Review: Horton, Covenant and Salvation

Horton attempts to give a full-orbed defense of Reformed soteriology, utilizing current scholarship, identifying potential weaknesses, and communicating this in a new and cogent manner. And he has largely succeeded.

Similar to other projects, Horton places salvation within a covenantal framework, drawing largely upon the findings of Meredith Kline. In short, Horton posits a “Tale of Two Mothers,” referring to Galatians 4. After a brief discussion of Ancient Near Eastern Suzerain Treaties, Horton shows that God’s promise to Abraham was unilateral, involving no stipulations nor any potential sanctions on Abraham. This continues through the Davidic covenant and finds its fulfillment in Christ. The Sinaitic covenant, on the other hand, is specifically sanction-oriented. The difference between these two covenants is crucial to Horton’s later argument. Horton asserts: “The deepest distinction in Scripture is not between Old and New Testament, but between covenants of law and covenants of promise that run throughout both” (17).

Horton then responds to the New Perspective on Paul. Contrary to the myths about Lutheran re-readings, Horton demonstrates from Sanders’ own findings that the 2ndTemple Rabbis (and probably Sanders himself) were semi-Pelagian. If they were semi-Pelagian, as Sanders’ own writings attest, then the “Lutheran” critique isn’t eisegesis at all. Horton then advances an interesting critique of N. T. Wright. Horton points out that Wright conflates the Sinaitic and Davidic covenants. So when the covenant “climaxes” for God’s people, is it the covenant of promise (David) or the covenant of bondage and death (Sinai, Galatians 3-4)?

Horton has a sharp section on justification and imputation. Justification, on Horton’s gloss, is not a legal fiction because Christ is the covenant-head, and if the justified are “in Christ,” then they possess his covenant status (105). Horton shows that a lot of Wright’s arguments on covenant and salvation, while sometimes shedding helpful light on the issues, really don’t make sense outside Palestine. When the Philippian jailer asks what he must do to be saved, is he really talking about the end of national Israel’s exile? If works of the law mean ethnic markers, then why is Paul accused of antinomianism?

The second part of the book deals with different ontologies. Contrary to the Radical Orthodoxy group, Horton posits a “Covenantal Ontology” which is focused on “meeting a stranger” rather than “overcoming estrangement.” The latter is an application of almost all descendants of Platonic ontologies of anti-bodiement.

Covenantal Ontology: The pactum salutis is the intra-Trinitarian covenant made in eternity. It is realized in the biblical covenants. See also pp. 182-186.

Horton notes that Radical Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism presuppose something along the following lines: overcoming estrangement. By this he means a paradigm that promises enlightenment and a liberation of nature beyond itself (155).

EXCURSUS: A RESULT OF A PLATONIC SWALLOWING-UP?
Several times throughout this book Horton advances a critique of Platonic Divine Simplicity, but never calls it such. He has a section on John Milbank and offers a full-orbed convincing critique of Milbank. As readers of Milbank know, he is strongly committed to the neo-Platonic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity. To put the matter briefly, such a view of simplicity negates or mutes distinctions. Horton then goes on to say, “As speculative metaphysics (specifically ontological participation) swallows up the horizon, Christology is swallowed by ecclesiology, and redemptive mediation has to do with overcoming metaphysical binaries (finite/infinite, material/spiritual,invisible/visible, corporeal/incorporeal, temporal/eternal, and so forth) rather than ethical and eschatological ones (sin/grace, death/life, condemnation/justification…this age/age to come” (165. /END EXCURSUS

The book ends with placing the traditional Reformed ordo in a communicative context. Horton wants to avoid some of the hang-ups the Reformed scholastics had when they used medieval categories to challenge Rome. Instead, Horton argues we should use communicative categories, which makes sense since Christ is the Word. Horton suggests we should see effectual calling as a speech-act whereby God creates a new reality. This isn’t that bad a suggestion, since it mutes the charge that Calvinism forces a God who forces the unbeliever’s will. God does no such thing. Rather, he creates a situation, renewing the will (does renewal = violence? I hope not, 223). Throughout Scripture we see the Spirit “bringing things to life, into existence” (Ezekiel 37). Is it so hard to imagine he can do this to the human will?

Interestingly, at the end of the book Horton employs the essence/energies distinction to critique a number of non-Reformed position. Even more, he draws upon Reformed scholastics who evidently employed something like it.

Horton has done heroic work. Milbank had offered a very challenging critique of Reformed ontology. Horton meets it head-on and and redirects it. He gives the most convincing (and charitable) critique of N.T. Wright.

Bible Commentary Survey

I will update this as I read more commentaries.  I will also make it a side page.

Rating: * – *****

Commentary Sets

Of course, I haven’t read every page of every set, so I am not giving singular judgments, but I think I can capture the overall tenor.

The Macarthur Bible Commentary.  I’m not a huge fan of Macarthur and you will find both strengths and weaknesses.  Each commentary is a glorified word-study. Still, the sections are well-divided.

Calvin’s Commentaries.  Harmonizes the Pentateuch, which is a huge weakness.  Still, Calvin paid attention to the original languages and his arguments, even where I think he is wrong, are always thoughtful.  I think his sermons are better.

Pentateuch as a Whole

Brueggeman and Kaiser.  Genesis to Exodus. New Interpreter’s Bible. Brueggeman has his insights from time to time, but his project is unstable.  Kaiser, of course, is outstanding. ***

Sailhamer, John.  Pentateuch as Narrative. Good in gaining an overall flow, hence the title.  Sailhamer doesn’t go into his views on creation in much detail. ***

Genesis

Bede.  Homilies on Genesis 1-3.  Ancient Christian Texts.  Great for historical value, but no exegesis.

Hamilton, Victor. New International Commentary on Genesis.  Eerdmans.  2 volumes. Good overall commentary.  Gently pushes back against Wellhausen.

North, Gary.  Genesis: The Dominion Covenant.  Zero exegesis but excellent suggestions on apologetics.

Exodus

Numbers

Wenham, Gordon.  Numbers.  Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.  Excellent rebuttal to JEDP. Sound elsewhere.  *****

1 and 2 Samuel

Leithart, Peter.  A Son to Me. Canon Press.  Very good treatment on background and biblical theology. Light on exegesis.

1 and 2 Kings

Leithart, Peter.  1 and 2 Kings. Brazos Theological Commentaries.  Similar to his work on Samuel. Good for pastoral application but needs to be supplemented.

Job

Vanderwaal, Cornelis.  Job – Song of Solomon.  More of a survey than a commentary but excellent nonetheless.

Jeremiah

Brueggeman, Walter.  A Commentary on Jeremiah: Homecoming and Exile.  While I have problems with Brueggemann, he does a fine job in handling the textual issues.

Zechariah

Klein. Zechariah. New American Commentary. Good treatment on background and good exegesis. Takes a gently premillennial approach to chapter 14.

NEW TESTAMENT

Mark

Horne, Mark. The Victory According to Mark. Canon Press.  Excellent treatment on typology and biblical theology.  Not as heavy on exegesis.

Acts

Bruce, F. F.  New International Commentary on Acts.  Eerdmans.  A true classic.  Somewhat dry reading but I can’t think of a better commentary at the moment.  Keener’s will eclipse it in time.

Romans

Moo, Douglas.  New International Commentary on Romans. Replaced Murray.  Deals with the earlier treatments of the New Perspective on Paul.  Somewhat unique take on Romans 7, but otherwise outstanding.

Murray, John.  New International Commentary on Romans. The 20th century classic.  While it has been surpassed by Moo, it still should be consulted.  

Wright, N. T. Romans.  New Interpreter’s Bible. Marvelously well-written.  Somewhat hamstrung by his so-called New Perspective.  

Galatians

George, Timothy. Galatians. NAC. Sound Reformational approach.  Worth looking into but nothing earthshaking.

Silva, Moises. Interpreting Galatians.  Not strictly a commentary, but an excellent guidebook on some of the exegetical difficulties.

Revelation

Barclay, William.  Revelation.  Well-written and Barclay’s unbelieving presuppositions don’t play too big a role.  Good on history but fairly weak beyond that.

Beale, Gregory.  Revelation.  I haven’t read it, but by all accounts the best commentary on Revelation.

Caird, G. B. Romans.  International Critical Commentary.  Caird was the archetypal British scholar.  Very strong in argument but fairly limited and dated at points.

Keck, Leander (ed). Hebrews-Revelation New Interpreter’s Bible.  I don’t know if Keck was the actual contributor to Revelation.  The book wasn’t any good. Had a bizarre fixation with William Blake.  Get Beale or Mounce instead.

Keener, Craig. Revelation. Life Application Commentary. Very good on background issues. Sound treatment of the text.  Takes a mild historic premil approach. Some odd suggestions on applications.

 

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: Justification, God’s Plan (Wright)

I wrote this in 2011.  I don’t think everything Wright said is correct, but we should definitely go with the idea of righteousness as covenant faithfulness.

This is Tom Wright’s response to John Piper’s recent work on justification, and we can think Piper for writing that work: without his work Wright would not have written this one. As most know, Wright has been accused in the past fifteen years of denying justification by faith, attacking the Reformed tradition, and microwaving kittens. Granted, most accusations that Wright has “denied the gospel” are meaningless (for when is the gospel not at stake for Reformed bloggers?). However, there are some serious “old perspective” rebuttals to Wright, and Piper’s is one of them.

While I have not read Piper’s actual work, I’ve read most of his other works, including his major work on “God’s Righteousness,” which is a prominent theme in this debate (Piper, 1993). What many do not realize, however, is that Wright considers himself a Calvinist (!), advancing and improving Reformed themes. In this review we will outline Wright’s major arguments, see whether he is indeed faithful to the Reformed traditions, and offer some tentative ways through the current debate.

Wright agrees with the truths behind traditional Reformed claims about soteriology, but he notes that Reformed have been unable (or even reluctant!) to apply these in a broader cosmic vision. His main problem with Reformed formulations is that they simply dead-end.

Wright gives a brief summary of his project, seeing the 1st century Jews, per Josephus, as living in a continuous narrative, which stretched back to earliest times and would have a climactic moment of fulfillment (Wright 2009: 59). He points the reader to Daniel 9, where the “righteous” God is said to “keep covenant” (Daniel 9:4). Further, God is righteous in terms of this covenant (vv. 11-14, echoing Deuteronomy 27-30). Therefore—and this is something the reader familiar with the debate should see coming—God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness.

Contra Piper, God’s righteousness is not “God’s concern for his own glory.” Hardly anyone in any tradition takes this view, and even J. I. Packer comes to a different view (65).

Supposing one accepts Wright’s denotation, can we assume that Paul even worked with a covenant theology? For Reformed people, this should not even be up for debate. Granted, Piper is a Baptist and isn’t concerned to defend covenant theology (at least by Reformed standards), but it is a question worth considering: did Paul structure his theology around the covenant(s)? The main argument to the contrary is that Paul (and the New Testament) rarely uses the word diatheke, or any of its cognates. True, but can we still see a covenant theology at structure?

The Jews saw themselves living in a continuous narrative, as noted before. The focus of this narrative was Abraham (Gen. 15, 17, and Deuteronomy 27-30). Given Second Temple Judaism (hereafter 2TJ), this story is seen moving forward. Paul rethinks this whole framework around the person of Christ (95-96). We see specific examples of this in Galatians 3. Verse 17 makes it clear that Paul is referring to the Abrahamic covenant. Galatians 3 and Romans 4 are similar; in both cases Paul is appealing to God’s covenantal actions with Abraham.

If Paul is using covenantal theology, then this provides the best context to interpret the arguments concerning God’s righteousness, and ultimately justification. Further, covenant is social in character, which means justification will also have a social dimension.

Interesting, the first time Paul uses the word “justification” he is not using it in a law-court context, but at a dinner table. Justification does concern who is a member of God’s covenant. Justification primarily means we are members of God’s family and have a right to table fellowship.

Further, “works of the law” means “living like a Jew” (Galatians 2:14-15). It does not mean abstract good deeds through which one gains merit, only to see that we are justified by not-merit. Galatians 2:16 must be read in the context of Galatians 2:11-15 (117).

Summary of the review so far (cf. Wright, 133-136):

The promises God made to Abraham were a covenant (Gen 15 = Gal. 3:15, 17). The Abrahamic covenant had in view the liberation of man from the plight of Gen. 3-11. This overall context compels us to understand Paul’s use of dikaios in terms of membership in God’s family. One’s covenant status, therefore, is “righteousness.” God creates a status of “having been declared in the right.” It does not mean God infuses virtue or imputes the righteousness of the judge onto the defendant(!).

Per Romans 1:17 Wright argues that “righteousness” refers to God’s own and reflects his faithfulness to the covenant (180). To understand Romans Wright suggests that Paul’s theology of justification hinges own two poles: eschatology and spirit (189). The judgment in Romans 2:1-16 is a future judgment. The future verdict will correspond to the present one, which (per 3:21-26) is issued on the basis of faith. This happens via the Spirit (Rom. 8:1; 2-27). “Doing the law” in 2:13 should refer to 8:5-8. This points to 10:5-13, where doing the Torah spoken of in Leviticus is explained in terms of Deuteronomy 30, and further in terms of Joel 2:32, the passage about the outpoured spirit (190).

Justification is an act of God that brings about the new situation in terms of the law court. This act of justification enables God to deal with the problem of relationship, reconciliation (225-226).

Wright offers a few other conclusions as well. If one wants to maintain the “imputation” language, then it is fair to say that Christ’s death and resurrection is reckoned to the believer (Wright, 233. Cf. Romans 6:6-11). Further, given the law-court scenario of Judaism, it is quite bizarre to speak of “imputed righteousness.” That’s not the way the lawcourt metaphor works. The judge does not impute his own moral character to the defendant (especially in America, where the judges are usually the most corrupt ones in the room!). The judge simply declares “this one is in the right.”

Conclusion:

Wright makes a persuasive case. And though he clearly wins the debate, he is gentle about it. He really wants to maintain what the Reformed tradition sought contra Rome. He is offering exegesis that steers clear of many dead-ends, and contra to being a novelty, he shows how his view incorporates the best of other traditions as well.

On the other hand, I’m not sure why Wright wants to claim he is in the Reformed tradition. He rejects most of the key distinctive. His chapter on Romans 9 is one of the most thorough arguments against unconditional election. But that’s his call. I think he pulled punches as well.

References

Piper, John. The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9: 1-23. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993.

The Lord and His Prayer (Wright)

This book *is* NT Wright in every sense of the word. And it also seems to be every NT Wright book. For Wright, the so-called Lord’s Prayer is not an updated spirituality to help you be more pious or something. It is Jesus. It is signing on to what Jesus is all about.

Wright gives a lucid summary of every clause in the prayer. In short, when we call God “Father” we are placing ourselves in Israel’s salvation-history (Ex. 4.22-23; 2 Sam. 7:14; Isaiah 55:3). It is saying “The Kingdom of God” (Wright 20).

When we ask for his kingdom to come, we are pointing to the New Exodus (Is. 52:7). Yahweh is returning to his people. His section on “thy will be done” has some great pointers on the physical aspect of prayer, as praying for our daily bread anchors the prayer in practical matters. Some advice:
(1) This clause helps us minimize stream-of-consciousness style praying
(2) We should pray for specific needs.
(3) Yet, we should also lift our eyes beyond our needs.
(4) All aspects of the Lord’s Prayer come together in the Eucharist.

In some ways his most important section is on forgiving tresspasses and debts. It’s not that our refusal to forgive places a metaphysical block in front of God, but rather we are removing ourselves from the Kingdom plan. In refusing to forgive we are saying the Kingdom really hasn’t come for us.

The section on debts shouldn’t be surprising: Jesus is the Jubilee (Luke 4). The World Bank is the negation of that.

While many of Wright’s smaller books aren’t as good as his other ones, this one is. He brings it home on every level.

Through Hegel, Fire, and Sword

(With proper acknowledgments to Lewis Ayres for the title).

Consistency in life and doctrine is a mark of the gospel.  The godly man  does not flit from doctrine to doctrine.   That represents an unstable mind.  However, consistency of doctrine is not the same thing as sameness of thought.  God expects us to grow in knowledge.  And there is the danger.  Growing in knowledge means opening ourselves to new situations.  The future is no longer controlled by us.

Have I been consistent in doctrine over the last decade?  Yes and no.  The best way to explain it is by way of an “autobiographical bibliography.”  Books and lectures have more of an impact on me than anything else.   To answer my question I have changed in some ways.  I want to say I stand within the Reformational tradition. Some might question how Reformed I really am.  Fair enough.  

Focal Point #1: N. T. Wright

When I was an undergrad I majored in history and minored in New Testament and Languages.  My school, Louisiana College, was still in captivity to Theological Liberalism.  This is what led me to read N.T. Wright.  In many ways N.T. Wright remained the anchor for the next ten years.  I will go ahead and advance my conclusion:  N.T. Wright and Karl Barth (by means of Bruce McCormack) kept me from fully converting to Eastern Orthodoxy and ultimately brought me back to the Reformational tradition.  

Several points should now be obvious: I was a student of N.T. Wright before I was Reformed.  Therefore, I didn’t leave the Reformed faith for N.T. Wright.  But please do not label me as “New Perspective on Paul.”  It’s a lot more complex than that and there are areas where I think Wright is open to serious critique.  

I graduated from LC in 2005 and went to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS.  It was underwhelming.  I’ve criticized it fairly severely in the past and see no reason to do so again, except to say I learned very little and didn’t begin to read seriously until after I left.  However, I did come across Oliver O’Donovan.

Focal Point #2: Oliver O’Donovan

O’Donovan was by far the most challenging author I have read.  He wrote in dense but glorious prose. But he was a rigorous thinker, bringing the whole of Western ethical reflection to bear upon any single project.  He was also an Anglican steeped into the High Tradition of the church.  

Exile to the Orthodox Lands

I left seminary disillusioned.  While I had made a lot of intellectual mistakes there, academically it was not the best (in terms of actually doing scholarship).  I didn’t want to say that the Reformed faith was wrong, despite RTS’s best efforts to make it so, but I knew there was something more.

For reasons I don’t entirely remember, I was reading Thomas Aquinas as I left seminary.  I had one foot in the door for medieval and patristic theology.  I am not sure how I first heard of John Milbank.  I do remember reading about him in James K. A. Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy.  This was late 2006, early 2007.

There is a lot wrong with Radical Orthodoxy, but there is a lot right–and a lot that is just plain fun.  So what that they over-interpreted Aquinas as a Neo-Platonist?  They got all the right people in academia angry, and that is good.  For me they introduced me not only to a wider world of theology but also to ask different–deeper–questions of church history.

I dove right in.  And made mistakes.  But I also latched on to key points: how Christology shapes everything.  (Some Eastern Orthodox guys played that card as a front to justify going to Eastern Orthodoxy when in reality they wanted smells and bells, but that is another story).  Anyway, I realized that Systematic Theology didn’t have to follow the outline of Berkhof (Berkhof is useful but limited to a certain context, namely a seminary classroom).

Before continuing on the RO line, I should probably address a common criticism:  Did RO read Reformation metaphysics correctly, namely that Western theology took a nominalist turn with Scotus and the Reformation crystallized it?  Obviously, anyone who advances that reading today will be laughed at. So we can say RO was definitely wrong on that point.  Further, not all of Milbank’s criticisms in “Alternative Protestantism” hold water (or at least they might attack Reformation ontology but not where Milbank thinks they do).

This was around 2008-2009.  I was able to read the Fathers without pretending that the Fathers were a complete deposit who taught a unified, identifiable theology across time and space.  Moreover, I was able to honestly say, “St ______ is wrong here.  That’s okay.  I can still benefit from what he says elsewhere.”  Side note:  Remember that stupid facebook meme that has the Nicene Fathers pictured and the caption reads, “So these guys are right about the canon but wrong about everything else?”  The epistemological howlers in that statement are too painful to mention.

Back to the Fathers.  Since I didn’t (at the time) believe the Fathers taught a unified, ahistorical body of truth, that meant I didn’t have to play East and West against each other.  I could say guys like Anselm, Aquinas, and Wycliff were good guys.  And I could benefit from the modern John Wycliff, Oliver O’Donovan.  While some Ecumenist Orthodox guys will speak kindly of the aforementioned gentlemen, technically speaking they are heterodox (or heretics!), so good luck with that one.  The harder-line folks will say that they (and by extension, you and me) are deprived of grace.

Towards the end of 2010 I moved into a harder, Eastward direction.  I never officially became Orthodox.  It wasn’t viable for a number of reasons.  While this meant I accepted Orthodox doctrines like anti-Filoque and icons, the main problem is I had to cut off my theological past.  Another problem is I had to place the Fathers within the received tradition of the church.  This implied a number of cognitively dissonant positions:

  • The Fathers are part of Holy Tradition but I must interpret which Fathers are speaking Orthodoxically by Holy Tradition.  I couldn’t square the circle.  All of the Orthodox problems with Sola Scriptura would come crashing down on Tradition.
  • This meant that the Fathers probably didn’t disagree about “big stuff.”  
  • So what was I supposed to do when I came to issues where the Fathers sounded “Western” or were plain wrong?  

The dissonance was building up.  Move on to the end of 2011. I was beginning to be more “Western” in terms of cultural outlook.  I just didn’t feel right “negating” my Western heritage.  I know that no one was “making” me to do that, but the cultural enclave mentality among a certain denomination is just too overwhelming.  I was by no means Protestant, of course, but possibly Western.

My daughter was born in 2012.  My life was turned upside down and I really had to put theology on the side.  And life was hard–all of which made me reevaluate everything.

By May of 2012 I was firmly in the Protestant, even Reformed camp (again).  From 2012-2015 (now) I have been in the Protestant camp and plan to stay there.  There are problems with Reformed theology–some big ones actually.   But there are also key gains that outweigh the problems and the Reformed tradition can be the Reformational Tradition.

The Federal Vision Problem

One of the difficulties that many of us in seminary faced–difficulties that are concurrent with many of these changes–is the inevitable glut of ideas.  Compounded with that  is that seminaries which are denominationally- or quasi-denominationally affiliated are inadequately prepared to deal with these various theological currents.  If your goal is to churn out “preacher boys,” then many cross-currents of scholarship will drown you.

The Federal Vision controversy was raging when I was in seminary, and I confess I did not always make wise choices.  Federal Visionism itself didn’t really make too much of a connection with me, at least not confessionally and ecclesiologically.  What some FV writers did, however, was weaken the confessional moorings, from which I drifted and began reading outside my tradition.

On one hand that’s healthy.  We shouldn’t seek theological inbreeding.   The problem I faced was that no one was capable of guiding me through these issues.  Once I was jaded enough, combined with a lot of real grievances from said seminary (which I won’t go in here, but they do deal with objective, financial realities), it wasn’t hard to seek out so-called “Christological alternatives to Calvinism.”

Many Eastern Orthodox apologists were saying that we should do all our theology around “Christology.”  Translation: the ancient Christological creeds, if interpreted consistently, will lead one away from Calvinism.    I’ll deal with that claim later.

And so for the next few years I read through–cover to cover–about ten volumes of the Schaff Church Fathers series, as well as most of their leading interpreters.  One of the problems, though, was I was unaware of the high, magisterial Protestant tradition.  Of course I had read Calvin.  Three times, actually.  All the way through, even.  Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the second- and third generation Protestant Scholastics.

I suspect most of us aren’t familiar with them, and how could we be?  The average Evangelical publisher won’t touch these writers.   Banner of Truth, specifically, won’t deal with the uncomfortable aspects of Rutherford, Gillespie, and the Scottish Covenanters.  

Taking the Scholastics Seriously

When I was reading through a lot of Orthodox sources, an argument I kept seeing was that all Western traditions hold to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, which reduces to absurdity; therefore, Protestantism is philosophically absurd.  The problem, though, is that I started to see several things:   a) some fathers held to a similar thesis (Nazianzus, Athanasius), b) some Reformed writers might have held to that thesis, but there wasn’t enough evidence either way to convict them, and c) the Reformed writers who did hold to that thesis had very good reasons for doing so (archetypal/ectypal).

The doctrine of authority was always looming in the background.   Anchorites have several sharp arguments against sola scriptura.  I bought in to some of those arguments, but I had done so without reading the Protestant Scholastic responses to them.   Once I began to see that a) many Protestant Scholastics could not be seen as breaking with the medieval tradition on the canon, and b) the archetypal/ectypal distinction when applied to epistemology, leading to Scripture as the principum cognoscendi, I was then able to embrace sola scriptura with integrity.

Corollary of the above point:  how many convertskii have read Richard Muller?  Once I read Richard Muller I realized that much of what I had been parroting was wrong.  Corollary #2:  How many “Calvinists” in the Gospel Coalition or TG4 have read Muller? Probably the same number.  

The Institutional Problem Reasserted

It is my personal belief that Richard Muller’s four-volume Reformed and Post Reformation Dogmatics will go down as one of the game changers in Reformed historiography.  Unfortunately, most remain unaware.  Bakerbooks should issue this set in singular volumes, better allowing seminaries to use volume one as an introduction to Reformed theology course.  First year seminarians, even the better-read ones, are woefully unprepared.

Barth and Speech-Act

I need to bring this to a close.  So here is where I am now.  I hold to Barth’s view of election.  I hold to it for ontological reasons, though I can point out some exegetical problems with the traditional Reformed and Arminian readings.  But I don’t want to say I am a Barthian.  Why should I?  

Something else happened around 2014:  I discovered Kevin Vanhoozer’s speech-act ontology.  This allowed me to combine the best of traditional metaphysics with Barth’s exalted view of preaching.

I have wandered a bit in my “journey.”  But I never let the anchors. N.T. Wright was too superior a theologian and exegete for me to dismiss him in my hyper-Eastern days.  EO simply had no exegete who could compare with him.  That meant whenever I compared Wright’s analysis with some EO scholars, I usually defaulted to Wright.  That was true in 2008, 2010, and 2015.  

So where was Hegel in all of this?  I’ve been reading Hegel for about six years now. He is so very wrong on so many points, but more people are influenced by him than they realize.  I think Hegel’s discussion of self-positing and self-posited can serve Trinitarian terminology at least on a definitional level.  

The Case for the Psalms (Wright)

In many ways this might be Wright’s best work ever. I had always suspected something like his thesis when I read the Psalms (more on that below) but I couldn’t articulate it. The psalms give us a musical ontology. Wright says the Psalms transform the reader (better yet, the chanter and singer) because they place him or her at the intersection of Space, Time, and Matter–the very place where Jesus of Nazareth is.

The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential

People who pray the psalms will be learning to live in God’s time, space, and “matter” (the stuff we are made of) as well as our own (Wright 27). The psalms resonate with Jesus because he was the one who stood at the intersection of God’s time/space/matter and ours (30).

The threshold of God’s Time:

The ebb and flow in the Psalms teach us an eschatological balance. The theme of time helps us with those instances where we are called to sing of the enthronement of Yahweh’s king (44). And we shouldn’t shrink back from the royalist overtones in our democratic age, for we are called to be his vice-regents.

More specifically, Yahweh also called Israel to care for the world (Genesis 12:3). But given Israel’s failure, God narrows his focus to the House of David. Therefore, the intersection of God’s time with our time–and always with the Davidic King in the foreground–comes into focus in Psalm 89.

Where God Dwells

The “Temple” is where God’s space and our space intersect. If the world’s Creator lives in Jerusalem, then it stands to reason (Ps. 2) that he will rule from Jerusalem.

“The temple turns out to be an advance foretaste of Yahweh’s claim on the whole of creation…It is a sign that the creator God is desiring…to recreate the world from within” (91).
1. The temple is a heaven-and-earth reality, a microcosm of creation.
2. Psalm 24: Yahweh takes up residence in his temple.
3. Temple and Torah are connected and both point ahead to God’s new place.
4. Temple Psalms and Pneumatology: the new Temple is indwelt by the Spirit.
5. Covenant renewal generates fresh idea of sacred space.

All the trees of the forest sing for joy

Western modernity sees matter as lifeless matter. The Psalms, however, see creation throbbing with the potential glory of God. God’s glory either already fills the whole earth or it will fill the earth (124).

This ties in with Covenant and Kingship: the true King will bring justice and peace to the earth, which will renew creation (Psalm 72).

Wisdom and Creation

Psalm 104:19-24 combines themes from Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8. Paul picks up this Wisdom-Creation tradition and places it in Jesus (Colossians 1:15-20, 2.2-3).

Summary of Theme

Time: the past of creation, the future of Judgment, and the present of celebration are drawn together.
Space: what was promised for the Temple is now promised for the whole world.
Matter: we are standing at the fault line of the original material of creation and the glory-filled material of the new creation (144).

Conclusion and Nota Bene:

The book is simply magnificent. I honestly can’t think of a single flaw.

Nota Bene

Wright says at one time in his life when he was witnessing to Gaia-worshiping pantheists, he felt an oppressive darkness and Yahweh gave him deliverance by bringing Psalm 97 (which happened to be the next Psalm in the prayerbook reading) to mind, “Yahweh is King. Let the Earth rejoice!” p. 175