31 October 2003

laurel's dad

Update.

26 October 2003

well...

...mid-term grades did get done and I had Monday and Tuesday off for fall break. We were able to take Claire to the Philadelphia Zoo on Monday and then Laurel and I went out for our first movie "date" in months to go see Lost in Translation.

But, since then things have not gone well.

The furnace wouldn't start. Our car broke down. One of my colleagues was diagnosed with colon cancer. This weekend was scheduled tightly: a reunion for Laurel with some college friends down in Delaware, her singing in choir for three services on Sunday, and my nephew's confirmation.

In addition, we got a call last night that Laurel's dad was hospitalized with an infection of some kind.

The furnace, thankfully, got fixed on Friday. The car, however, will have to be replaced, so we have a rental vehicle in the meantime.

Over the weekend my colleague was hospitalized with bleeding and in need of transfusions, so I'll be taking over one of his classes starting tomorrow.

Laurel's reunion was cancelled and she ended up only singing in one service due to her dad's deteriorating condition.

It turns out he has sepsis, a very serious infection for a 77-year-old who is already in poor health. She's flying down to Florida tomorrow morning with Claire to meet up with some of her siblings. Her dad doesn't seem to be responding to treatment and the prognosis is pretty grim.

We'd appreciate your prayers for Laurel's dad and family, her travels with Claire, and for me as I take on more work and will be home alone all week.

14 October 2003

and please...

...no more interview requests. Mid-term grades are due on Friday. Thanks!

questions for berek

1. Suppose that some day you get a very well-paying endowed chair to teach philosophy. You can now afford to dress any way that you want. How do you dress as a well-known, highly-paid philosopher since, after all, fashion makes a philosophical statement too?

2. You are familiar with the overall contours of various postmodern philosophies. Though it is difficult to generalize, what would you consider to be three significant dangers or drawbacks of postmodernism? What would you consider to be three significant contributions of postmodernism?

3. Kidnappers capture you and strap you to a chair where you have to watch various versions of Hamlet over and over again, with no end in sight. The only break you are allowed, is to listen to a single mp3 file once every hour out of a set of five files that you were permitted to choose before the torture began. Which five files did you choose?

4. In what ways do you think you are more like your father and in what ways do you think you are more like your mother, in terms of temperament, personality, likes and dislikes, ability to hold your liquor, talents, or whatever?

5. Your father is from the midwest. Your mother is from China. You grew up in Tokyo, a highly modernized, yet thoroughly non-western culture. You were homeschooled, but were active in music and sports clubs. You've visited the US some and have studied western thought. You're a Christian. In what ways do you think this background has shaped how you see the world and how you might put things together differently than someone who's always lived in America?

questions for josh

1. Your fairy godmother shows up. It turns out she's really pissed and threatens to turn you into heap of metal. You say, "Well at least make me into a car." She says, "Sure. What make, model, and year?" How do you answer?

2. Prozac, zoloft, or wellbutrin?

3. There are various versions of broadly Reformed theology, emphasizing various aspects of the Calvinistic tradition. What do you think are the three most dangerous tendencies of Calvinism, not merely on a theoretical level, but in terms of one's spiritual health?

4. What actual woman (living or dead) do you most admire and why?

5. 30 years from now you die and go to hell. When you arrive, the devil tells you he really likes heavy metal and has heard you play guitar. Turns out he's your biggest fan. The prince of darkness wants you to form a band, choosing whomever you wish to bring together from whichever bands you want. Who do you choose and what do you call yourselves?

13 October 2003

questions for davey

1. If you could bring a fictional character to life for a day and spend time with him or her, which one would you choose and how would you spend the day?

2. If you were told you had to make a choice between never again eating either Chicago style pizza or Vienna Beef hot dogs, which would you choose to give up and why?

3. Beatrice is giving you a tour of paradise (along with her buddy Dante) and while you're there, you decide to organize a literary conference featuring Flannery O'Connor, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis, each giving a single lecture. What would you ask each of them to speak on?

4. At your advanced age you still share a room with two younger brothers. What things do you like best about the close quarters and thus being part of their growing up?

5. How do you and Emeth complement or balance each other in terms of personality, skills, and spiritual gifts?

11 October 2003

questions for jon w

1. Laurel's maiden name is also "Webster." She's descended from John Webster, the colonial governor of Connecticut, and is distantly related to Noah and Daniel Webster. Are you also some kind of distant relation? If so, should that worry me?

2. You profess to have made several attempts to read John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory. How far have you gotten? Why have you given up? What do you find most daunting about this text?

3. In the wake of a nuclear conflict, you find yourself and your family stranded in a remote valley in the Appalachians. The only remaining church communities there are a rather evangelical Roman Catholic parish, a Pentecostal Holiness assembly, and high church traditional Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation. Which do you unite with and why?

4. What are Josh Strodtbeck's three most endearing characteristics that just make you want to give him a great big hug (even if it would require four or five beers and a shot of tequila to get you to that point)?

5. What well-known woman in the history of the church do you most admire and why?

questions for wayne

1. If you could bring together two philosophers from disparate times and places in order to have a conversation over dinner, which two would you choose and why?

2. What are the five most important characteristics you would look for in a wife?

3. Surveying the landscape of confessional Protestantism, what would be the top three reforms you would make to Protestant belief and practice (short of their converting to Orthodoxy) that would bring such traditions into closer alignment with the church catholic?

4. What aspect of Orthodox spirituality (e.g., the Jesus prayer, the divine liturgy, confession, etc.) do you think has most contributed to your faith and spiritual health and growth?

5. Let's say I was some kind of maniac terrorist and had planted dynamite along all the fault lines in California in such a way that if I were to set off the explosives, half the state would fall into the Pacific Ocean. Tell me five good things about the state of California to dissuade me from carrying out my threat.

10 October 2003

interview questions from scott

1. In the movie, Bottle Rocket, Owen Wilson's character Dignan has mapped out the rest of his nascent criminal life with a 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, 20-year, and 50-year plan. If an invasive interviewer were to ask you to do something similar with your own professional and personal life, what might it look like?

1 year: Still teaching at La Salle. Recently returned from a speaking engagement in Japan. Have had a couple of things published in the past year. Claire is two years old and home with Laurel. Still at Tenth PCA.

5 year: I now have a tenure track position at La Salle after three other members of the philosophy faculty have retired. I'm no longer teaching only freshmen and have been able to teach upper level courses on postmodernism, Radical Orthodoxy, the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. We recently sponsored a lecture series on the nature of a Catholic university.

Claire is 6 years old and is being homeschooled for the time being, until a nearby classical Christian school starts back up. Her toddler brother Alaric is driving Laurel crazy.

Still at Tenth PCA, though I'm intrigued by the new Anglican church plant in Center City.

10 year: Still teaching at La Salle, sometimes with the opportunity to teach in the honors program. In conjunction with some of the younger faculty, we’ve moved the department in a direction rooted in more deeply and in a more orthodox fashion within the Catholic and wider Christian intellectual tradition.

In addition to more articles and shorter writings, I've now written several books. One was a survey of philosophical themes from the standpoint of Christian liturgy and postmodern thought. The most recent was a systematic theology text from within the Reformed tradition, but in appreciative dialogue with Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. While well received in many quarters, I was declared a heretic by many within the PCA and a number of ultra-conservative Reformed sects.

Claire is 11 years old and Alaric is 8. Both are doing quite well in school. Claire plays the viola and Alaric loves recess. Laurel has published her third children's book. A couple years after having an aged Nicky put down, we got a new mutt from the shelter who we've named Byron. Keats no longer reigns supreme.

I'm now a permanent deacon at St. Jude Anglican Church where I assist the rector and preach regularly for the 9am eucharist, to a congregation composed of many new converts, along with a number of old friends from Tenth.

20 year: I’ve been philosophy department chair for several years at La Salle. I did finally complete that master’s degree in theological studies a number of years ago and now often teach courses that are cross-listed between philosophy and religion, as well as literature and history. The inter-disciplinary aspects of the curriculum have been developed considerably throughout the liberal arts.

Claire is 21 years old. After graduating summa cum laude from Princeton with a degree in biology and medieval women's devotional literature, Claire is now attending Penn dental school. She still plays the viola.

Our 19 year old son (who now goes by "Alec") is a sophomore at Villanova studying philosophy and rhetoric as a pre-law degree. This is our punishment from God for all those lawyer jokes. What’s more, Alec has his Uncle Berek as a favorite professor.

Laurel wins a Newberry award for her latest young adult fiction. She rewards herself with a horse that she boards nearby.

Curiosity finally killed Keats and we decided to take a break from feline companionship. Byron seems happy with the arrangement.

St. Jude’s is now a burgeoning and highly active Anglican congregation. With the kids in college, I have more time as a deacon to lead adult formation classes, do hospital visitation, work with the liturgy committee, and prepare homilies.

50 year: I died at age 82, though in fairly good health up to the last. Everyone thought the funeral liturgy was lovely. It was well-attended by the parishioners for whom I had served as an assistant rector after my ordination to the priesthood some 24 years earlier, at age 58. Though I had remained academically active, I never again taught college full-time after becoming a presbyter.

Claire, married with several kids, has returned to a successful dentistry practice, and is now 51 years old. One of her sons, a senior in high school, wants to follow in grand-dad’s foot steps and enter holy orders in the Anglican church.

Alec, now 48, married late in life to a widow with grown children from her first marriage. They travel extensively as Alec uses his legal skills in connection with transitional justice for emerging democratic republics in the two-thirds world.

Laurel remains active at 85 at the center of her writers’ community, while living in the gatehouse of Claire’s Chestnut Hill home.

2. Describe a situation that still haunts you because you were such an embarrassing fool. Please go into all the gory details.

I don’t tend to be haunted by these kinds of things since I do a good job of blocking them out of my memory.

But I do remember being on a retreat in college with our InterVarsity fellowship group. I was visiting one of the cabins where some of the young women were staying with our female staff worker. On the dresser top there was this really peculiar looking plastic device, a sort of container with a funnel shaped spout on top and plunger kind of thing on it.

Much to the amusement of the watching group of gals, I picked it up, saying, “What the heck is this thing?” turned it over several times in my hands and then put it up to my mouth and tried talking into it. At this point the women-folk all lost their composure in fits of laughter.

Our staff worker, you see, had recently had a baby and the device was a manual breast pump. It’s quite surprising the things you can manage not to learn about by the age of 19.

3. It's the summer of 1989. Where are you, what are you wearing, what's about to happen in the fall, and name your top five favorite cassettes? (Also for fun, what books have you been reading over the summer?)

I'm working at New Life Youth and Family Services, teaching delinquent boys social studies and art for the summer.

In the fall I'll be starting my junior year at University of Pennsylvania where I am a philosophy and English double-major (and considering a minor in Judaic studies).

I’m wearing a t-shirt and tapestry fabric vest with black acid-wash jeans and black leather high-tops.

I don’t listen to cassettes as much any more since I got my first Discman in 1987. I’m listening to Disintegration by the Cure, Tracy Chapman’s self-titled CD, Darklands by The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Innocents by Erasure, and Cosmic Thing by the B-52’s. I probably still listen to a lot of Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Smiths, and various new wave hits.

As for books, I’m reading Through New Eyes by James Jordan, Divine Nature and Human Langauge and Epistemic Justification by William Alston, and various books on Roman Catholic theology (e.g., The Hidden Manna by James O’Connor).

4. You did your doctoral work under William Alston at Syracuse, but you once mentioned to me that you had applied to Notre Dame as well but didn't get in. Some might say that Alston and Plantinga (of Notre Dame) are very similar. So I was wondering if you ever considered how your life would have played out differently if you had gone to Notre Dame instead of Syracuse? And do you see now, several years later, why the way things worked out were ultimately better for you, and if so, how so?

I’ve never really thought about it that much. It’s a rather odd “what if” scenario and I generally try to avoid dealing with “what ifs” in favor of trying to make the best of the troubles that actually come my way.

Without going into a lot of detail, there were a number of people who came into my life while at Syracuse that forced me to grow and change in various ways that, though difficult at the time, ultimately were very much of benefit to me.

5. Why is a manhole cover round?

In order to make them easier to throw, discus-style, at people who ask one annoying questions. :-)

(Of course, the real answer has to do, I suspect, with not dropping the cover into the manhole.)

::If you would like to participate too, here are your instructions:
1. Leave me a comment saying "interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions (not the same as you see here).
3. You will update your blog/site with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.::

interview questions from scott

1. In the movie, Bottle Rocket, Owen Wilson's character Dignan has mapped out the rest of his nascent criminal life with a 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, 20-year, and 50-year plan. If an invasive interviewer were to ask you to do something similar with your own professional and personal life, what might it look like?

1 year: Still teaching at La Salle. Recently returned from a speaking engagement in Japan. Have had a couple of things published in the past year. Claire is two years old and home with Laurel. Still at Tenth PCA.

5 year: I now have a tenure track position at La Salle after three other members of the philosophy faculty have retired. I'm no longer teaching only freshmen and have been able to teach upper level courses on postmodernism, Radical Orthodoxy, the thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. We recently sponsored a lecture series on the nature of a Catholic university.

Claire is 6 years old and is being homeschooled for the time being, until a nearby classical Christian school starts back up. Her toddler brother Alaric is driving Laurel crazy.

Still at Tenth PCA, though I'm intrigued by the new Anglican church plant in Center City.

10 year: Still teaching at La Salle, sometimes with the opportunity to teach in the honors program. In conjunction with some of the younger faculty, we’ve moved the department in a direction rooted in more deeply and in a more orthodox fashion within the Catholic and wider Christian intellectual tradition.

In addition to more articles and shorter writings, I've now written several books. One was a survey of philosophical themes from the standpoint of Christian liturgy and postmodern thought. The most recent was a systematic theology text from within the Reformed tradition, but in appreciative dialogue with Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. While well received in many quarters, I was declared a heretic by many within the PCA and a number of ultra-conservative Reformed sects.

Claire is 11 years old and Alaric is 8. Both are doing quite well in school. Claire plays the viola and Alaric loves recess. Laurel has published her third children's book. A couple years after having an aged Nicky put down, we got a new mutt from the shelter who we've named Byron. Keats no longer reigns supreme.

I'm now a permanent deacon at St. Jude Anglican Church where I assist the rector and preach regularly for the 9am eucharist at a congregation composed of many new converts, along with a number of old friends from Tenth.

20 year: I’ve been philosophy department chair for several years at La Salle. I did finally complete that master’s degree in theological studies a number of years ago and now often teach courses that are cross-listed between philosophy and religion, as well as literature and history. The inter-disciplinary aspects of the curriculum have been developed considerably throughout the liberal arts.

Claire is 21 years old. After graduating summa cum laude from Princeton with a degree in biology and medieval women's devotional literature, Claire is now attending Penn dental school. She still plays the viola.

Our 19 year old son (who now goes by "Alec") is a sophomore at Villanova studying philosophy and rhetoric as a pre-law degree. This is our punishment from God for all those lawyer jokes. What’s more, Alec has his Uncle Berek as a favorite professor.

Laurel wins a Newberry award for her latest young adult fiction. She rewards herself with a horse that she boards nearby.

Curiosity finally killed Keats and we decided to take a break from feline companionship. Byron seems happy with the arrangement.

St. Jude’s is now a burgeoning and highly active Anglican congregation. With the kids in college, I have more time as a deacon to lead adult formation classes, do hospital visitation, work with the liturgy committee, and prepare homilies.

50 year: I died at age 82, though in fairly good health up to the last. Everyone thought the funeral liturgy was lovely. It was well-attended by the parishioners for whom I had served as an assistant rector after my ordination to the priesthood some 24 years earlier, at age 58. Though I had remained academically active, I never again taught college full-time after becoming a presbyter.

Claire, married with several kids, has returned to a successful dentistry practice, and is now 51 years old. One of her sons, a senior in high school, wants to follow in grand-dad’s foot steps and enter holy orders in the Anglican church.

Alec, now 48, married late in life to a widow with grown children from her first marriage. They travel extensively as Alec uses his legal skills in connection with transitional justice for emerging democratic republics in the two-thirds world.

Laurel remains active at 85 at the center of her writers’ community, while living in the gatehouse of Claire’s Chestnut Hill home.

2. Describe a situation that still haunts you because you were such an embarrassing fool. Please go into all the gory details.

I don’t tend to be haunted by these kinds of things since I do a good job of blocking them out of my memory.

But I do remember being on a retreat in college with our InterVarsity fellowship group. I was visiting one of the cabins where some of the young women were staying with our female staff worker. On the dresser top there was this really peculiar looking plastic device, a sort of container with a funnel shaped spout on top and plunger kind of thing on it.

Much to the amusement of the watching group of gals, I picked it up, saying, “What the heck is this thing?” turned it over several times in my hands and then put it up to my mouth and tried talking into it. At this point the women-folk all lost their composure in fits of laughter.

Our staff worker, you see, had recently had a baby and the device was a manual breast pump. It’s surprising the thing you can manage not to learn about by the age of 19.

3. It's the summer of 1989. Where are you, what are you wearing, what's about to happen in the fall, and name your top five favorite cassettes? (Also for fun, what books have you been reading over the summer?)

I'm working at New Life Youth and Family Services, teaching delinquent boys social studies and art for the summer.

In the fall I'll be starting my junior year at University of Pennsylvania where I am a philosophy and English double-major (and considering a minor in Judaic studies).

I’m wearing a t-shirt and tapestry fabric vest with black acid-wash jeans and black leather high-tops.

I don’t listen to cassettes as much any more since I got my first Discman in 1987. I’m listening to Disintegration by the Cure, Tracy Chapman’s self-titled CD, Darklands, by The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Innocents by Erasure, and Cosmic Thing by the B-52’s. I probably still listen to a lot of Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Smiths, and various new wave hits.

As for books, I’m reading Through New Eyes by James Jordan, Divine Nature and Human Langauge and Epistemic Justification by William Alston, and various books on Roman Catholic theology (e.g., The Hidden Manna by James O’Connor).

4. You did your doctoral work under William Alston at Syracuse, but you once mentioned to me that you had applied to Notre Dame as well but didn't get in. Some might say that Alston and Plantinga (of Notre Dame) are very similar. So I was wondering if you ever considered how your life would have played out differently if you had gone to Notre Dame instead of Syracuse? And do you see now, several years later, why the way things worked out were ultimately better for you, and if so, how so?

I’ve never really thought about it that much. It’s a rather odd “what if” scenario and I generally try to avoid dealing with “what ifs” in favor of trying to make the best of the troubles that actually come my way.

Without going into a lot of detail, there were a number of people who came into my life while at Syracuse that forced me to grow and change in various ways that, though difficult at the time, ultimately were very much of benefit to me.

5. Why is a manhole cover round?

In order to make them easier to throw at people who ask you annoying questions.

09 October 2003

grading

I must say that my least favorite part of teaching is grading. And I'm going to have to change how I assign paper topics in the future.

At the moment, I'm working my way through a stack of approximately 35 papers on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

Now, I offered 20 different possible topics, one topic involving choosing a particular virtue to discuss, thus allow for even more options. But do I get papers on 20 different topics? No way.

Out of the 35 or so papers, 20 students wrote about friendship, 8 wrote on the highest good, and the remaining 7 papers are on other various topics.

Note to self: in the future, in order to preserve my sanity, students will be signing up for topics and there will be a limit on how many can write on a particular topic.

07 October 2003

john paul ii

As you probably know from media reports, the bishop of Rome is in declining health, physically feeble, with tremors and difficulty speaking. Mark Shea offers the following observation, which I find intriguing:It appears, the longer I look at it, that the Holy Father is deliberately presenting his illness, debilitation, and death, not only as a sacrificial offering to God, but as a sort of capstone to all he has said and taught about the dignity of each human person. He is the irrefutable rebuke to [those who say], 'They're no use, so they're better off dead.' The Pope defies this paganism that shuffles death out of the way by making his dying public and forcing us to look. For, of course, every one of us is going to follow him and we had better look.Whatever the case, I hope the bishop of Rome's continued witness to the Christian valuation of life and the possibility of redemptive suffering would spur reflection on those issues, both from within the church and in the wider world.

In that connection, I would commend Vigen Guroian's insights into medical ethics and end of life care in his Ethics After Christendom (Eerdmans, 1994). His perspective there provides, I think, a helpful model of the ways in which traditional patterns of Christian liturgy and piety--in this case, rituals of healing, prayers for those near death, and practices surrounding death--can inform and shape philosophical, theological, and moral reflection.

06 October 2003

philosophy and scripture

A new online journal that looks like it could be interesting.

04 October 2003

law

It seems to me that in various theological discussions, both within Reformed theology and between Reformed and, for instance, Lutherans, there is a great deal of confusion and equivocation regarding the term "law." This is with regard to the law as a general category and with reference to specialized uses of the term in Scripture to refer primarily to the Mosaic administration. For some theologians "law" seems to refer to any patterned way of life, while for others it remains tied up with notions of merit.

I have no intention of resolving those issues, but I offer the following as perhaps some thoughts along the way.

First, even within western history the term "law" has shifted in meaning and context a number of times. German, English, and Roman law traditions are significantly different. Moreover, the Christian tradition of "natural law" is that of an eschatologically directed and creaturely participation in the mind of God in his providential ordering of the cosmos. And in the modern world, "law" has other connotations, particularly in societies in which the roles of law-maker, king-deliverer, and judge have been so carefully separated (unlike, for instance, ancient Israel).

Second, the biblical usage of the term appears to be predominantly a redemptive-historical one, referring primarily to a particular phase of history, from Moses
to Christ. Over against much of Second Temple Judaism which saw "Law" as eternal (Sir 24:9, 33; Bar 4:1; Wis 18:4; Jub 16:29; 31:32; 32:10, etc), Paul specifically targets his language: "before the law was given...there was no law" (Rom 5:13), "the law, which came 430 years afterwards" (Gal 3:17), etc.

As such, "law" (at least in Paul) is equivalent, more or less to "Torah," though the rite of circumcision given to Abraham seems to function as a proleptic administration of Torah (or else much of Galatians doesn't make sense). I don't see the New Testament usage as really mapping onto the usage you find either in traditional Lutheran or Reformed dogmatics in which "Law" becomes a kind of abstraction that is opposed to "Gospel" and/or something that even Adam had and/or a moral order that is supposed to be rooted in the very nature of things and divine holiness.

Third, within modern philosophical assumptions, "law" takes the form of principles that emerge from some kind of "social contract." Moreover, while that contract is seen as rooted in human nature, the notion of "nature" has shifted towards that of a static structure of sheer self-preservation in which individuals, agonistically differentiated from one another, surrender natural rights in order to impose an order upon themselves that is ultimately alien to their condition. Thus, "law" takes on the connotation of an imposed, external constraint.

My reading of the New Testament and some of the Christian tradition leads me away from the "legal" as any kind of primary category for the conduct of Christians (and thus I see "antinomianism" vs "pronomianism" as a false antithesis). One can approach this from two directions.

First, within the human realm, the Bible indicates that, for those of us in Christ, we are not subject to human law qua law and that there is some basis for the notion of human law as an imposed restraint. Thus, human law is an inadequate analogue for God's relationship to persons in Christ.

For those who do good, Paul says, human authority poses no threat (Ro 13). Similarly, Peter urges his readers to live as people who are "free" from human authority, but not to abuse that freedom, instead pursuing what is good (1 Pe 2:11-17). There is a cooperation with human authorities in both Paul and Peter, but not in subjection to human law itself, but as a matter of who we are in Christ.

Thus Augustine, in his On Free Choice of the Will rightly writes, "those who cleave to the eternal law by their good will have no need of the temporal law," for it is "by fear that the temporal law coerces human beings and bends the souls of its subjects in whatever direction it pleases" (1.15).

Second, there is a distinction running through Paul at least between "the law" or "law-keeping" (on one hand) and the "righteous requirements of the law" or "fulfilling the law" (on the other). Thus, Gentiles who do not by nature have the law, can nevertheless end up doing "what the law requires" (Ro 2:14). Likewise, the Spirit has been given so that the "righteous requirement of the law be fulfilled in us" insofar as we are in Christ (Ro 8:4). Thus Christ is the "end" of the law, both in the sense of it being directed towards him and his being the completion of its purpose (Ro 10:4). Thus, in Christ, we fulfill the law through love (Rom 13:10). This same dynamic appears in Galatians, I think, most apparently in the opposition between law or flesh over against faith working through love or walking by the Spirit.

Aquinas explicates the "natural law" with a similar dynamic. He speaks of the habit of what he calls "synteresis" as a natural (naturaliter) habit of the reason that "contains the precepts of the natural law which are the first principles of human action" (ST Ia IIae, q.94, a.1 and 2). Though, for Aquinas, natural law is, as I noted above, a creaturely participation in the mind of God and not really a "legal" notion in any normal, let alone modern sense of the term.

Thus, Aquinas asserts that practical reason is unable to make prudential use of "synteresis" apart from grace through the gift of faith. Consequently, prudence is expressed and animated by the Christian virtue of charity, enabling a kind of liberty of conscience apart from a legalistic framework. Grace, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, empowers a person to act freely and spontaneously in regard to everything required by faith working in love, liberating the individual from any further obligation. Moreover, with right conscience it is possible, says Aquinas, to possess a degree of "probable certitude" (probabilis certitudo) regarding ethical decision-making (ST IIa IIae, q.70, a.2), inspiring a kind of humble moral confidence, built upon faith and in reliance upon the Spirit's gifts.

I find this a fairly reasonable gloss on some of the concerns of the New Testament, even if it is not the only or necessarily the best way of accounting for the biblical data. In any case, all of this leaves us with the question of the function of "law" in Scripture and for Christians.

I do think Adam was given a law, as is proper for children. But through his faith in the promises of God, Adam would have died to that law and been raised to new and mature eschatological life, beyond law, in the Spirit. While this is not obvious from the text of Genesis, I think the overall biblical picture allows us to re-read Genesis in light of the later trajectory and its fulfillment in Christ. I can argue for this in more detail, but will refrain from doing so here at the moment.

From this perspective, however, it is clear that the "law" (in the sense of Torah) does in some was recapitulate the Adamic situation since, as Paul says, from Adam to Moses there was not a transgression that was like that of Adam (Rom 5). This is the correct insight that is contained in the view that Moses was a "republication" of the covenant with Adam. Both Adam and Israel failed to fulfill the law through the "law of love" (Paul's ironic turn of phrase), by laying down their lives for the other: for Eve in the face of the serpent, in the case of Adam, and for the nations in the face of idolatry, in the case of Israel.

The biblical category that is more fundamental than that of "law," it seems to me, is the category of "righteousness." The theme of the "righteousness" or "justice" of God in Romans functions against the background of the OT problematics of God's promises of vindication in the face of a law that provokes Israel, again and again, to recapitulate the transgression of Adam. But it also functions against the backdrop of Roman overly-legal notions of "justice," implicitly critiquing human law (which is why Paul must write Ro 13, in order to stave off "anarchistic" misunderstandings).

The point is that God's righteousness is one that goes beyond law, not only fulfilling and exhausting the temporary purposes of law, but bringing Christ and humanity with him, to a life and righteousness that goes beyond law, since no law could ever bring life qua law (not in the Garden, not in Israel; Gal 3:21).

Doubtless, much more can be said, but I'm groping towards a better understanding of Scripture myself, in conversation with my own traditon and, I hope, that of the wider church.

02 October 2003

covenant conditions: part four

Having dealt with some objections and surveying some aspects of redemptive history, I would begin sketching my positive account of the covenant by rooting some of my reflections within two, analogically related theological perspectives, one phenomenological and the other trinitarian. While the relation of grace and human response is ultimately rooted, I think, in the inner life of the Trinity, we can begin with the phenomenology of "gift" on the human level.

Paradoxically, a gift, in order to be truly a gift, must be something that is offered without return--pure grace. On the other hand, gift is also always an exchange embodying an asymmetrical reciprocity, since the giver receives back in the very act of giving, participating in the joy of the recipient. A purely disinterested gift is no gift at all, since the thoughtful content of the gift is what constitutes as an appropriate gift.

Moreover, the giver's gift may well lead to a future event where the giver becomes the receiver of another gift. But this reciprocity is not a contractual one, bound by laws of exchange. Rather, it presupposes a certain unexpectedness and proper freedom, constituting the exchange as asymmetrical. So much for phenomenology, though more could certainly be said.

The trinitarian reflection would be to root this kind of gift and exchange in the interrelations of the Persons of the Trinity as the transcendent ontological ground, only within which, by participation, is human gift and exchange possible. The very being of God as Triune is something that exists in just such gift and exchange--gift without return founding the absolute difference and identity of each the Persons, and asymmetrical reciprocity embodying their unity, interrelations, and perichoretic movement.

Now, the problematics of the relationship between grace and response is one that has to account for two perspectives:

[1] the relationship of creation to God in general as something that is radically gifted and thus absolutely "without return," even though God delights in that creation and receives it back to himself (a version of the "full-bucket" problem van Til mentions, as I said already).

and

[2] how that creational relationship is broken and restored in light of the fallenness of humanity; this restoration occurs by God's own giving of himself (in an even more absolute and unreturnable way), doing so in order that there might be for-giveness and the giving back of humanity to God in Christ's theanthropic self-giving, all to the greater delight of God who, now in Christ, has eternally received humanity into himself.

This isn't, by any means, a full account and there are all sort of details that need to be filled in (e.g., the manner in which Christ's divine person, having assumed human nature, makes provision for our response).

I hope to continue and deepen such reflections in the future, particularly insofar as I think this can be worked out further with regard to the Trinity in which the trust among the Persons is eternally prior to their eternally active love, thereby structuring the relationship between faith and works in any human response to God.

I would then like to press my account further in regard to creation and its radical entrustedness to God. This would, in turn, provide an analogical perspective on redemption.

With these perspectives in hand I would hope to show how we can then situate covenant reciprocity within a unilateral giftedness.

01 October 2003

covenant conditions: part three

With regard to [b] (the shape of the biblical narrative), it seems to me that the Bible doesn't ultimately talk in terms of "conditions," as far as I can see, and in many contexts that language is, at best, misleading. It seems to me that the discussions surrounding Shepherd's views demonstrate how prone to confusion the language of "conditions" can be.

Now, when I say the Bible doesn't "ultimately" speak in terms of conditions, I am thinking primarily about the New Covenant in Christ as the ultimate revelation of God's covenantal dealings with humanity. Of course, the Old Covenant does often speak in terms of what appear to be conditions, but I think we need to take the blessings and curses of, for instance, Deuteronomy, in redemptive-historical context (and thanks to friends for discussion of this).

[1] The covenant with Israel, as with Abraham before, was established "unconditionally." God sovereignly elected Israel by delivering her from Egypt. But these unconditional covenants continually and unexpectedly become qualified, either through the transformation of the nature of what is promised or through the imposition of new conditions that were never before specified.

With regard to the transformation of the promise, the obvious examples are things like the land of Israel becoming the whole world or Abraham's seed embracing the Gentiles by faith.

With regard to "conditions," things like circumcision, the Torah, Deuteronomy 28, etc. were only added later and have to be seen as unexpectedly qualifying the nature of the covenant relationship.

The issue becomes one of the faithfulness of God--God's righteousness--when he goes around changing promises and adding conditions. So one has to ask the question of the redemptive-historical function of these kinds of covenantal qualification.

[2] The conditions aren't really "conditions" in any ordinary sense of the word. For one thing, the covenant curses don't merely take the form of "if...then," but actually come to function as predictions of what will happen sooner or later. It's ultimately less a matter of "if" than it is a matter of "when."

For another thing, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30 both end with qualifications that show that the conditions really still function within an unconditional covenant.

After the curses for disobedience, Levitucs 26 continues, "Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them, for I am Yahweh their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers..." (verses 44-45).

Likewise, following upon the curses of Deuteronomy 28, chapter 30:1-10 looks to a time when, "after these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse," Yahweh nonetheless restores his people.

In both Leviticus and Deuteronomy it becomes clear that God's ultimate purpose is to fulfill the "conditions" of the covenant himself in his people, because the purpose all along was never "conditions" per se, but the unconditional reciprocity that a relationship must have in order to exist at all.

[3] The redemptive-historical role of Old Covenant quasi-"conditions" was to focus the whole biblical narrative upon its climax in Christ: the one in whom all God's promises are "yes" and "amen." Its "conditions," thus, served to bind everyone over under sin in order that mercy might be shown to all (Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22)--that is to say, in order that God himself might finally fulfill both "sides" of the covenant in Christ, in whom the gifts of faith, a new heart, and so on, are all located. In Christ, humanity is offered back to God perfectly. And so the design of the whole Old Covenant, with its quasi-conditionality, was one of planned obsolescence.

In Christ now there is a new humanity possible in which the reciprocity anticipated by the Old Covenant finally comes to fulfillment as the "righteous requirements of Torah are fulfilled" among us in the law of love through the Spirit (Rom 8:4; 10:4; 13:10; Gal 5:14-18; 6:2). And this is not something that any longer functions within "conditionality," but, in that respect, lies beyond the Law. This vindicates the righteousness of God.

Thus I'm deeply dissatisfied with, for instance, Shepherd's formulations which, it seems to me, too much flatten out the redemptive-historical and analogical diversity of the biblical covenants (and thus really do verge too much upon a kind of unfortunate "mono-covenantalism"). But with a redemptive-historical focus, I also find the Lutheran Law-Gospel paradigm, though in some ways rightly picking up on these biblical themes, to be too abstract and dichotomous, for instance, mistaking "Law" for a kind of universal "natural law" rooted in divine holiness, rather than "Torah" as a phase of redemptive-history.

In my next post, I'll make some further and (for now) final gestures towards an alternative model than that of conditionality.

calvin on titus 3

From John Calvin's 16th sermon on Titus:

...Now what benefit shall it be to us that our Lord Jesus Christ has shed his blood, if we are not washed with it by the Holy Spirit?...What benefit shall it be to us that Jesus Christ has taken away sin and the tyranny of the devil by his crucifixion, if we are not gathered to him by the grace of his Holy Spirit?

So then, let us ask our good God to put us in possession of the thing that he has purchased for us by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, and to do so by showering the gifts of his Holy Spirit upon us.

And how does this happen? First, by being enlightened with faith, that we may know that God is our Father and be assured in ourselves of his goodness.

Second, by having the Spirit of the fear of God, that we may renounce our own wicked lusts and affections and dedicate ourselves to the serving of he who ought to have lordship over us.

Third, by having the Spirit of strength and confidence to fight against all the assaults that Satan shall make against us and to withstand all temptations.

And finally, by having the Spirit of wisdom to keep us from the crafts and wiles of our enemy.

To this point we must come in order for the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ to profit us and that his resurrection may have his full power and effect upon us.

And, therefore, let us understand, that all of these things are witnessed to us in baptism.

Thus if we feel ourselves destitute of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, let us not doubt that we shall have them if we have need of them.

And why is this? God has not deceived us when he ordained the sign of baptism: for there we have, as it were, a pledge that he is not stingy towards us, but pours out liberally all the gifts that we desire and need.

Do we seem to lack strength? Do we find ourselves in the darkness of ignorance? Do we appear so ensnared in this world that we cannot attain to spiritual things?

Let us then run unto God and let our baptism guide us there!

For, as I said, there our Lord shows that he will not fail us in anything, if we flee to him for refuge. ...And thus St. Paul attributes the power of our renewing and regeneration to this washing of which he speaks.