to subjective entities like ideas, which only we can access, then communication is impossible.

The Second Treatise of Government

Law of Nature. Principle of self-ownership: nobody has a right to but himself.  This is Locke’s famous view of “self-ownership.” It’s not entirely the same as what modern libertarians teach.  We don’t have the right to suicide, for that would violate God’s own property-rights. Similar arguments could be made against prostitution, pornography, and illicit sex (and other libertarian talking points).

The problem:  given Locke’s strict conditions for knowledge, are there any knowable sanctions for non-compliance with the law of nature?  Another problem is that in “Toleration” and “Second Treatise” Locke seems to see humans as having identifiable natures. His “Essay” rules out such a claim (E 3.6.37).