Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy Continued

It isn’t fair to criticize this book for not having the same impact that Willard’s earlier books did.  Much of it was published posthumously while other relevant parts simply echoed “worldview concerns.” Good stuff, no doubt, but no different than what Charles Colson said years ago. Nonetheless, there are key areas that shed light for the Christian thinker today.

The thesis of the book follows the title: continuing the Divine Conspiracy by applying Christian knowledge in the marketplace.  Unlike other worldview, “let’s reclaim culture” books, this one actually engages in epistemology.

Any kind of public theology or ministry follows from Plato’s insights on the City. It is the division of labor.  Not everyone in the city can be a “jack-of-all trades.” Public leadership, therefore, recognizes that we divide our labors in the pursuit of goods (51).

Moral Theory

  1. A right action is one that is not wrong (94ff).
    2. An action is right if it is the kind of action a good person would do.
  2. A morally good person cultivates understanding of the various “goods.”

What are goods? “These are things and qualities that represent, illustrate, and point us to what the Good is like” (102).  Goods are “noble and virtuous ways of acting and being in both individual and communal life.”

Knowledge: “the capacity to represent things as they are on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (139). Knowledge gives one authority to speak in an area.

“Take-home points”

*We are participants in God’s grace, not merely passive recipients.  Willard, though not Reformed, isn’t saying this in a “see my good works for salvation” sense.  We are coworking with God in his programme for the world (21).

*Shalom: the enduring, “encompassing experience and expectation of restful, secure, holistic wellbeing” (30).

Justice: simply, the greater good (Plato). It is shown and understood by the consequences of its presence (49).

“I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.”

~Captain Nathan Hale, 1776


Knowing Christ Today (Dallas Willard)

Thesis: A life of steadfast discipleship to Jesus Christ can be supported only upon assured knowledge of how things are, of the realities in terms of which that life is lived (Willard 7). Correct knowledge gives us secure access to reality.

Interplay between faith and knowledge

What is it to possess knowledge? “We have knowledge of something when we are representing it….as it actually is, on an appropriate basis of thought and experience” (15).

Faith is contrasted with sight, not true knowledge. Faith is always exercised “in an environment of knowledge and is inseparable from it” (20).

Exactly How We Perish for Lack of Knowledge

Sub-thesis: People perish for lack of knowledge because only knowledge permits assured access to reality” (39). While some are saying that “worldview” talk is now dated, it is still inevitable. Willard calls it a “biological necessity for human beings, because we act, whether consciously or not, with reference to a whole (a ‘world’)” (43).

One way we perish is by idolatry. It is a mistake about reality, in that we assign powers to an object that it does not have.

The rest of this chapter is a summary of Renovation of the Heart and The Divine Conspiracy.

Can We Know That God Exists?

Willard gives a simplified version of the Kalam Cosmological argument.

(1) The universe had a beginning (evidence from Big Bang, background radiation, impossibility of traversing an actual infinite, etc.)

(2) It was either (p) produced by nothing or by (q) something that is not physical.

(3) P is false; therefore, q (2; Disjunctive syllogism)

(4) The causal closure principle of the universe is false since it cannot explain the cause of the physical universe (see [1]).

(5) There must be a first member in the causal series.

(6) This cause must have a will since he/it willed to create.

(7) Therefore, the causal system is not merely causal.

The Miraculous, and Christ’s Presence in the World

What is a “natural law?” True, there are regularities in nature, yet these regularities are constantly interrupted even by humans. Willard notes that “common regularities in nature all depend upon certain conditions that lie deeper in reality, and if those conditions are modified, then the regularities are interrupted” (125). A miracle is when the ultimate conditioner modifies the conditions. Therefore, it is not a violation of natural law, whatever that means.

Knowledge of Christ in the Spiritual Life

Here Willard summarizes his work on spiritual disciplines. We are cultivating a “constant receptivity” to the presence of Jesus (156). This list is not exhaustive. We do so by:

(1) solitude and silence.

(2) Fellowship

(3) Prayer

(4) Giving

Knowledge of Christ and Christian Pluralism

What would a Christian pluralism look like? Willard defines it as “a pluralism based upon the generosity and justice of the God revealed in Christ” (170). This raises a problem: if by knowledge of Christ we have secured access to reality, then it seems that others are wrong. Willard heads off that line of reasoning by noting we shouldn’t confuse belief with behavior. I can believe you are wrong and still be a decent human being.

In any case, there is a logical exclusivity about knowledge in general. Pluralism as an ideal is false and unworkable, since various religious traditions make exclusive claims. What is valuable in pluralism, however, is having a proper and friendly attitude towards the so-called “Other.”

A Christian take on true pluralism (!) would imply something like the following:

(1) Agape love for everyone.

(2) God will treat everyone justly.

(3) Willard is *not* saying people from other religions *will* be saved apart from Christ.

(4) Yet, God probably won’t cackle maniacally as he watches people on the barbeque pit.

My only real concern is Willard’s exegesis of “no other name.” He says it is in the context of meaning “no other access to God’s kingdom power–resulting in the previous miracle–except through Jesus’ name.” I certainly believe that is a true proposition. I just don’t see how it changes the original meaning.

This book is a good snapshot on Christian epistemology. It is, however, not a text on epistemology. Willard shows the importance of Christianity as a knowledge-tradition and that we have access to it. But he doesn’t deal with the basic problems of epistemology.

This book isn’t as good as Renovation of the Heart, but it is better than Divine Conspiracy. It’s on par with Hearing God

Review: Thinking in Tongues

This is from James KA Smith’s earlier days, before he became NPR’s token Christian thinker.  This book is actually good, which pains me to say.  Smith seems unbalanced in many ways since writing this book.  I think it is Trumpphobia or something.

Thesis: Pentecostal worldview offers a distinct way of being-in-the-world (Smith 25). Embodied practices carry within them a “tacit understanding” (27).

Is a Pentecostal Philosophy Possible?

Much of the chapter deals with the relationship between theology and philosophy.   The difference is one of field, not “faith basis” (Smith 4).  Smith gives us Five Aspects of a Pentecostal Philosophy:

  1. radical openness to God, or God’s doing something fresh.  
  2. An “enchanted” theology of creation and culture.   Smith means that we see reality not as self-enclosed monads, but realizing that principalities and powers are often behind these.  this entails spiritual warfare.  I cringe at terms like “enchanted” because it’s more postmodern non-speak, but Smith (likely inadvertently) connected “enchanted” with demons, which is correct.
  3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and spirituality.  Smith defines “dualism” as not denigrating materiality.   Fewer and fewer Christians today do this, so I am not sure whom his target is.  Even chain-of-being communions like Rome that officially denigrate embodiment say they really don’t mean it.
  4. Affective, narrative epistemology.   
  5. Eschatological orientation towards mission and justice.

God’s Surprise

Some hermeneutics: Smith rightly notes that “The Last Days” (per Acts 2) is connected with “today” ( 22; we accept this model in eschatology but abandon it in pneumatology).  Smith wryly notes that Acts 2:13 is the first proto-Daniel Dennett hermeneutics:  offering a naturalistic explanation for inexplicable phenomena (23).   

Following Martin Heidegger, Smith suggests two kinds of knowing: wissen and verstehen, justified, true belief and understanding.  The latter is tacit and is at the edges of conscious action.

Per the dis-enchanted cosmos, Smith astutely points out that “There is a deep sense that multiple modes of oppression–from illness to poverty–are in some way the work of forces that are not just natural” (41).  In other words, spiritual warfare assumes a specific, non-reductionist cosmology.

Promising Suggestions

“What characterizes narrative knowledge?” (65)  

  1. a connection between narrative and emotions
    1. Narratives work in an affective manner
    2. The emotions worked are themselves already construals of the world
  2. There is a “fit” between narrative and emotion

There is a good section on Pauline-pneumatological accounts of knowing (68ff).  Anticipating Dooyeweerd, Paul critiques the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought (Rom. 1:21-31; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) and that the Spirit grants access to the message as “true.”  

While I found his chapter on epistemology inadequate, he does say that we know from the “heart” as embodied, rational beings (58).  This isn’t new to postmodernism, but is standard Patristic epistemology.  

A Pentecostal Ontology

This section could have been interesting.  Smith wants to argue that pentecostalism sees an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside.  He makes this argument because he wants pentecostalism to line up with the insights from Radical Orthodoxy.

I have between 50-75 pentecostal relatives who “embody pentecostal spirituality.”  I promise you that none of them think like this or are even capable of thinking like that.  I do not disparge them, simply because I am not to sure Smith’s project at this point is really coherent.  He wants to reject methodological naturalism (rightly) but argues for his own version of supernatural naturalism.

If Smith is successful, then he can show that pentecostalism lines up with quantum mechanics.  Okay.  Thus, nature is “en-Spirited” (103).  While I have problems with his “suspended materiality” ontology, Smith makes some interesting points: miracles are not “add-ons.”  They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (104).  

That’s good.  I like it.

Tongues as speech-act.

We are considering “tongue-speech” as a liminal case in the philosophy of language (122).  Exegetical discussions are important (and ultimately determinative), but we can’t enter them here.  Smith wants to argue that tongues (T₁) resists our current categories of language and emerges as resistance to cultural norms.  I think there is something to that.

 T₁ as Phenomenology

There is a difference between signs as expression (Ausdruck) and those that do not mean anything (indications, Anzeigen).  Ausdruck is important as it means something, whereas Anzeigen serves as a pointer (127, Smith is following E. Husserl).  Husserl even notes that there can be signs that are not Ausdrucken nor Anzeigen.  This turns on the question: can signs which do not express anything nor point to anything be modes of communication?  

As many critics of Husserl note, his account of speech links communication with intention, so he has to answer “no” to the above question.  Or maybe so.  What kind of speech can there be that is not bound up with inter-subjective indication?  Husserl (and Augustine!) suggest the interior mental life.  Thus, signs in this case would not point to what is absent.  

Tongues as Speech-Act Attack

Utterances (of any sort) are performative.  While such utterance-acts do convey thoughts, sometimes their intent is far more. Let’s take tongues-speak as ecstatic, private language.  What does the pray-er mean to do?  We can easily point to an illocutionary act of praying in groans too deep for words.  We can also see a perlocutionary act: God should act in response.

Tongues as Politics

Oh boy.  Smith wants to say that tongues is a speech-act against the powers that be.  I like that.  I really do.  I just fear that Smith is going to mislocate the powers.  He begins by drawing upon neo-Marxist insights (147). However, without kowtowing fully to Marx, he does point out that Marx has yielded the historical stage to the Holy Ghost.

Tongues-speech begins as “the language of the dispossessed” (149).  This, too, is a valid sociological insight.  The chapter ends without Smith endorsing Marxism, which I expected him to do.  While we are on a charismatic high, I will exercise my spiritual gift of Discerning the Spirits.”  The reason that many 3rd World Pentecostals are “dispossessed” is because they are in countries whose leaders serve the demonic principality of Marxist-Socialism.  Let’s attack that first before we get on the fashionable anti-capitalism bandwagon.

(No, am not a capitalist.  At least not in the sense that Smith uses the word)

*Smith, as is usual with most postmodernists, gets on the “narrative” bandwagon.  There’s a place for that, but I think narrative is asked to carry more than it can bear.  In any case, it is undeniable that Pentecostals are good storytellers.  Smith wants to tie this in with epistemology, but he omits any discussion from Thomas Reid concerning testimony as basic belief, which would have strengthened his case.

Possible Criticisms

Smith (rightly) applauds J. P. Moreland’s recent embrace of kingdom power, but accuses Moreland of still being a “rationalist” (6 n14, 13n26).  Precisely how is Moreland wrong and what is the concrete alternative?  Smith criticizes the rationalist project as “‘thinking’ on a narrow register of calculation and deduction” (54).  Whom is he criticizing: Christians or non-Christians?  It’s not clear, and in any case Moreland has come under fire for saying there are extra-biblical, non-empirical sources of knowledge and reality (angels, demons, etc).  

Smith then argues that all rationalities are em-bodied rationalities.  That’s fine.  I don’t think this threatens a Reidian/Warrant view of knowledge.  Perhaps it does threaten K=JTB.  I don’t know, since Smith doesn’t actually make the argument.  Smith makes a good argument on the “heart’s role” in knowing, yet Moreland himself has a whole chapter on knowing and healing from the heart in The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Moreland 2006).

Smith elsewhere identifies aspects of rationality as the logics of “power, scarcity, and consumption,” (84) but I can’t think of a serious philosopher who actually espouses this.

Elsewhere, Smith says Christian philosophy should be “Incarnational” and not simply theistic (11).  What does that even mean?  Does it simply mean “Begin with Jesus”?  Does it mean undergirding ontology with the Incarnation, per Col. 1:17?  That’s actually quite promising, but I don’t think Smith means that, either.  So what does he mean?

Is Smith a coherentist?  I think he is.  He hints at good criticisms of secularism, but points out “that the practices and plausibility structures that sustain pentecostal (or Reformed or Catholic or Baptist or Moonie–JBA) have their own sort of ‘logic’,” a logic that allows Christians to play, too (35).  But even if coherentism holds–and I grant that Smith’s account is likely true, it doesn’t prove coherentism is true.  All coherentism can prove is doxastic relations among internal beliefs, but not whether these beliefs are true.  Of course, Smith would probably say I am a rationalist.

In his desire to affirm materiality, Smith seems to say that any religious materiality is a good materiality.  Smith approvingly notes of Felicite’s clinging to feasts and relics (36).  It’s hard to see how any one “Materiality” could be bad on Smith’s account.  But this bad account is juxtaposed with some good observations on the book of Acts (38) and tries to connect the two.

*Smith says that “postmodernism takes race, class, and gender seriously” because it takes the body seriously (60).  This is 100% false.  If facebook is a true incarnation (!) of postmodernity, may I ask how many “gender/sexual preference” options facebook has?  I rest my case.

*Smith waxes eloquently on the Pentecostal “aesthetic” (80ff), which is basically a repeat of his other works, but one must ask, “How does faith come per Romans 10?”

*Smith doesn’t miss an opportunity to criticize “rationalism” for separating beliefs and faith/practice, yet Smith himself seems mighty critical of those who focus on “beliefs” in their philosophy of religion (111).  Sure, most post-Descartes philosophy of religion is overy intellectual, but I do think the Reidian/Plantingian Epistemology model, integrates belief and faith-practice.


Review of Frame’s Western Philosophy

This review is dedicated to Kevin Johnson.

I won’t give a whole review of each thinker in this book.  I’ve done some of that here.

What new material can a survey of Philosophy cover? I was wrong.  Frame’s text has numerous ‘lagniappe’ that you won’t find in other texts (links to audio, references to modern Reformed thinkers, etc).  In other words, it’s fun. But more importantly, it’s conducive to piety.  Frame defines theology as the application, by persons, of God’s word to all of life (Frame 4).  Sure, there is a Kuyperian thrust and that can be abused, but on the whole I appreciate it.

He reduces metaphysical discussions to: Is reality One, Many, or Both?  (Hint: It’s both). *God is absolute tri-personality (16-17).  He relates to his creation in terms of Lordship.  Lordship is explained as authority (normative), control, and presence.

I think this is a good move, but there is a subtle anti-substance metaphysic involved.  Substance metaphysics would usually say that reality is “cut at the joints,” meaning a universe of parts, whole, etc.  That’s fine as far as it goes and few would disagree.  Traditionally, though, that concept would get applied to God.

Frame (perhaps subconsciously) does not allow that.  We aren’t now speaking of God’s transcendence in a way that he is spatially “above” or separated from the universe (though certainly not identical with it).  The language is no longer spatial, but covenantal.

Perspectives on Human Knowledge

*Our knowledge is related to God in 3 ways (19):

  1. Control (our situation governed by his providence)
  2. Authority (what God reveals in his Word and Creation)
  3. Presence (Covenant)

Frame’s account is light on early philosophy and focuses more on early modern and recent philosophy.  

His thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology. Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)? Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

After the Enlightenment, Frame makes the rather strange suggestion that the two worst heresies the church faced are Deism and Liberalism (220).  I…um…don’t know about that.  But it does explain much of the book.  He defines liberal as anyone who doesn’t submit to the authority of Scripture (216ff).  This definition of liberalism is very important for Frame’s text and it allows him to misinterpret a number of key thinkers.

Frame has a magnificent chapter on Kant and Hegel.  Without explaining Kant’s philosophy, it allows Frame to make another important observation: the conservative drift in liberal theology.  Liberals began to use more conservative language while retaining liberal constructs.

His chapter on Barth is just bad.  I’ve blogged on it elsewhere.  His take on Pannenberg is slightly better, though ruined by Frame’s definition of liberal theology.  Pannenberg is not a liberal just because he doesn’t hold to inerrancy.  

But when Frame sticks to material in which he is an acknowledged authority, such as linguistic analysis, he shines. The chapters on Russell and Wittgenstein were outstanding.  He ends his text with a survey of recent Evangelical theologians.


Should you buy this text?  I think so.  It has a number of drawbacks and he only rarely engages in more than a surface-level analysis, but it is better than most one-volume treatments.  Frame includes annotated bibliographies, pictures, diagrams, and links to audio lectures.  


Frame: Medieval Philosophy

Frame draws heavily from Leithart’s essay on medieval philosophy.  It is a standard treatment in many ways, starting with Boethius and ending with the nominalists.


Since we are temporal, this means we lose some of our being as time passes.  Not so with God (124).  Boethius takes the chain of being ontology and applies it to time.

His definition of person is problematic:  A person is an individual substance of a rational nature.  As Frame says, “If each person is a substance, then the whole Trinity is one substance and three substances” (125).


Standard summary of his arguments.  Tries to make him a presuppositionalist.  The best we can say is that Anselm presupposes the dogma of the church.   Within that he can use reason and not Scripture.

Towards Scholasticism: Avicenna, Maimonides, Averoes

Heavy influence of neo-Platonism.  Creation is seen as an eternal act of God, not an event in the beginning of time (141).


Standard treatment.  Quite fair to him.  Frame has a fascinating footnote on p.150.  Many traditional theologians say we can know the “who” of God, but not his essence.  Greek theologians denied we could know the essence because in Greek philosophy knowing was a form of dominatingAbsolute knowledge erases differance. One who has the concept of “a thing” has the thing.  Concept is domination.  Knowledge is knowledge only insofar as it “seizes” the thing and has complete certainty.  

It is not surprising, then, that Christian theologians say we can’t know God’s essence.  We certainly cannot bring God under our domination as a thing.  But this raises a problem:  why is Christian discourse obligated to define knowledge this way?

Let’s completely disregard the above def. of knowledge.  Why not rather say with the better moments of the tradition that knowing presupposes–at least in some cases–a loving bond between subject and object?

Intro to Warranted Charismatic Belief

I typed these around May.   Never got around to finishing the argument for time reasons.   Still, maybe these notes will flesh out some stuff.

With proper acknowledgment to Alvin Plantinga on the title.  In reading modern Protestant criticisms of “kingdom power” (or continuationism) and ironically Eastern Orthodox criticisms of Protestantism’s sola scriptura, I have seen a strange alliance: both sides operate with a similar understanding of Sola Scriptura.   This understanding goes as follows:

(~1) The Bible is the only source of theological knowledge.

Traditionally, however, Protestantism has taught:

(1) The Bible is the final authority/source of knowledge.

In this essay I plan to show why (~1) is self-destructive for Protestants and advance a claim of “Warranted Charismatic Belief” (WChaB) that will allow a belief in Sola Scriptura immune to TradCathOx Defeaters.  If WChaB obtains, Protestants will have to abandon their typical arguments against Jesus’s Kingdom Power.


I.  What is Warrant?

I.1 Problem of Criterion

I.2. Degrees of warrant

II.  Inadequate understandings of Sola Scriptura

III. Defeaters to (~1)

IV. A Way Forward

I.  Warrant.

Do you know? Do you know that you know?  Do you know that you know that you know?  What is the criterion of knowledge? Knowledge is typically defined as “justified, true belief” (k=JTB). It’s a helpful definition.  I know something if I believe it to be true and have proper reasons for believing it to be true.  Developments in epistemology about 50 years ago cast some doubt upon that definition.  Those are Gettier Problems.  I don’t think they full refuted k=JTB. They did show some difficulties, though, and it allowed thinkers to use the concept of “warrant” to explore new avenues of justification.

What is warrant?  According to Plantinga,

To have warrant, a belief must also be such that the purpose of the module of the epistemic faculties producing the belief is to produce true beliefs. Finally, the design plan of the faculties in question must be a good one; that is, that there be a substantial objective probability that a belief of that sort produced under those conditions is true (Plantinga 395).

Warrant differs from justification (and k=JTB) because the knower is not obligated to satisfy “duties of belief.” Such duties mean I am obligated to believe according to the evidence or to give reasons to satisfy some criterion of duty.  I believe these approaches are fraught with danger.

I. 1 Problem of Criterion

In short, I am not obligated to keep on giving justifications for my beliefs (which in turn will force me to give justifications for my justifications, and on to infinity).  Will this satisfy the atheist?  Probably not.  But it should force the theist, particularly the Orthodox and Reformed theist to take notice.  Here is how it is relevant to the Charismatic debate.  After “TRs” go on about how the miraculous has ceased, I tell them that God has given me “words of knowledge.”   Their first response is along the lines of Luke Skywalker,

Then they will ask, “Well how do you know it was from God?”  This is known as the problem of criterion.  On one level it needs to be answered (and I can provide an answer) but more importantly, it is not a sufficient enough objection to overturn my position.  Here’s how.  If I am to know how I know something, I must have both an object of knowledge (p, word of wisdom in this case) and a criterion to validate p (we will call q.).  I must also have something else: r, the fact that p satisfies q.

But this raises a problem.  One can now ask “How do you know q and r?”  What justifies my choosing this as a criterion?  I must now satisfy the conditions with q’ and r’.   But that isn’t good enough.  How do I know q’ and r’?  I must now satisfy those new conditions with q” and r”.

But to point towards an answer: I had asked God a question (which was kind of personal and doesn’t concern you) and immediately, before I had a chance to reflect on anything, a distinct proposition was in my head.  The proposition glorified God, attacked Satan’s kingdom, and furthered my trust in Jesus. If that isn’t a sufficient criterion, nothing is.

I.2 Degrees of Warrant

Not all beliefs are equally powerful, and it is here where the apologetic against TradCathOx begins.  I can hold one belief stronger than I hold another.  For example, the testimonium Spiritus sancti internum is a stronger control-belief than my take on historic premillennialism.  Further, God’s speech-act is a stronger belief than the canon of Scripture.

II.  Inadequate Understandings of Sola Scriptura

(And here is where my notes leave off.  At this point I will attack some recent Reformed understandings of Sola Scriptura that tend to equate the Bible with Knowledge.  Not surprisingly, Orthodox and Roman Catholics have a field day).


Plantinga, Alvin.  “Precis of Warrant: The Current Debate and Warrant and Proper Function.”  Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LV, No.2, June 1995.

A Reidian Internalist?

Thomas Reid is seen as the predecessor to Alvin Plantinga.  The latter holds to a “warrant” view of epistemology:  I don’t have to justify endless justifications for foundational beliefs.  Plantinga draws heavily from Reid.

Yet here is a thought:  can one hold to an internalist epistemology (knowledge = justified, true belief) and incorporate many of Reid’s insights?  I think one certain can on issues like anthropology and the will.

Retractare: Justified, True Belief

Alvin Plantinga has been my favorite philosopher.  Few can write like he.  I’ve long been impressed with his warrant trilogy.  With that said, I think I now understand the problems with warrant and externalism.  At the moment I lean closer to “Justified, true belief.”  But I also think that internalism/externalism can exist on a continuum.