Principles of Sacred Theology (Kuyper)

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

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

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

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

Threefold relationship:

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

Older scholastic view of faculty: 

Faith

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

Chapter 3: The Twofold Development of Science

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

Chapter 5: Theology in the Organism of Science

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

DIVISION III

Chapter 1: The Conception of Theology

The Influence of Palingenesis upon Theology and Science

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

Conception: the way of knowledge which we travel.

Idea: views the end independently

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

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

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

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

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

Regeneration and Knowledge, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Miracles

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

Review: Bavinck, Prolegomena

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

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

Principia

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

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

Circular Reasoning and First Principles

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

Towards the Future of Reformed Epistemology and Apologetics

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

Criticisms

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

Reality and Evangelical Theology (Thomas Torrance)

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

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

Chapter 1: The Bounds of Christian Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Movement of Knowledge

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

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

The Nature of Realism

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

John Owen Communion With God (Works 2)

My copy of Owen was from his Works, volume 2.  Nonetheless, this review will also serve for the shorter Puritan Paperbacks edition.  following the review is an outline on the book.

Owen gives us a dense, thorough, yet manageable snapshot, not only of Reformed prolegomena, but of Trinitarian piety as well. Given the current (if overblown) popularity of the YRR crowd–who know not Turretin nor his principia–yet strangely seek Owen, Owen can give them a taste of proper Reformed theologomena. In many ways, this can function as a primer to systematic theology. So here it goes:

Basic definitions:

communion: A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8). The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ. Our union with Christ is mystical and spiritual, not hypostatic (313). He is the Head, we the members and he freely communicates “grace, righteousness, and salvation, in the several and distinct ways whereby we are capable to receive them from him.”

Sealing the Union

Any act of sealing always imparts the character of the seal to the thing (242). Owen is clear: The Spirit really communicates the image of God unto us. “To have the stamp of the Holy Ghost…is to be sealed in the Spirit.”

This isn’t the most concise treatment of the issues, but Owen is quite fine in his own way. His writing is only difficult when he gets off topic (as in his otherwise fine Vindication of the Trinity at the end of the volume). Some in the YRR make it seem like Owen is borderline incomprehensible. He isn’t.

Short Outline:

  1. That the saints have communion with God
    1. Communion as to state and Communion as to condition
      1. Things internal and spiritual
      2. Outward things
    2. Communion fellowship and action.
    3. Definition:   A mutual communication of such good things grounded upon some union (Owen, II:8).  The person of Christ, as head of the Church, communicates grace to us via his Holy Spirit, to the members of his body. Our communion with God is his communication of himself to us, flowing from our union which we have in Christ.
  2. The saints have this communion with the Trinity.
    1. The way and means of this communion:
      1. Moral and worship of God: faith, hope, love.
        1. For the Father: He gives testimony and beareth witness to the Son (1 John 5.9).
        2. For the Son:
        3. For the Holy Spirit:
      2. The Persons communicate good things to us:
        1. Grace and peace (Rev. 1.4-5)
        2. The Father communicates all grace by way of original authority (Owen 17).
        3. The Son by way of making a purchased treasury (John 1.16; Isa. 53.10-11).
        4. The Spirit doth it by way of immediate efficacy (Rom. 8.11).
  3. Peculiar and Distinct Communion with the Father:
    1. Our communion with the Father is principialy and by way of eminence (18).
    2. There is a concurrence of actings and operations of the whole Deity in that dispensation, wherein each person concurs to the work of salvation.
    3. If we speak particularly of a person, it does not exclude other media of communion.
    4. God’s love (19).
      1. God’s love is antecedent to the purchase of Christ.
      2. The apostles particularly ascribe love to God the father (2 Cor. 13).
      3. Love itself is free and needs no intercession.  Jesus doesn’t even bother to pray that the Father will love his own (John 16.26-27).
      4. Twofold divine love
        1. Beneplaciti:  Love of good destination for us
        2. Amicitiae: love of friendship (21).
      5. The father is the fountain of all following gracious dispensations:
    5. Communion with the Father in love
      1. That they receive it of him
      2. That they make suitable returns unto him.

DKG: Opening Questions 1a

This is taken from Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. It’s a prolegomena to apologetics.

  1. There are many possible ways to refer to the world by means of language.

Languages differ from one another not only by using different words to refer to the same thing, but also in the things the language is supposed to distinguish. No language is able to capture all the nuances of a said definiens. Furthermore, language uses symbols. Different languages use different symbols. However, different languages can describe the same reality.

  1. Is it always legitimate to demand a definition?

It is not always necessary to demand a definition. There is always a necessary vagueness to language. While at the outset it may seem to give greater precision, it alwasy assumes that the more precise and technical a term is, the more clarity it gains. However, it is quite the opposite. For instance, if one were to define Augustine’s view of time, most would not understand and the definition itself would be used in a non-ordinary way. Similarly, discussing “time” without defining it does allow for communication of the term.

  1. Is Scripture ever vague?

If language is vague–as I believe can be at times–and Scripture is communicated via language, then Scripture itself is not exempt from vagueness. Scripture is vague at times, and helpfully so, if its primary purpose from God is not always to communicate necessary precision, but to communicate truth as God intends it. This allows for imprecise quotations, rounded numbers, varied (though not contradictory) accounts without compromising its integrity. How so? This can be maintained if we allow Scripture to set its own standards of historiography and lexicography.

  1. Discuss the values, limitations, of the use of technical terms.

Technical terms, while not often biblical in origin, are useful and even necessary to the task of theology. If theology is the reflection upon and the application of God’s word to contemporary issues, then it must at times use non-biblical (but not un-biblical) language. The task of theology recognizes the at-times vagueness of Scripture and the necessity of technical terms to apply the vague areas of Scripture to concrete situations. However, technical terminology is not without its limits. A technical term by definition limits full biblical expression of the term (i.e.,regeneration). The danger then happens when the theologian uses one term as a b lanket statement for all of the scriptural usages. In other words, theologians are often faced with the danger of pulling terms out of the biblical context.

  1. Never use technical terms from non-Christian histories.

If this is the case, then we will not be able to use much terminology at all. Propositions are not to be judged faulty by the words they use, but on what are they are saying.

  1. Don’t confuse technical definitions with biblical usages. Describe the danger here.

Technical definitions are useful due the degree that they are precise in scope. Their greatest strength is their greatest weakness–precision. Technical terminology limits the use of a biblical expression or term and applies it, hopefully, within a proper context with a view towards application. The danger comes when assuming that because term x means y in this situation, it must always mean x.

  1. There is no one right set of technical definitions? Why? Evaluate.

Given that biblical terminology is often richer than technical terminology, it follows that no one theologian or theological school can exhaust a doctrine in one formulation. No theological system is free from the necessity of making qualifications.

  1. Some technical definitions can actually mislead us. For example, if one uses enlightenment, rationalistic terminology and applies it to the supernatural, then the Christian Theologian is immediately pressed to defend his faith using the opposition’s weapons. He is, in effect, fighting a losing battle from the start. Given the insights stated above, he must allow the Bible to be its own standard (this would require its own prolegomena) and define its own terms.

 

  1. Describe and discuss the liberal distortion of Scripture through an illegitimate development of technical terminology. Liberal theology takes biblical terminology out of its context and then imports

humanistic, romantic, or existentialist meaning upon the terms. Liberals take the concept of God’s love, strip it of its transcendence, and place it into metaphysical categories. Socialistic Christians (liberation theologians) take Christ’s concern for the poor and despised and draw the illogical conclusion that Christ primarily came for the socially outcast and was at war with those who were not themselves socially outcast. Barth saw divine transcendence as God’s own freedom divorced from the restraints God places upon himself.

  1. Discuss the danger of trying too hard to eliminate vagueness from theology.

Simply put, aiming for maximum precision at all times leads one to be more precise than God himself! Theologians must come to grips that God did not clearly outline many issues in His word: Supralapsarianism/infralapsarianism, traducianism, etc. An attempt to eliminate vagueness in theology leads