The God We Worship (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015.

I usually get nervous when I read new books about liturgical theology.  The experience reminds me of the old prayer, “Protect us from other people’s good ideas.” Fortunately, this is not Nicholas Wolterstorff’s aim.  He isn’t “renovating” traditional liturgies.  Rather, by bringing all of his philosophical acumen to bear, he explores what we mean by our conceptual statements within worship. 

Wolterstorff defines liturgical theology as “the site where the church, by means of the work of its theologians and philosophers, arrives at a self-understanding of the theology implicit and explicit in its liturgy.”  There is more in this claim than is apparent on its surface. This plays directly not only in the type of God we worship (e.g., his attributes and properties) but in what we are able to say about this God.

God’s excellence: What “grounds” God’s excellence? Wolterstorff suggests it is God’s glory, a theme common in the Psalms.

God’s holiness: for Jonathan Edwards God’s holiness is altogether attractive.  It is “beauty and sweetness.”  It’s certainly that, but when you look at Isaiah 6 that’s not really the picture we see.  No doubt Isaiah thought God beautiful and sweet; nevertheless, in the passage he recoiled.  Barth, on the other hand, says God’s holiness is in the judging actions of God’s love.  Again, that might be true but that’s not what is evident in Isaiah.

Isaiah, by contrast, felt unclean.  God’s holiness is God’s space.

The next chapter is titled “The God Who is Vulnerable.”  This seems like we are already off to a bad start.  Is Wolterstorff denying impassibility?  Is he saying God can suffer?  No.  He isn’t saying God is vulnerable to passions, but that God is vulnerable to being wronged.  Can we wrong God?  Certainly.  Does this mean he is suffering?  I don’t think so. If we are duty-bound to God praise and glory to God, and we refuse to do so, are we not wronging God?

When we praise and speak to God, we are entering into the realm of speech-acts (and also raising the sometimes uncomfortable issue of whether God can respond).  Wolterstorff makes the following claim:

(1) In our liturgy we are addressing God as one who is a listener.

Here we are starting to cut hard against a traditional type of theology, an extreme form of divine simplicity seen in Maimonides and some medieval Christians, that views God as a purely simple essence who can’t listen (or speak) because he already knows all possibilities. If God is the ground of being or the Unconditioned Condition why would he bother responding?  Indeed, it’s doubtful he could speak.

We will return to Maimonides’ bad theology.  For now, we should reflect on what it means to speak.   In speech act theory we have several terms:

Locutionary act: It is raining.  A locutionary act is the sentence.

Illocutionary act: My act of asserting “it is raining.” 

The point is this: my locutionary act, as Wolterstorff points out is perceptible.  You can hear me utter the sentence “It is raining” (or you can see me write it, etc). It functions akin to a universal. My act of making this, my illocutionary act, it’s imperceptible.  What I think Wolterstoff is saying is that my illocutionary act is tied to intentionality.  I am intending to make this statement (and I, in fact, do).  You can’t see my intentionality.  

The relationship between locutionary act and illocutionary act is not causal.  One act doesn’t cause another.  Wolterstorff suggests that the act is a “counting-as” act. “My performance of that locutionary act counts as my illocutionary act.”  This will make more sense when we get to prayer and preaching.

Maimonides, having reduced almost all of the biblical statements about God to anthropomorphisms, had to address the problem of whether God could even hear us.  This is related to but not identical with the Calvinist problem of why pray.  Since God is immaterial and doesn’t have eardrums, can he “hear” our vocal vibrations in the air?  We would say, “He doesn’t need to, since he can see our thoughts.”  True enough, but then why pray aloud at all?

Speech-act theory offers a way of dealing with this issue.  “To speak is not to express some mental state but to perform some illocutionary act,” so Wolterstorff says.  Yes, most of the time the illocutionary act reveals my mental states, but the two aren’t identical.  Strictly speaking whether God can hear my vocal words is irrelevant to the nature of speech, if speech is understood as an illocutionary act. The aim of these acts is that “God will attend to them, grasp them, and respond favorably.”

Pace Maimonides, they aren’t bodily actions.  We perform them by doing something with our bodies.  It doesn’t matter that God doesn’t have ears.  Not even humans can bodily perceive illocutionary acts.  If we say that God listens, we mean that “God attends to and understands imperceptible particulars of a certain sort, namely, illocutionary acts.”

If we say that God listens to our prayer, do we expect him to perform some speech act in response?  Wolterstorff goes on to describe the distinction between analogical predication and analogical extension.  As I understand him, analogical extension is when we use a predicate, “is f,” of something when we use it to say of something that “it possesses the property of either being f or something a good deal like it.”

If I say “My dog is a gem,” I am speaking analogically, meaning my dog is precious. He has little in common with the properties of “gem-ness.” Analogical extension is a bit stronger.  This is what we mean when we say that God “attends to” or “grasps” our prayers.

Having successfully dispatched Maimonides’ first objection, Maimonides (or the tradition he represents) would respond, “Yeah, but does God speak to you?  He doesn’t have vocal cords.” Further, would not God’s speaking (and hence acting in miracle) violate the causal order?

Wolterstorff dodges these questions.  He responds with a fine exposition of the Lord’s Prayer but never really deals with Maimonides.  He does deal with something like it.  God speaks to us in the liturgy via the preaching of the word and the proclamation that our sins are forgiven.  I suppose that deals with one angle of Maimonides’ objection, though it doesn’t address the claim of miracles and the causal order.

Without entering into the cessationist vs. continuationist debate, one line of response would be found in 1 Cor. 12-14 in terms of prophets’ hearing God speak. Of course, Wolterstorff in contrast to Barth deals with Old Testament prophets speaking on behalf of God (this would be similar to a “counting-as” relation).   Further, given what Wolterstorff said earlier about illocutionary acts not being causal, would that not provide a line of response to Maimonides?

Notwithstanding the above observation, this is a fine and unique book on liturgical theology.

In This World of Wonders (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. In This World of Wonders: Memoir of a Life of Learning.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019.

When someone who has mastered a discipline over fifty years speaks of his experiences in that discipline, and if said discipline also overlaps with your interests, you listen when he speaks–even when he is sometimes wrong. Wolterstorff is the model of how one should do rigorous philosophy.  He is clear and thorough and never pretentious.  

His “life on the farm” growing up (son of Dutch immigrants in rural Minnesota) has that familiar ring of many in the Depression era.  He grew up poor but never really thought about it. 

During his time at Calvin he tells of studying philosophy under the famous Harry Jellema. From Calvin he pursued philosophy at Harvard and wrote his dissertation on the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, to which he never returned.  That’s probably a good thing.  After Harvard he pursued various fellowships in England and the Netherlands. His description of Jellema is just too good:

He mentions a prank some students played at Calvin.  They got a local cow and led it up the stairs of a building.  Well, they could get the cow up the stairs, but they couldn’t get it down.  The janitors had to kill and dismember the cow.

The heart of his teaching career was at Calvin where he teamed up with Plantinga and others, culminating in the Reformed Epistemology project. After Calvin he taught at Yale.

He initially didn’t want to go back to Yale, but Hans Frei really pushed for him.  Frei warned the faculty that if they didn’t get someone like Wolterstorff, then some “d*mn process theologian would fill the position!”  Wolterstorff tells of how he had to teach a class on theological aesthetics.  Not knowing anything about it, he just used the previous professor’s syllabus and book readings.  There was a section on Hans urs von Balthasar and Wolterstorff’s first impression was “This is boring.”  Then he got to the part where Balthasar praised the “passive receptivity of the Virgin Mary.”  Wolterstorff cringed.  This won’t go over well with the feminists in the class.  It didn’t.  The next day the feminists started screaming at each other over Balthasar’s words!

His section concerning the death of his adult son Eric was quite powerful, as was the episode where he taught at a men’s prison.

It might seem bad form to analyze someone’s memoirs, yet Wolterstorff’s thought is so rich one can’t do otherwise. And while Wolterstorff is never as flighty as the current worldview Kuyperians–in many respects he is their polar opposite–one can see the seeds of dissolution early on. He described himself as a feminist from at least the 1970s, bemoaning “sexist language” in his earlier works.   His wife was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He also participated in liturgical reform in the CRC.  Oddly enough, he doesn’t mention his most recent support for same-sex unions.

He ends with a discussion of his recent books on justice and rights.  Here is where he differs from most Social Justice Warriors.  Wolterstorff can actually define the word justice without setting a trash can on fire. Further, most Christian social justice activists are disciples of O’Donovan and Hauerwas.  Wolterstorff is not.  He clearly rejects them.  I don’t think he is being fair to Oliver O’Donovan’s work, since O’Donovan is on the opposite end of Hauerwas.

Aristotle said justice is the equitable distribution of rights and benefits.  That doesn’t make much sense if we take a horrific case like abuse.  On that gloss abuse would be wrong because benefits weren’t distributed equally!  That just doesn’t seem right. A better take is from the Roman jurist Ulpian-we render to each person what is his natural ius, or right. Therefore, according to Wolterstorff, 

Despite all of that, the book has much value. Indeed, it is a literary masterpiece (something for which analytic philosophers aren’t always known).  You can’t help but be drawn into the narrative. It is that well-written.

Divine Discourse (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the claim that God speaks.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wolterstorff takes the findings in current speech-act theory and applies them to the claim that God speaks.  He insists that his project is not another treatment on theological revelation, but that discourse is different from revelation.  For revelation to occur, not only must must the actor speak, but the actee must receive the propositional content of the speech (29).  However, promises and commands are not (primarily) intended to reveal the unknown to us, but to show us our duties, etc.

This leads to the basics of speech-act theory.  The locution is a meaningful sentence uttered. Moreover, as Wolterstorff notes, “Acts of asserting, commanding, promising, and asking…are all illocutionary acts; by contrast, acts of communicating knowledge, when brought about by illocutionary acts, are all perlocutionary acts” (32; emphasis original).

The Rules of the Speaking Game

Speaking, especially speaking one between another, assumes certain rules that are “given.”  Thus, there is a new relation between the speakers. This relationship has “built-in” rules. Wolterstorff explains, “If I say ‘I saw Jim drive off with your car’…I have not simply transmitted information” (84).  He goes on to say that if you understood what I said–assuming I am not lying–you are now obligated to take me at my word.

It is not that the words themselves are binding, but the conditions attached to them.  The conditions yield consequences of the words being uttered or not uttered (87).  

Can God Speak?

Nota Bene:  Illocutionary acts are related to locutionary acts by way of the counting as relation; perlocutionary acts are related to illocutionary acts by causality.

NB, 2:  Could the conditions attending the “Rules of the Speaking Game” shed light on the nature of imputation in justification?  I think so. If God declares me just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, is it a legal fiction? The Reformed can answer no on two counts:

  1. If God says something it’s probably best that we not argue with him on that point.
  2. But assuming with the objection that God’s words aren’t good enough, we can go a step further: God’s speech-act “You are righteous on account of Christ” is a real phenomenon because it met real conditions in speech-act theory.  The relations that govern the laws of discourse are real, not legal fictions. God himself is the author of all reality. When I speak in mundane affairs I can create a new relation (I pronounce you man and wife; you’re fired, etc).  If this is true and easy for me to do, why is it suddenly hard for God to do? Because of his speech I have a new relation to him: loving Father. (see p. 97 for more technical details)

Discussions of Barth and Derrida

NW gives the standard criticisms of Barth.  He gives a very careful and clear discussion of what Barth means by Jesus being the Word-as-Revelation of God.  For Barth, Jesus is the medium of God’s revelation, but it is important to note that Barth does not see any revelation of God as being “speech.”  God does not speak, per Barth. NW hovers around the main criticism of Barth but never delivers it: Barth cannot see God as speaking because God, being wholly other, cannot enter the realm of the phenomenal.  In short, Barth is an Origenist. (The only theologian to really make this observation was the fellow-gnostic Hans urs von Balthasar).

I enjoyed the section on Derrida.  NW rightly points out that not everything Derrida said is wrong.  While we must appreciate (and employ!) Derrida’s criticisms of Plato, at the end of the day we must part with Derrida.  If everything is a “trace” of something else, “and meaning is not anterior to signification, but a creature of ‘our’ signification,” then the Bible as God’s speech has no original meaning (Wolterstorff 161).  We must destroy Plato to the hilt, but this is too high a price to pay, pace Derrida.

Towards an Ethics of Belief

At the end of the book Wolterstorff hints towards a future project:  the ethics of belief. Considering that God can speak, are Christians warranted in holding that God speaks?  Yes. It seems a rather simple question, but Wolterstorff uses it to explain how epistemology can work.

Many times true beliefs are formed by “doxastic practice” (269).  

Criticisms and Evaluation

As Reformed Christians we should rejoice in any work that champions God’s word as speech, as speech-act.  Many chapters in this volume are pure gold. The section on John Locke at the end of the book is almost worth the price of the book.

I have some criticisms, though.   This book is not as clear as later works (Horton, Vanhoozer) on the differences between locutions, illocutionary acts, and perlocutionary acts.  Further, and as is often the case with analytic philosophy, some pages tend to go on without any clear purpose.  

NB 3: Token-type language ontology:  in straight-forward language (Common Sense Realism?) words can be “tokened,” some enduring and some perishing in character (135ff).   

NB 4: “Performance interpretation” is analogous to Frei/Lindbeck school.

Alston: A Realist Conception of Truth

  1. Thesis: alethic realism; sees truth in the sense of a statement is true iff what is said to be the case actually is the case (Alston 5).  Interestingly, Alston contrasts his model with epistemic accounts of truth–those accounts that see truth has needing internal access or justification.  Is alethic realism then a form of externalism?
    1. Truth Propositions
      1. Our concept of a propositions is a concept of the content of a belief (2).
      2. Our basic grip on propositions is by way of their furnishing content for illocutionary acts and propositional attributes (Alston 20).
    2. Minimalist account of truth: inchoate correspondence theory; makes a distinction between the concept of a thing and the property of a thing, the latter of which can have many features.  A property of something may have many features which are not reflected in the concept of truth.  
    3. Deflationary accts of truth: mistake to suppose there is a property of truth that one attributes to statements.
      1. speech-act theory:  claims that when we make an apparent truth-statement, we are not attributing truth to anything, but only engaging in a speech-act (43). 
        1. But is this true of all speech-act theories?  This would not apply to realists like Wolterstorff.
  2. Alethic realism and metaphysical realism
    1. Metaphysical Antirealism (Flat denials)
      1. extreme version denies existence of propositions, facts, God, etc.
        1. Zeno, Parmenides
        2. Are they denying facts or just properties?  A property on this view could exist without any connection to ultimate reality.
        3. Quine: 
    2. Metaphysical Antirealism: Reductions
      1. Simply saying all Xs are Ys.
      2. Denies connections between things.  More common version of nominalism.
    3. Realism and Idealism
      1. idealism reduces nonmental to the mental.
        1. the kind of idealism that is incompatible with realism is constitutive dependence: space, substances, etc. are constituted by their dependance on mind.  
          1. Does not deny the reality of the external world; only says that they are mental in nature.
        2. Kant: partial dependance.  
    4. Boundary between flat denials and reduction
    5. Logical relations of metaphysical realism and alethic realism
  3. An epistemological objection to alethic realism
    1. “We can never get ‘outside’ our thought and scrutinize reality itself” (86).
      1. But:  even if this is true, it doesn’t affect the theory itself.  Only the knower.
      2. But:  Must we claim a pure, unmediated perspective?
      3. Perception is a direct mode of awareness of facts.  
  4. Verificationism
    1. “Doesn’t the notion of verification presuppose a notion of truth, one that is independent of verifiability, independent in the sense of not being definable by verifiability, since verifiability, on the contrary has to be defined (partly) by truth” (125)?
  5. Hilary Putnam’s Internalist Realism
    1. Seems like a form of idealism/coherentism.
    2. Alston insists that alethic realism stands or false independent of any critique of metaphysical realism.  I suppose, but metaphysical realism is the best way to rebut Putnam.
    3. Alston’s position:  “The real, independently existing world, the nature of which makes our statements true or false, is one with which we are in contact already through our experience, thought, and discourse” (148).
  6. Putnam, contd.
    1. Holds to a particular sort of mind-dependence.  Every fact is a fact within a conceptual scheme, to which there are acceptable alternatives.
    2. However:  we maintain that truth is evidence-transcendent.  
  7. Epistemic Alternatives
    1. idealization of rational acceptability
    2. Alston’s use of the term justification:  any positive epistemic status that constitutes truth (190).  
    3. ideal epistemic conditions:  a belief to be true would be justifiable in all situations where relevant evidence is available.
  8. A Survey of Justification Options
    1. Problems with deontology
  9. Post-script terms
      1. Notae Bene
        1. emotivism: evaluative utterances are not intended to be assertions of fact or truth, but only of the utteree’s dispositional attitude.
        2. indexicals: token reflexives
        3. sentence types: ordinarily what we call a sentence.
        4. sentence tokens: an utterance or inscription of a sentence type
        5. maker: person who utters propositions.
        6. sense-datum: nonphysical direct object of sensory awareness
        7. Mereological terms: entities whose identity-conditions are given completely by what their constituents are.

Review

Alston begins on a promising note: defend the reality of truth as corresponding to an extra-mental state of affairs.  His Thesis: alethic realism; sees truth in the sense of a statement is true iff what is said to be the case actually is the case (Alston 5).  Interestingly, Alston contrasts his model with epistemic accounts of truth–those accounts that see truth has needing internal access or justification.

Does he deliver?  Kind of. Some chapters are quite complex (convoluted?) and I am not entirely sure what is going on (more on that below).  Other chapters, such as the ones on justification and metaphysical realism, are quite fascinating, but even then there is a problem: Alston will then say the conclusion to the previous discussion isn’t necessary to alethic realism.   Not surprisingly, this is a disappointment to the reader.

Alston’s two sub-theses:

  • Our concept of a propositions is a concept of the content of a belief (2).
  • Our basic grip on propositions is by way of their furnishing content for illocutionary acts and propositional attributes (Alston 20).

Alston calls this position an “inchoate correspondence theory,”  and I think he is correct in where he takes it. From here he examines alternative models offered by Quine, Putnam and others.  To be honest, I am not entirely sure what those discussions were about.

Evaluation

My confusion over the book’s “flow” is not unique to me.  Alston mentions another review who admitted the same thing (quoted on p. 263).  I agree with a mild form of epistemological realism, and I even agree with a moderate metaphysical realism.  I simply think Alston could have established his thesis in only 150 pages, if that.

 

The Ethics of Belief (Review)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  John Locke and the Ethics of Belief.  Cambridge.

Locke’s goal is simple: to offer a rational, objective, public account of reason that will heal the warring factions of society.  His method, at least in the broad strokes, is fairly straightforward: believe in accordance with the evidence the things of “maximal concernment.”  In other words, not only should you believe things on the basis of evidence, the strength in which you believe something should be proportional to the evidence.

It is to Nicholas Wolterstorff’s credit that he shows us a different picture of Locke:  sure, the empiricist is in the background, but Locke’s account of knowledge in Book IV of his Essay is far more nuanced than a mere empiricism.  And so we begin:

For Locke Knowledge is perception (Book IV).  What does it mean to see/become aware that a proposition is true? The classic answer:  One is aware that one and another proposition are true and that certain relationships that follow are true.

Whenever we say we “just know” something to be true, we usually attach to it the ocular metaphor that we “see” it to be true. Thus, for Locke, we perceive facts. Perception for Locke is immediate awareness (Wolterstorff 43).  That which comes short of certainty is not knowledge (Letter to Stillingfleet, Works III: 145). Does this mean we can’t know anything, given such limited criteria?  Not necessarily, for perception and certainty comes in degrees.  

Knowledge = act or state of mind (45).  It is not the same as belief. For Locke believing is a mental state; assenting is a mental act.  Problem: We all believe things that aren’t present to the mind.

Knowledge = not only awareness of some fact, but the relationship between facts (59)

Will Locke’s proposal work?  No.  It could not survive the hammer blows of Hume (or Reid).  Let’s take the claim that “Reason should be our guide.”  Locke’s view of empiricism and “the association of ideas” demands induction, and as Hume pointed out, that demands a formal fallacy.

But that’s not the biggest problem with Locke.  The problem is quite simple:  How are we to tell when the evidence is satisfactory (167)?  Not all evidence is simply a collection of apples and oranges on the ground and we count which side has the most.  Here is a sample of Locke’s argument (pp. 169ff):

P1: I note a correlation between a certain noise and a car going by
P2: The noise I am presently hearing is of that sort
C:  Hence it is highly probably a car is going by.

The main problem is that the correlations aren’t necessarily representative of reality.  We need another premise:

P1*. I note a correlation between a certain noise and a car going by
P2*. My sample of the correlation of events was and is representative of all tokens of that sort.

P3*. The noise I am presently hearing is of that sort.

But as Hume points out, P2* is not a necessary truth.  It is not intuitive.  Indeed, Hume doubts any real connections between past and present.

But Locke is still important.  His form of classical foundationalism remained more or less in play until the late 20th century.  Indeed, one can tease out connections between Locke’s epistemology and his ethics.  Further, one wonders about such ethics, the Anglo tradition in philosophy, and the current (if waning) dominance of neo-liberalism in politics.

The book is a hard read.  Locke isn’t necessarily an easy read and Wolterstorff’s analyses are very technical.  One other point:  Both Locke and Wolterstorff draw attention to the correct insight that knowledge has ethical dimensions.

Calming down on Neo-Calvinism, to all

The evangelical/Calvinist resurgence in American life is properly termed “New Calvinism.”  The Dutch intellectual tradition from 1880 to sort of today is Neo-Calvinism.  Admittedly, new and “neo” are the same thing, but they are applied differently at different times in history.

So, some in the Reformed world are saying that Dutch Neo-Calvinism (or any of its American variants) is the bad kind and Westerminster Calvinism is the good kind. There is a WTJ article floating around somewhere to the same effect.

I think that’s a bit simplistic.  So here are some pros and cons to Dutch Neo-Calvinism.  I include the following in the survey:  Bavinck, Kuyper, Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd, Stoker, Knudsen, sort of Van Til, and the legacy of Calvin College.

Plantinga and Wolterstorff are wild cards.

The Good

These guys are strong on creation.  Bavinck is simply sublime, Van Til more forcefully so.  Al Wolters’ little monograph begs to be reread.  Jamie Smith noted that God creates in “plurals.”  This is about as close and forceful a break with the Platonic ontology as one can get.  When you read the Prophets on New Creation and eschatology, you can hear a Dutch accent in the background.

The Bad

As is probably typical of Dutch American existence, these guys can get insular and clannish.  Orthodoxy isn’t the only church with a claim on phyletism (whatever that is).  But maybe Scottish Americans like myself are also clannish.  I’m not aware that I am, but it is possible.

Do some Neo_Calvinists denigrate philosophy?  Maybe.   But if you read Plantinga, Wolterstorff, and Bavinck, that’s just not so.  Bavinck’s theological and philosophical reasoning is as astute as any.  See below.

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.

Do some denigrate piety?  Probably, and this seems to be a recurring theme among culture-reclaimers (see modern day Reconstructionism).  But it doesn’t logically hold that because some denigrate piety, Neo-Calvinism as a whole must.  What the pietist Calvinist needs to show is that the Neo-Calvinist’s commitment to Christ’s Lordship in all spheres logically entails skipping my prayers tonight.  I don’t think it can be done.

Rights talk

From Wolterstorff’s Until Justice and Peace Embrace

Initial claim:

(P1) Justice is the enjoyment of one’s rights.

Calvin spoke of a “mutual communication” in society: “each is to contribute what he or she can to the enrichment of the common life” (Wolterstorff 78, quoting Calvin, Comm. Harmony of the Evangelists, 1:103).

Discussion of Rights

  1. Right to protection
  2. Right to freedom
  3. Right to participate in government
  4. Right to sustenance

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

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

Wolterstorff defines “right” as a “morally legitimate claim [to]…the actual enjoyment of a good that is socially guaranteed against ordinary, serious, and remedial threats (82).

  1. A right places an obligation on others, a responsibility–and that is necessary to what it means to be human.
  2. A right is the claim to the actual enjoyment of the good in question.
  3. It is socially guaranteed.
    1. This means that rights always involve social structures.

A nonexistent interview I did a while back

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You have read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.