30 May 2007

PCA report questions & concerns: a pastoral letter

I soon plan on posting some of my own concerns about the PCA report on NPP/FV issues. In the meantime, I received the following letter with the request to post it on my blog. It seems thoughtful and raises some good questions.

You can also download a PDF version of the letter here (complete with some footnotes): FV Report Questions and Concerns.



May 30, 2007

Fellow Presbyters,

In a few short weeks we will meet in Memphis as a General Assembly to worship our great God, fellowship with one another and make important decisions for our denomination including voting on The Report of the Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective and Auburn Avenue Theology.

Many PCA pastors and elders have not read much on Federal Vision (either for or against) and are dependent on the report to represent accurately and adequately FV teachings. A PCA General Assembly position paper should represent clearly and thoroughly all sides being debated and we believe the report leaves many questions unanswered. We are not FV men. We are PCA pastors and elders who believe that it would be premature and unwise to ratify this report as it now stands. We also have procedural questions related to the forming of this committee. In this letter, we cite statements from the report followed by related questions that we believe the report fails to answer adequately. Our questions are related to the following issues:


1. Procedure.
2. Confessional Interpretations.
3. Election.
4. Covenant of Works/Grace.
5. Visible/Invisible Church.
6. Baptismal Efficacy.
7. Justification.


Procedure

Committee Formation:
  • Several members of the committee had already pronounced their condemnation of FV teaching, prior to being named to the committee. However, no FV men were appointed. Robert’s Rules of Order states, “When a special committee is appointed for deliberation or investigation…it should represent as far as possible all points of view within the organization, so that its opinion will carry maximum weight.”

Questions:
  • Why did the moderator ignore this aspect of Robert’s Rules when appointing the committee?

  • Do we really want to adopt a report without broader representation on the committee and without a minority report?

Confessional Interpretations

Study Report:
  • 2205- “The Westminster Confession…positively celebrates the importance of the doctrine of decretal election for assurance (WCF 3.8).”

  • 2214- “The Westminster Standards only speak of a “union with Christ” as that which is effectual; or to say it another way, as that which is saving and belongs to the elect.”

  • 2225- “The truly problematic claims of FV proponents come when some suggest that “Christ’s active obedience” is not transferred to his people…Such claims contradict the claims of the Westminster Standards and strike at the vitals of the system of doctrine contained there.”

Questions:
  • How does the committee understand WCF 3.8 to “positively celebrate” the doctrine of decretal election?

  • Why does the committee narrowly interpret our standards to speak “only” of union with Christ as belonging to the decretally elect when there are ways that our standards understand this more broadly?

  • Where is the case for the view that our standards demand adherence to the imputed active obedience of Christ when the term “active obedience” is not found in them?

  • How does the committee reconcile their narrow understanding of the Confession in light of the PCA being a system subscription denomination?

Election

Study Report:
  • 2204- “The Confession is of course fully aware of national, ethnic, external, covenant election of Israel as a church under age.”

  • 2211- “Union with this people, through baptism, is what is required for one to be elect.”

  • 2212- “It is evident that the version of covenant and election taught by the NPP and FV is incompatible with the views of the Westminster Standards.”

  • 2212- “To affirm the decretal view of election and then to say that the Bible teaches that the elect may fall from their eternal election, is to set the Bible over against the standards.”

  • 2233- “For FV, election becomes a benefit that can be lost.”

Questions:
  • Is the emphasis of FV authors to understand covenantal election? If so, then shouldn’t their writings be interpreted through this lens and not decretal election?

  • If FV authors’ “version” of election is primarily covenantal, how is this incompatible with our Standards except for emphasis?

  • Do FV authors teach that one can fall away from decretal election or that decretal election is not secure or that decretal election can be lost? If so, where?

  • Do FV authors teach that there is some sort of requirement for decretal election? If so, where?

Covenant of Works/Grace

Study Report:
  • 2210- “Rather than making distinctions between “first” and “second” covenant in the fashion of the Westminster Standards, some express hostility to the distinction, while others simply collapse any distinction at all.”

  • 2212- “Because the first covenant with Adam was a gracious covenant, coming from a gracious God…FV writers unanimously reject the concept of merit under the covenant of works.”

  • 2225- “The truly problematic claims of FV proponents come when some suggest that “Christ’s active obedience” is not transferred to his people.”

Questions:
  • The report addresses the issue of mono-covenantalism and its dangers at various points, but never gives specific references to or citations where FV authors use this term. Do they? If so, where?

  • Does the report intend to communicate that there was no grace whatsoever in the first covenant or that God wasn’t gracious in any way toward Adam? If so, how does this square with WCF 7.1 on God’s “voluntary condescension?”

  • Does the report intend to bind all PCA pastors to believe in “the concept of merit under the covenant of works?” Isn’t this a family debate within the reformed community that has been going on a long time, even during the writing of the Confession?

Visible/Invisible Church

Study Report:
  • 2211- “A major consequence of covenant objectivity is that membership within the covenant is viewed within an undifferentiated manner.”

  • 2214- “FV confuses the benefits of salvation by attributing them to non-elect members of the visible church and so undermines the security enjoyed by the believer.”

  • 2227- “Our Standards imply some truths about the grace lost in apostasy.”

Questions:
  • Where do FV authors teach the idea of an “undifferentiated manner” of all members of the covenant community?

  • Is the committee saying that no benefits of Christ’s work are ascribed to non-elect members of the visible church or that Scripture never speaks of such non-saving benefits in terms that are at least analogous to a true state of salvation?

  • If our Standards “imply some truths about the grace lost in apostasy,” then don’t we need ways to study and debate these issues?

  • Why didn’t the committee provide exegesis on passages referring to “grace lost in apostasy?”

Baptismal Efficacy

Study Report:
  • 2205- “The Standards qualify sacramental efficacy with the assertion that the sacraments are efficacious and effectual to the elect and to them only.”

  • 2208- Those “who assert that all the benefits of the covenant of grace accrue to all who are baptized, do err and are out of accord with both Scriptures and the Confession.”

  • 2211- “This confluence of “covenant objectivity” through baptism and “real and vital union” with Christ produces significant confusion about the relationship between the “sign” and “thing signified” and the nature of children who are “in this respect” within the covenant of grace.”

  • 2225- “When FV writers tie together water baptism and baptismal efficacy in a fashion that may feel to some like ex opera operato…”

Questions:
  • Don’t the standards teach various types of sacramental “efficacy?”4 Isn’t baptism always efficacious to solemnly admit the recipient into the “visible church” and to “engage them to be the Lord’s?”

  • Do FV writers really teach that all the benefits of the covenant of grace (narrowly defined and limited to the invisible church) are received by all the baptized or that only some receive these benefits, which are freely offered to all? If it’s the former, where can that be found in their writings?

  • The report quotes several FV authors regarding baptism and union with Christ where the term “real” is used but not “vital.” Why did the committee add “vital” to what FV authors teach when there are no references to “vital?”

  • Have FV writers completely denied the subjective side of being in covenant with God or have they merely concentrated on the objective side?

  • If FV authors are trying to understand “covenantal efficacy,” are they wrong to stress it in their writings?

  • Do FV authors actually use the language “ex opere operato” or does it just “feel” like they do? If any have used it, have they used it in the same sense to which we rightly object? If so, where does this appear in their writings?

Justification

Study Report:
  • 2215- “The standards assert that nothing that sinners do nor anything in them can serve as the ground of justification” and that “good works do not serve as the grounds for justification.”

  • 2224- “This orientation around corporate categories places theological reflection on a different trajectory than that of the Standards.”

  • 2234- “Our concern is that some of those who are baptized will simply presume upon God’s grace, continuing in the covenant without “apostatizing” but also without justifying faith; others will be driven to despair working for a salvation out of “covenant faithfulness” instead of resting and receiving Jesus alone for their salvation.”

Questions:
  • Do FV authors teach that good works are the grounds for our justification? If so, where is this found in their writings?

  • If NPP writers don’t deny individual justification (as the report points out), is there substantial problem with them emphasizing corporate terms?

  • Do FV authors see covenant faithfulness as including the fruit and evidence of a lively faith, which faith is the only instrument of justification? Or do they see “covenant faithfulness” as the grounds of justification or as the instrument of justification inclusive of faith’s fruit and evidence? If the latter, where do they teach this?

  • If FV authors teach that salvation comes by working and not receiving and resting upon Christ, where is this in their writings?

Fellow presbyters, until the committee clarifies these issues, it would be premature for us to ratify their report. We encourage you to carefully and prayerfully think through these issues and not enter into this vote hastily. We are convinced that the report as it now stands lacks the quality and scholarship of a PCA General Assembly position paper.

In the peace of Christ,
Vito Aiuto
Matt Brown
Ray Cannata
Sam Downing
Josh Eby
John Haralson
Mike Khandjian
Iron Kim
Sam Wheatley
Shayne Wheeler

first year students again

In comments on my earlier post, I was asked if I might say a bit more about some of what went on in the faculty workshop on teaching first year students.

To begin, for those of you who teach freshman regularly, I want to highly recommend Teaching First-Year College Students by Bette LaSere Erickson, Calvin B. Peters, and Diane Weltner Strommer (Jossey-Bass 2006).

The book does a great job of helping those of us in the front of the classroom to understand the 18 year olds sitting there facing us. The book draws upon anecdotes, research, and surveys such as the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). It is also chocked full of practical tips on effective instructional practice.

As for Betsy Barefoot's presentations, she covered several broad areas: how first-year theory and research can inform our practices, how various partnerships can support the first year, some basics of student retention, and issues about assessment.

In her first presentation, Barefoot gave an overview of some theories about how first year students adjust to and succeed in college and what kinds of research data we have available to support these theories. We looked at items such as institutional fit, campus involvement, social and academic integration, engagement in learning, and commitment and motivation.

Barefoot was convinced that the last of these items is the most important: commitment and motivation with regard to the institution, to completing a degree, and to a life goal. Motivation and commitment are, in her opinion, the best predictors of success, and can even mitigate weaknesses in the other areas.

But that just moves the question to how teachers and institutions can help cultivate commitment and motivation in the kinds of students we have today.

Barefoot turned then to research on first year seminars, learning communities, advising, residence, and so forth. The upshot of her overview was that much of the research is inconclusive and largely developed around white, male students. Nonetheless, most of what colleges do with advising, learning communities, etc., does seem to have some positive influence on student achievement and learning.

Measuring impact on retention is more difficult, though freshman orientation and support services such as tutoring seem to have the most demonstrable positive impact on retention.

In her presentation on partnerships, Barefoot's focused upon one main point that research seems to substantiate: student learning and development are enhanced when there is purposeful interaction and partnership among students, faculty, and staff to create mutually supportive, coordinated learning experiences. But what does that mean practically?

The answer will differ by institutional context, but strategies can include faculty involvement with move-in and orientation, summer common reading programs, faculty participation in resident life programming, use of first-year seminars, and so forth.

Regard student retention, Barefoot argued there is no easy "fix" and that thinking in those terms is likely the wrong strategy. What we do know from research is students are more likely to drop out if they are male, poor, the first in their families to go to college, work full-time, attend part-time, have children of their own, earned a GED, arrive under-prepared, attend their 3rd choice college or lower, commute, etc.

Obviously, the predicting factors are multiple and, in fact, it is very difficult to predict who will drop out, though we can think in terms of increased likelihood. And many students who do drop out of one institution will eventually finish elsewhere.

Barefoot suggested some primary strategies to promote student persistence: outlining expectations honestly and clearly, requiring attendance, giving feedback early and often, making a course relevant to life skills and experience, and other basic things all of us in education probably see as obvious.

Her main emphasis seemed to be the need to help students identify and build on their strengths and for instructors to promote interaction with students outside of the classroom.

On the current obsession with "assessment," Barefoot promoted a program of self-study that she works with. Honestly, it was late in the day and I mostly zoned out during that part of the workshop.

I'm not sure if any of this information will be helpful for those of us who teach freshmen. But I would highly commend the book I mentioned earlier.

Barefoot also recommended the article, "Collaborative Partnerships between Academic and Student Affairs" by Charles Schroeder (in Challenging and Supporting the First-Year Student, Jossey-Bass 2005).

In addition, there are a lot of resources available online at Policy Center on the First Year of College.

29 May 2007

claire drawing

I don't generally post stuff my daughter draws, but I thought this one was cute. Laurel had given Claire permission to use some of her scrapbooking stencils and this is what Claire came up with:



Claire tells me that it's a bug in a dress with pockets. She has two antennae. Above the bug's head is a little "thought cloud" and the bug is thinking, "Hmm, I wonder what I'd look like with curly hair."

Aren't kids cute?

28 May 2007

PCA report on NPP/FV: some positives

The PCA report on NPP/FV was released during my final exam period and responses began as I was in the midst of grading.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps), I've not been able to follow much of the discussion online. Beyond reading his opening summary, I haven't really had opportunity to work through the 30 Reasons against the report offered by pastor Jeff Meyers of St. Louis, or subsequent online interaction with that (for example, the lengthy conversation here).

Therefore, if what I say in this or following posts overlaps with those discussions, I apologize in advance.

At this point, I have read the NPP/FV report itself several times. I hope I have done so carefully, fairly, and without undue bias (see my earlier summary). Any discussion, if it is going to be profitable, must begin with listening and hearing the concerns of others.

I have also received various queries soliciting my perspective upon the NPP/FV report (and I'm sorry for not responding in any substantive way to those). I offer the following initial reflections in response to those queries.

I hope these reflections will be of some use to our presbyters as they attempt to discern how best to receive the report and its recommendations. My intent here is not to give a last word, but to provide what I hope is a helpful word, in order that our church courts might hear a variety of counsel before rendering decisions.

This first post focuses upon what strike me as some positive aspects of the report.

The Work of Church Courts

As our Book of Church Order (BCO) notes, church courts have the right "to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline seriously and reasonably proposed, and in general to maintain truth and righteousness, condemning erroneous opinions and practices which tend to the injury of the peace, purity, or progress of the Church" (11-4).

Nonetheless, it is also the case, that "there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ. In all these it is the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other" (Preface to the BCO).

Moreover, as a denomination that requires "good faith" subscription for its officers, it is necessary to discern whether or not such differences rise to level of being "out of accord with any fundamental" of the system of doctrine contained in our Standards or being "hostile to the system" or striking at "the vitals of religion" (BCO 21-4).

The NPP/FV report seems intent to recognize the notion of "good faith subscription" and often takes up the language of such subscription in the way it evaluates and compares the teaching of the FV and the NPP with that of our Standards.

The question then is how the report carries through on that intention in assessing evidence, handling the Standards, and making recommendations. Do the report's criticisms of various views really demonstrate those views to be out of accord with the fundamentals of the system of doctrine within our Standards or to strike at the vitals of religion?

The report, as a good faith subscription document, however, seeks to keep its criticisms at this level and rightly so.

Preliminary Observations

[1] Among documents and reports produced thus far by various presbyteries and denominations, it seems to me that this PCA report draws attention to the central issues of contention, distilling those issues to several key soteriological loci (election, justification, covenant, church visible and invisible, perseverance, apostasy, assurance).

The report thereby gives evidence of lessons learned and matters clarified through prior discussions, dialogue, and reports. In that respect, this report is useful, focusing discussion in those places where, in my view, it most properly belongs and in keeping with its mandate from GA. Moreover, the report seeks to avoid straying into other areas of discussion that are less centrally vital and might prove less fruitful.

[2] The report gives sustained attention to our PCA doctrinal Standards. The question before our GA and presbyteries concerns how we subscribe to our Standards and how we interpret and apply those Standards.

Thus, any discernment about whether certain views are out of accord with or hostile to the fundamentals of the system of doctrine in those Standards or strike at the vitals of religion, of necessity requires such attention to the Westminster Standards. And this is where the report focuses it attention.

[3] The NPP/FV report provides set of nine "Declarations" in its conclusion that seek to mark out practical boundaries with regard to what constitute the "fundamentals of the system of doctrine" within our Standards on the relevant matters.

If the views in question do, in fact, violate our good faith subscription to the Standards, then church courts might well find use and help in some set of declarations that re-express the content of our Standards in a manner relevant to these issues.

[4] I would note at this point that, taken on their own terms, I find myself in whole-hearted doctrinal agreement with what those nine "Declarations" state.

While I'm not always entirely sure what each of those "Declarations" intends to express (e.g., the scare quotes around "election" are confusing in this context), I think I understand what the Declarations are trying to protect and the errors they are attempting to exclude. And, given that understanding, I can easily embrace what the "Declarations" seem to say.

Any further reflections that follow are premised upon that fundamental agreement.

In these respects, then, the report is a welcome contribution to the conversation, assisting the church by drawing attention to areas in which we might seek further clarity. As such we should be grateful for the work the committee put into its report, hoping that it will spark further conversation and clarification that will serve the peace, purity, and unity of our churches.

In future posts, I hope to draw attention to some areas in which I think the report could be better and which there is still room for iron to sharpen iron.

27 May 2007

pentecost

"As the Father sent me, so I send you: receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:21).

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I remember grown-ups asking me this question when I was a child. And I have asked my daughter the same question, receiving a variety of answers: a zoologist who works with tigers, a princess, an astronaut who goes to Mars, a bishop.

Children don't fully grasp the future to which the grown-up question points. But even at a very young age, they begin to understand that there is an adult world of which they are not yet a part and which, some day, they can hope to enter. This adult world is a world of more experience, greater maturity, deeper wisdom, and fuller awareness, all of which will bring new possibilities, new hopes, new relationships, and new responsibilities. Children live at their present age, but look forward to an age to come.

So, when we ask children, "What do you want to be went you grow up?" we are not always asking an idle question or merely engaging in small talk. We are raising up possibilities, giving a reason for hope, and inviting a child's imagination to glimpse the future.

Yet we live in a world of poverty and disease, war and political corruption. So many people - including children - live with the most meager possibilities, without much hope at all, and glimpse only a bleak future. For them, the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" can open a door that otherwise remained unseen and unimagined. Or, sadly, it can become a bitter reminder of an immediate reality that seems to offer no way out.

The story of God's people in Scripture should remind us, I think, of the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

In the Hebrew scriptures, Israel is often portrayed as Yahweh's child, his young firstborn son, not yet grown to maturity. And, like every loving parent, God trains Israel. He instructs and exercises discipline. He cultivates a way of life among Israel that might equip his people for adulthood - anticipating even during Israel's childhood the kinds of patterns and habits that Yahweh wanted his people to some day live fully and freely. They lived at their present age, but looked forward to an age to come.

Time and again, God approached Israel with questions, spoken upon the lips of the prophets, questions to the effect:
Israel, my son, what do you want to be when you grow up? Are you living the sort life that will get you there? Will these idols bring you to maturity? Will oppressing the widow and fatherless move you towards the kind of life I want for you? Do you grasp the dream I have for you? Do you understand the inheritance I want to give you? Israel, my son, who do you want to be when you grow up?
So, as we do with our own children, Yahweh's prophets labored to expand Israel's imagination and to give them a glimpse of God's future for them. And, as with our own children, this was not merely an idle question or small talk. Indeed, for Israel, it was the most serious question imaginable.

You see, Israel never existed just for the sake of Israel. God called Israel to serve as his son, heir, servant, and instrument, sending them among the nations to carry forward his purposes for the whole world. Who God's people would be when they grew up involved not only Israel, but every people and nation and, in fact, the entire creation. From childhood, Israel bore the responsibility of God's mission to save and renew the cosmos.

But there was a problem.

Israel, like all other peoples, was a people descended from Adam. As they looked to their responsibilities and calling, they had very little reason for hope. If the story of the Old Testament shows us anything, it shows us that even Israel - the portion of humanity with the greatest gifts, best opportunities, and highest calling - remained trapped within the most meager possibilities, without hope, with only a bleak future.

The story of Adam - a story of falling away from God, breaking trust, disinheritance, and death - was also the story of Israel. In the end, Yahweh's call upon Israel and his offer of a future, could only devolve into a bitter reminder of a situation that seemed to offer no way out.

The good news of the Gospel, however, is that God himself stepped in and provided the way out.

By sending Jesus Christ, God took upon himself the dead-end, hopeless humanity that we, like Israel, experience. Jesus, as the Messiah, represented Israel and embodied Israel's identity and calling.

And, since Israel's calling involved every people and nation, and even the whole cosmos, we can see that Jesus took up God's purposes for renewing the whole world and bringing it into the maturity and fullness for which he created it. From childhood, Jesus bore the responsibility of God's mission to save and renew the cosmos and where Israel failed in this mission, Jesus fulfilled it.

Or, to put it another way, in Jesus we see what it looks like when Israel grows up. The resurrected and ascended Jesus shows us who we really want to be when we are grown, when we come into our inheritance, when we take up the fully human lives for which we were created. In Jesus, the age to come is already here.

And that future - God's future for us - can be summed up in a single phrase: the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is what we celebrate today, upon this feast of Pentecost.

Throughout the Old Testament, glimpses of the age to come were accompanied by the promise of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit who would sprinkle God's people and make them clean, the Spirit who would bring God's forgiveness and vindication, the Spirit who would take away humanity's heart of stone and transplant it with a heart of flesh, the Spirit who would renew the whole creation.

In Jesus Christ, this promise of the Spirit is "Yes" and "Amen." The Spirit, for us, is the Spirit of Jesus.

The Spirit who conceived Jesus in Mary's womb, who descended upon him at his baptism, and who filled Jesus beyond measure, was the same Spirit who drove him into the wilderness of temptation and sent him into a life of conflict, who worked through his hand to restore and heal, and who gave Jesus his kingdom proclamation. And when all of that led to the cross, Jesus entrusted himself to the Father through this Spirit in order to accomplish our redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, out the other side of death, the Spirit raised Jesus up to new life. In doing so, the Spirit vindicated Jesus' life and death. The Spirit seated him at the right hand of the Father, clothed in a renewed and glorious humanity, so that in the person of Jesus, humanity at last came of age. In the Spirit-filled and transformed humanity of Jesus, we see God's future for us and can begin to imagine that future once again in the midst of a world without hope.

This is why the gift of the Holy Spirit forms the center of the New Testament's teaching about God's purposes for the world. When Jesus poured his Spirit out on the disciples gathered at the Temple upon that first Pentecost, it was the first installment of humanity's inheritance, the first taste of human life come of age, the forward movement of God's mission to restore and renew his world.

In his sermon on Pentecost, Peter proclaims that when Jesus ascended, he received what was promised - the Spirit - who he then poured out upon the church. In Galatians, Paul presents the gift of the Spirit to all nations, through faith, as the content of the Gospel preached ahead of time to Abraham. In Ephesians, hearing the Gospel in faith results in receiving the promised Spirit, a down payment upon the greater share of the Spirit we still await. In John's Gospel, Jesus says it is better for him to leave because, when he does, the Spirit will come upon the disciples.

Humanity all grown up - the age to come - can, therefore, be summed up as the age of the Spirit, over against the former age of flesh, when we remained in our minority.

An ever greater sharing in the gift of the Spirit is the goal of redemption, even as it was the goal of creation, sidetracked by sin. And we should rejoice because, through the Spirit, we come to share in God's own life.

Aelred of Rievaulx, the great 12th century monastic, writes upon the feast of Pentecost:
Today's holy solemnity puts new heart into us, for not only do we revere its dignity, we also experience it as delightful. On this feast it is love that we specially honor, and among human beings there is no word pleasanter to the ear, no thought more tenderly dwelt on, than love. The love we celebrate is nothing other than the goodness, kindness, and charity of God; for God himself is goodness, kindness, and charity. His goodness is identical with his Spirit, with God himself.
We see this love - the goodness, kindness, and charity of God - suddenly appear among those early disciples at the first Pentecost and among those who heard their message, believed, and were baptized. In Acts 2, we read, "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." In each generation and in each situation, this love takes up new tasks and new forms. Yet this love remains the substance of our grown-up life in the Spirit through faith.

This new life in the Spirit, the life of the new age, is not a static thing. It is not simply a new experience inside of us or a higher state of consciousness. The life of Spirit is active. The Spirit who we receive is the Spirit who was sent, just as Jesus was sent - the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and, from the Father, through the Son into the world as the creator Spirit and the Spirit of new creation.

God himself is always a God on the move. He is the eternal movement of love between Father, Son, and Spirit - what theologians sometimes call God's "pure actuality," the eternal event of God being who God is, as the God who is love.

Therefore, if God chooses to create, it can only be as an overflow of that love. Moreover, God can only intend to more and more fully catch creation up into his eternal movement of love, that is, into the life of God himself. In this sharing of self - of divine life - we are enfolded within the sending of the Son and of the Spirit.

And it is that shared life which is the life "humanity all grown up," the life of maturity and the inheritance to which we are graciously called. But, if this life is movement and sending, then it is also mission.

Even in the 12th century, this Aelred, who I quoted earlier, understood the missional character of Pentecost and of God's Spirit-filled people. He writes:
In his work of disposing all things the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world from the beginning, reaching from end to end of the earth in strength, and delicately disposing everything; but as sanctified, the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world since Pentecost, for on this day the gracious Spirit himself was sent by the Father and the Son on a new mission, in a new mode, by a new manifestation of his mighty power, for the sanctification of every creature. Before this day the Spirit had not yet been given, for Jesus was not yet glorified, but today he came forth from his heavenly throne to give himself in all his abundant riches to the human race, so that the divine outpouring might pervade the whole wide world and be manifested in a variety of spiritual endowments.
A new mission, in a new mode, by a new manifestation - living out the life of love, of goodness, kindness, and charity that the Spirit gives, in order that, through us, the whole wide world might live the life of God. That is what Pentecost involves.

On this Pentecost, then, allow the Spirit to speak to us through his word. In the exalted person of Jesus, let the Spirit raise up possibilities for us, give reasons for hope, and invite our imaginations to glimpse God's future. Let us heed the Spirit's call to new relationships and new responsibilities, to goodness, kindness, and charity. Let the Spirit send us even as he has sent Jesus Christ into world on the mission of God.

Allow the Spirit to open otherwise unseen and unimagined doors when he comes to say, "Here is who you will be when you grow up."

26 May 2007

PCA report on NPP/FV: a summary

Recently, the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies issued its report (pdf).

The committee had been authorized by the PCA 2006 General Assembly (GA) and appointed by Dominic Aquila, who served as GA's Moderator. The committee consisted of four teaching elders and three ruling elders.

The "Federal Vision" (FV) and "Auburn Avenue Theology" (AAT) refer to the views of a group within the PCA and more widely among Reformed denominations who have taken up a distinctive set of emphases within covenant theology, sacramental theology, and biblical theology.

The "New Perspective on Paul" (NPP) refers to a constellation of approaches to interpreting the New Testament Pauline corpus in light of what we have come to learn about 2nd Temple Judaism. The NPP is often associated with figures such as E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, Don Garlington, Ben Witherington, and so on.

At 36 pages, the NPP/FV report is lengthy and not everyone may care to read it. Therefore, in the following, I summarize the content of the report, attempting to present its contents as fairly and accurately as I can.



Structure

The report falls into four main sections: [1] a preface, [2] the body of the report itself, [3] a list a nine declarations, and [4] five recommendations for the PCA GA to consider.

I will spend the bulk of this summary looking at the main body of the report since the other sections are short and more readily digested. But a few words about them first.

The "Preface" gives some history and context, outlines the charge of the committee, and explains the method by which it proceeded in its work. It's most significant contention, perhaps, is that since the Westminster Standards are "our 'standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture'" the report does not so much engage directly with Scripture as it attempts "to determine whether the views of the NPP and AAT/FV are in conformity with our Westminster Standards" (2202:40-43).

The nine "Declarations" seek to mark out practical boundaries with regard to what constitute the "fundamentals of the system of doctrine" within our Standards on the relevant matters (2235:1-44).

The five "Recommendations" concern ways the PCA GA might receive and use the report. In addition to commending the report to the PCA for study, it recommends that the "Declarations" be seen "as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards" and suggests that presbyters who find themselves at variance with the report's understanding of the Standards are obligated to make known their exceptions (2236:1-23).



Main Body

The body of the report is divided into three main sections: "Election and Covenant," "Justification and Union with Christ," and "Perseverance, Apostasy, and Assurance."

Each section attempts to accomplish three things: [1] to outline the teaching of our Standards on these topics, [2] to exposit the FV and NPP as they teach on these topics, and [3] to draw a comparative analysis to discern where the NPP or FV might come into conflict with the fundamentals of the system of doctrine within our Standards.

Election and Covenant

The Standards: With regard to the teaching of the Standards, the report emphasizes the basic Calvinistic distinction between the elect and the non-elect, proceeding from God's eternal decree, based up his sovereign, free, and gracious choice.

For the elect, the Standards teach that God's purposes in their eternal salvation are certain and sure, so that all and only the elect truly experience God's saving gifts and none of the elect shall be lost. The church visible includes both elect and non-elect. Those who are not elect never are redeemed, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved (2204:15 - 2206:7).

The Standards teach a bi-covenantal federal theology of a covenant of works before the fall and a covenant of grace after the fall. The covenant of works held forth a promise conditioned upon Adam's personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. The covenant of grace requires only faith (2206:11 - 2207:18).

The report implies that, had Adam received the promise under the covenant of works, it would have involved his meriting that reward and, further, this is the basis for speaking of Christ's "merits" as the one who obeyed where Adam had failed (2207:20-32).

The covenant of grace has broader and narrower aspects, extending broadly to all the baptized and applying narrowly only to the elect, so that not all who are baptized truly receive saving benefits, but only the elect (2207:34 - 2208:8).

The NPP: The report outlines five areas in which it supposes all versions of the NPP to agree: [1] Reformation understandings of Paul need revision, [2] 2nd Temple Judaism (2TJ) did not teach obedience to the law as a way of salvation, [3] in 2TJ the law's function was ecclesiological, not soteriological, [4] Paul's polemic against varieties of Jewish thought opposed exclusivism, not synergistic soteriology, and [5] Reformation-era misreadings of Paul anachronistically read their own situation into Paul's context (2208:19-41).

From there, the report turns to N.T. Wright, drawing attention to his emphasis on the covenantal and corporate, and his reading of justification as involving the question of what marks out true covenant membership (2209:1-24).

The FV: The report sees proponents of the FV teaching that election as having more broad and more narrow senses in Scripture and theology, while they nonetheless attempt to affirm the view of election that is present within our Standards (2210:28-35).

On the covenant, FV thinkers do not distinguish between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace in typical ways (2210:37 - 2211:2).

First, according to the report, they broadly construe "covenant" as a vital relationship with the Triune God and, in this sense, having a strongly objective dimension marked out now by baptism. This objective, visible people is included within God's electing work in Christ (2211:4-16).

Second, they emphasize the gracious character of the covenant of works with Adam, apart from merit, and subsume conditionality within both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace under the category of "covenant faithfulness" (2212:8-15).

Comparative Analysis: In the view of the report, the question is not whether the NPP and FV views in question simply go beyond confessional teaching, but whether they conflict with confessional teaching (2212:19-25).

In the view of the report, FV exponents run afoul of the Standards by their redefining the relevant terminology and proposing a biblical hermeneutic that departs from that of the Standards, in part through its expansive definition of "covenant." As such, what the FV proposes are not complementary perspectives, but contradictory ones (2212:21 - 2213:21).

Moreover, some FV understandings of the covenant of works wrongly parallel Adam's obedience under the covenant of works with our faith under the covenant of grace (2213:23-30).

Finally, the report says that, contrary to the Standards, the FV attributes saving benefits of Christ's work to the non-elect within the church visible (2214:1-3).

Justification and Union with Christ

The Standards: Regarding "union with Christ," according to the report, in the language of the Standards all and only the elect ever enter into a true union with Christ. All the benefits of the covenant of grace enjoyed by members of the church invisible flow from this union, of which baptism is the sign and seal (2214:11-43).

On justification, the report holds that the Standards teach that in justification sinners are pardoned of their sins and counted as righteous on the basis of the imputation of Christ's perfect active and passive obedience. Moreover, nothing that sinners do can serve as a ground of justification, even if the works of those who are justified are accepted and pleasing in Christ (2215:3-41).

According to the report, the Standards teach that those once justified cannot fall from that state of justification and in the final judgment will be openly acknowledged and acquitted because, in their prior justification, they have already been freed from God's wrath (2216:1-12).

The NPP: In the view of the report, E.P. Sanders argues that 2TJ was not a religion of legalism, but of grace, which comes to expression in God's election of Israel. Thus early Christians and 2TJ held to the same basic outlook on grace and works: one "gets in" by grace and "stays in" by obedience (2216:18 - 2217:2).

With regard to N.T. Wright, the report presents Wright as teaching that "justification" has primary reference to eschatological redemption by which God would vindicate his true covenant people before his law-court, defeating their enemies and raising them from death. This picture is reworked around the person of Jesus who received this vindication in the middle of history as Messiah and Lord, demonstrating God's righteousness or faithfulness to his covenant promises (2217:24 - 2218:17).

The report sees justification as primarily ecclesiological for Wright, with faith in Jesus as Lord as the boundary marker of God's true covenant people. Moreover, Wright does not see "justification" as involving "imputation," since "righteousness of God" doesn't refer to an imputed righteousness and biblical language of "reckoning" refers to God accounting sinners righteous on account of faith (2218:18 - 2220:9).

The FV: The report notes Peter Leithart's observation that within biblical categories, the declaration of righteousness that occurs in justification takes the form of liberation from sin and deliverance from enemies (2220:6 - 2221:33).

The report goes on to suggest that Rich Lusk's rejection of the category of positive merit is what leads to his downplaying of imputation of Christ's merit, viewing such imputation as redundant in the context of union with Christ. Moreover, Lusk holds that baptism holds out and communicates union with Christ and all that entails, so that while faith is an instrument on our part, baptism is an instrument on God's part (2222:1 - 2223:9).

With regard to Steve Wilkins, the report briefly notes that Wilkins speaks in a similar way to Lusk, seeing baptism as holding out to us everything that is true of Christ and true in Christ for us (2223:13 - 2224:12).

Comparative Analysis: The report finds Wright's understanding of justification to be incompatible with that of the Standards, particularly in Wright's emphasis on the covenant membership dimension of justification and seeming rejecting of imputation (2224:16-38).

With the FV, the report sees FV proponents as collapsing everything into "union with Christ" and thereby collapsing distinct benefits of that union into one another. The report is especially troubled by the suggestions that justification need not involve imputation of Christ's active obedience and that all the baptized are savingly united to Christ (2224:40 - 2225:26).

Perseverance, Apostasy, and Assurance

The Standards: According to the report, the Standards teach the perseverance of all and only the elect as an outworking of that election and by the efficacy of the work of Christ and the Spirit. Moreover, all and only the elect enjoy the benefits that flow from effectual calling (2225:34 - 2226:26).

The Standards also distinguish between the church visible and invisible. While there are benefits that all within the church visible enjoy in common, only the elect are members of the church invisible and enjoy efficacious, irresistible grace and benefits (2226:30 - 2227:11).

With regard to assurance, the report sees the Standards as teaching the possibility of infallible assurance of perseverance, an outgrowth of faith, inward evidence of grace (including trembling at biblical warnings), and the witness of the Spirit (2227:31 - 2228:17).

The NPP: The report notes that perseverance and assurance are not central concerns to the NPP, but wonders if Wright's distinction between present justification by faith and eschatological justification according to works might raise some difficulties (2228:21 - 2229:17).

The FV: According the report, FV proponents emphasizes assurance in the context of how the Scriptures speak to the entire church visible, the necessity of "covenant-keeping," and the initial inability to distinguish between those who will persevere and those who will not (2229:23 - 2230:15).

On the church visible and invisible, the report sees the FV as substituting the language of "historical" and "eschatological" or, in some cases, as collapsing the distinction altogether (2230:18 - 2231:2).

The report also notes that the FV emphasizes the lost of real grace on the part of apostates so that those who were once elect to the grace enjoyed by the church visible can become non-elect. In light of this, the report sees FV advocates as both overplaying assurance by offering it to all the baptized and undermining assurance by stressing the possibility of apostasy (2231:6 - 2232:10).

Comparative Analysis: The report states that the Standards do not teach that there is a non-differentiated, homogeneous grace enjoyed by both the elect and non-elect in the church visible. Rather, there is a qualitative difference between the efficacious work of the Spirit in the elect and whatever common operations the non-elect may enjoy (2232:16-28).

The report also perceives a difficulty with the FV claim that the Scriptures address their hearers as "elect" in an unqualified way, noting various qualifications introduced in the Pauline writings. The effect here is to negotiate (or deny) the distinction between the church visible and invisible in a way that conflicts with the Standards (2232:30 - 2233:42).

With regard to assurance, the report sees the FV as undermining assurance by claiming that all the baptized are united to Christ and enjoy his benefits, short of perseverance. The report sees such a view as contrary to the Standards and leading easily to either presumption or despair (2234:40-47).



This concludes my summary of the PCA report on NPP/FV.

I hope that this summary will be useful to those who may not have the time to read the report in its entirety. I also hope that I have portrayed the contents of the report fairly and accurately. Any summary involves selection and judgment about what to highlight. If you think I've missed something crucial or struck an inaccurate balance, let persuade me in the comments and I'll correct matters.

In future posts I may try to offer some reflections and analysis.

25 May 2007

patristic, medieval, and renaissance

Each year Villanova University hosts a conference in patristic, medieval, and renaissance and reformation studies.

The conference is cross-disciplinary and wide open in terms of topics. Nevertheless, there is usually a plenary theme that serves at the focus of the conference. This year's theme is "Faith and the Ways of Knowing" and will be held 19-21 October 2007.

The topic seems to intersect fruitfully with many of my own areas of interest and the call for papers has extended its proposal deadline until 15 June. I had been interested in submitting a proposal, but was unable to give it much thought until the semester ended.

So, I'm giving it thought now, but find myself drawn in several different directions: reformation negotiations of faith and reason, shifts in the ontology of Scripture from medieval to Renaissance thought and practice, the interrelation of epistemology with liturgy and sacraments. And I'm not sure if any of these are really the best avenue to venture.

And thoughts or suggestions from among you readers? Use the comments.

23 May 2007

newbigin on election

I find inspiration in the writings of the great Reformed missionary, theologian, and ecumenist, Lesslie Newbigin.

Newbigin prepared his volume, The Household of God during a furlough in 1952. The chapters were written as the Kerr Lectures on "the nature of the church," presented at Trinity College in Glasgow, Scotland. The under-appreciated book deserves a wide audience and stands as one of the definitive works of Reformed ecclesiology in the past century.

In the past few weeks of church and small group we've been moving though the later chapters of John's Gospel, in particular Jesus' upper room discourse. God's choice of disciples is a theme in John, and in the parable of the vine, Jesus says, "You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last" (15:16).

Newbigin comments on election in Household of God intersect with this text and came to mind. He writes:
No one can say why it is that one was chosen and another not, why it is that here the word came "not only in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thess. 1:5), while there the same word carried no regenerating power. The answer to that question is known only to God. But if we cannot know for what reason one was chosen, we can most certain know for what purpose he was chosen: he was chosen in order to be a fruit-bearing branch in the one true vine (John 15:16), a witness through whom others might be saved. He is chosen in order that through him God's saving purpose may reach to others, and they too be reconciled to God in and through His reconciled and reconciling people...

And we can also see that wherever the missionary character of the doctrine of election is forgotten; wherever it is forgotten that we are chosen in order to be sent; wherever the minds of believers are concerned more to probe backwards from their election into the reasons for it in the secret counsel of God than to press forward from their election to the purpose of it, which is that they should be Christ's ambassadors and witnesses to the ends of the earth; wherever men think that the purpose of election is their own salvation rather than the salvation of the world; then God's people have betrayed their trust.
All I can add is, let's happily and warmly embrace the doctrines of grace, but let's make sure that we do so with the same missional accent that they receive in God's self-revelation in Scripture.

21 May 2007

first year students

Tomorrow I'm going to attend a workshop on campus given by Betsy Barefoot, a national expert and researcher on first year university students.

She is the Co-Director for the Policy Center on the First Year of College, and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina. Prior to her current position she served for 11 years as Co-Director for Research and Publications in the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina.

My teaching involves almost only freshmen, four sections each term in philosophy. The philosophy courses I teach are in a program called "the Doubles" in which each of my philosophy sections is paired with and thematically linked to a section in another disciple. In the autumn, I also teach two sections of what is called "First Year Odyssey" (FYO) a one credit course designed to orient students to the university and to help with transition from high school to college.

Teaching freshman does pose special difficulties, especially at a moderately selective university with small classes, which emphasizes relationships and teaching, and is trying to increase retention. I'm rated by my students as an excellent teacher, but even so, I still feel a lot of room for pedagogical improvement and more effective classroom practice, particularly with our student population.

I sometime get frustrated since I know I made it through college without all the helps and support that we provide our students. Then again, I was my high school's valedictorian and attended an Ivy League university. So I suspect I was probably better prepared than a lot of my students and probably more motivated and more willing to take intellectual initiative.

In addition to the challenges of the classroom, there are also institutional pressures, particularly with the FYO. While FYO is only a semester-long, one credit course, it takes up a lot of different roles: orientation to the campus and available services, instruction about the Core Curriculum, pre-registration training, visits with the alumni association and career services, health and safety issues, awareness of support services, advising on time and stress management, orientation to the neighborhood and city, building of relationship, discussion of diversity and values, and so forth.

That's a lot to accomplish in one semester during approximately 15 hours of classroom time - especially while also trying to build community, monitoring students' progress, and trouble-shooting any problems that inevitably crop up.

So I'm looking forward to Dr. Barefoot's talk tomorrow and discussion among the faculty who will be there and share many of the same pressures that I face. If nothing else, these workshops are always motivating and help recharge my batteries after long semester.

18 May 2007

crowned with glory and honor

When I teach our introductory philosophy course on the human person, Psalm 8 is among the texts we consider, connecting it with Genesis 1-3, Psalm 90, and selections from Paul.

I walk the students through the psalm, moving them towards its center, the psalmist's query to the Lord and Creator of the cosmos:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established -
what is a human being that you are mindful of him,
a son of adam that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4)
And that question is an important question.

We all try to make sense of our lives, to invest our experiences and choices with meaning and value. Despite their facile freshman relativism, my students find significance in family and friends, they care about fairness, they get angry about bad politics. Through celebrations, media, holidays, film, music, and so on, they seek to connect their personal stories with larger ones about their communities, nations, and cultures. And we all do the same.

Ultimately we hope for something more than just a mere history, a narrative of birth, life, growth, and inevitable end. We hope for something that transcends that series of unrelated actions which becomes our fate, created by us, combined under our memory's eye and soon sealed by death. What we hope for is an eschatology - a meaning and destiny that is bigger than us, that finds its origin and end beyond the immanency of the merely human.

But is that possible? Even if it is possible, is it credible? Can we believe it? If there is a realm of divine transcendence, a god of some sort, why should we think we occupy his interests or warrant his attention?

Sometimes we consider all we know of the cosmos, of its vast empty expanses and mind-boggling distances, of stars and galaxies and quasars. We consider this and we wonder why a god should care for the humble, often miserable lives we have here, mere specks on the face of an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet orbiting around a small unregarded yellow sun.

We're sometimes tempted to think that this is a thoroughly modern question, arising out of the success of science and technology, our ability to explain natural phenomena, and a growing appreciation of the sheer magnitude of the cosmos. But the psalmist disabuses us of the pretension that somehow this question is more profound or more pressing for modern people than for ancient ones. If anything, the vastness of the heavens was more palpable and immediate in the dark nights of a world before the electric light bulb than in ours.

The psalmist provides a two-fold answer to his question - first, in the words of the psalm itself and, second, in the literary organization of the psalm.

Echoing Genesis 1 and 2, the psalmist proclaims that humanity is created "a little lower than the heavenly beings" and "crowned with glory and honor." We have been granted dominion over all of God's works and all things have been placed under our feet. We are glorious beings granted the privilege to rule the whole created order.

The structure of the psalm itself underscores and heightens this, setting up an analogy between the first and second halves - suggesting that humanity's glory and dominion is a creaturely reflection of and participation in the glory and dominion of God himself. God's rule is manifest in human rule. God's glory is refracted through the glory of human life. In and through humanity, heaven and earth come together and God is present and known among us.

What a wondrous picture of the god-like potential of humanity! Mirandola could not more highly sing the praises of our kind. And no wonder that God should care for us, the beings upon whose shoulders the world's destiny rests, the beings who in all the vast cosmos most closely and clearly reveal God's own character and life.

And yet, the psalmist's answer to his question is simply not credible. If it were true, we could understand why the creator of the world might lavish his attentions upon us. But of all the teachings of Scripture, this picture of human glory is probably the most obviously false, disproved daily by our Internet news feeds and our own experience.

This past week alone brings us news of soldiers killed and injured in Iraq, of journalists kidnapped, of civilians attacked by insurgents, of two dozen dying in a hotel explosion in Pakistan, of ongoing struggle in the Sudan, of division between Fattah and Hamas in Gaza, of more murders here in Philadelphia, of savage rape and brutal death.

We can look around our own neighborhoods and find trash littering the landscape, buildings in decay, graffiti on walls, domestic violence, wayward children, alcoholism and drug abuse destroying lives, used condoms left behind under playground equipment giving evidence of adolescent urges run amok.

We can look into our own hearts and discern there bitterness and hatred, greed and lust, injustice and lies. We impugn the motives of our sisters and brothers. We protect ourselves and lash out in anger. We speak in ways that damage ourselves and others. We destroy relationships through mistrust and disloyalty. We ignore the plight of the poor, fatherless, widowed, and lost. We wreck the natural world around us.

Instead of glory and honor, the reality of human life falls far short of glory and remains shrouded in dishonor. Instead of dominion, we ourselves are dominated by the worst urges of our nature.

Another psalmist writes:
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:9-10)
And that's the reality.

Whatever hope we might have for something more, whatever vision of human dignity we might imagine, this psalm speaks to our actual condition. A life totally estranged from anything resembling the divine. Toil and trouble, ending in a sigh. Or, in more colloquial idiom, life's a bitch and then you die.

So what of Psalm 8 and it's image of human glory? How can these two pictures remain side by side in the same Psalter? Which is these is the true story of the world? How can the same scriptures that so honestly admit the brokenness and degradation of our lives nonetheless tease us with the impossible dream of something better?

In the church's calendar, yesterday was the feast of the Ascension of our Lord and now, as did the first disciples, we find ourselves in that period of waiting between Ascension and Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out upon the church. Often we too quickly move into Pentecost, into the Spirit's ministry, the mission the church, the gifting of God's people, and the spread of the Gospel into all the earth.

But we should pause and reflect upon the significance of the Ascension since it is only as our ascended Lord, seated at the Father's right hand, that Jesus grants his Spirit. It is only as the one who has entered into the fullness of the age to come - of new creation - that Jesus receives the Spirit to share with us, his people. It is only as the one who receives glory and honor and dominion, that Jesus pours out his Spirit of glory upon us.

What is more, the Ascension is not about Jesus receiving glory and honor and dominion as God. As the eternal, divine Son, Jesus always already enjoyed the fullness of the Spirit's life, the unending and limitless glory and honor and dominion of God himself.

No, the Ascension of Jesus shows us that Psalm 8 is not merely wishful thinking, a passing daydream from which the gritty realities of life may at any moment shake us. The Ascension is about the fact that humanity is enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, crowned with glory and honor, and granted dominion over all the works God's hand has made.

In Jesus and his Ascension we see clearly that Psalm 8 is not a false and misleading description of the human condition. Nor is it merely wishful thinking or a wistful longing for what humanity might have been. Rather, Psalm 8 is eschatology, pointing to the end for which humanity was made, upon which the fate of cosmos depends, and which can only be received as a gift of God's grace.

And now that gift has already been given in the person of Jesus Christ, securing for us the certain hope of our own redemption and destiny. This is well-expressed in the words of a great Ascension hymn:
He has raised our human nature in the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heavenly places, there with Him in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in Thine ascension we by faith behold our own.
("See the Conqueror Mounts in Triumph," Christopher Wordsworth)
Or in the words of Cyril of Alexandria:
Christ has not ascended in order to make his own appearance before God the Father. He was, is, and ever will be in the Father and in the sight of him from whom he receives his being, for he is his Father's unfailing joy. But now the Word, who had never before been clothed in human nature, has ascended as human to show himself in a strange and unfamiliar fashion. And he has done this on our account and in our name, so that being like us, though with his power as the Son, and hearing the command, "Sit at my right hand," as a member of our race, he might transmit to all of us the glory of being children of God. (from On John's Gospel)
In Jesus Christ, God's rule is manifest in the rule of a human being. God's glory is refracted through the glory of a human life. In and through Jesus' humanity, heaven and earth come together and God is present and known among us.

For every one of us who looks upon Jesus Christ through the eyes of faith, we behold our own identity and destiny in him. As Paul urges his hearers on several occasions in his letters, when we set our minds on what is above - on the glorious humanity of Jesus Christ - it re-orients our identity, re-centers our priorities, and re-directs our world. But how is this the case?

Here is where we return to Psalm 90 and its description of fallen, broken humanity. Yes, indeed, Jesus has been raised up to God's right hand. As human, he has been crowned with glory and honor and dominion. In Jesus, our own nature becomes the place in which heaven and earth come together.

And yet, Jesus only receives the gift of exaltation as one who has lived among us in our Psalm 90 world, estranged from God. He knows our toil and trouble. He has entered fully into the darkness and degradation of our lives. He knows what it means for days to pass quickly and end in the sighs of death.

Jesus identifies with us in our condition, stands in solidarity with our humaity. Jesus waits in breadlines. Jesus is spat upon as beggar. Jesus sinks into the darkness of mental illness. He was gassed in Auschwitz, slaughtered in Armenia, raped in Rwanda. Jesus lives in the humid, mosquito-infested desperation of an impoverished trailer park. Jesus is present within the prescription drug-addiction of middle-class suburban banality. Jesus knows the heartache of parents who worry for their children. Jesus identified with and took upon himself every form of human suffering in the suffering of his cross.

The Christian faith is not triumphalism. Unlike Roman emperors, after his death Jesus is not proclaimed "ascended Lord" as a tool of imperial oppression, military threat, or political control. There is honor and glory and dominion in Jesus' Ascension, but it is the honor, glory, and dominion of a crucified Lord. It is the honor, glory, and dominion of one who became in every way like us, except sin. It is the honor, glory, and dominion of a suffering servant. It is the honor, glory, and dominion of cruciform love.

The Ascension transforms the meaning of Psalm 90, because the Ascension transforms the meaning of suffering. Thus, it is in beholding the ascended Jesus as the crucified king, the suffering servant, and the truly human Lord, that we find our identities re-oriented, our priorities re-centered, and our world re-directed. The Ascension calls us to suffer with Christ, knowing that in this cruciform love, the honor, glory, and dominion of our humanity is revealed in the present age.

The world lives by the rule of other lords - of force, wealth, power, pleasure, self. In submitting to these lords we produce inglorious lives of dishonor, dominated by false loyalties, broken by toil and trouble, ending not with a bang but a whimper.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, "there is a deep suffering, unquantifiable and hence impossible to compare, which comes from living as one who believes that the crucified Messiah is the world's true Lord," in the midst of a world that lives by the rule of these other false lords (N.T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays - Year A 66). But the message of the Ascension is not one of escape from present suffering.

Rather, it teaches us that in the midst of present suffering - and intrinsically qualified by it - we begin now to learn how to live the truly human lives for which we were created. The glory of God is made known in our compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. The honor and dignity of humanity is manifest in forgiveness and harmony. Human dominion in the world is seen in the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts, to which we were called in one body, and with overflowing gratitude.

In this Ascensiontide, therefore, let us pause and reflect upon the true humanity sitting at the right hand of the Father in the person of our crucified Lord. Let us also remember that we too are seated with Jesus and share in his rule. This reality is not an assurance we will one day escape this world, nor merely that we remain with Jesus even when we die, though that is certainly and wonderfully true.

Rather, the Ascension shows us that the end for which we were created is already fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It anticipates already the future fulfillment of that end in our own humanity. The Ascension is a promise that, through us, the entire cosmos will be renewed and heaven and earth will be brought back together.

Moreover, the Ascension demonstrates the possibility now, in the present, that in and through our lives - yes, even in our toil and trouble, our suffering and death - the honor, glory, and dominion for which we were created can come alive and heaven and earth can draw together once more.

16 May 2007

suarez and reformed scholasticism

I posted a number of notes on Francisco Suarez over the past months. I have not been able to provide anything approaching a systematic or comprehensive assessment of Suarez’s role in the emergence of Protestant (and particularly Reformed) scholastic thought in the 17th century.

I do hope, however, that these remarks have provided an outline of what that influential role involved, pertaining especially to matters of the Christian use of Aristotle, the organization of topics, issues of metaphysics, theological prolegomena, natural theology, virtue ethics, cases of conscience, and the Christian Sabbath. Much more work remains if that account is to filled out and deepened.

Part of the upshot of this overview is that we must take a great deal of care in describing developments within Protestant scholastic theology, particularly in relation to Roman Catholic theology of post-Reformation period. Sometimes the relationship has been over-simplified, as I hope you can begin to see, to the point of caricature: for instance, painting Reformed thought as emphatically Scotistic (in the worst sense of the term) and making this a point of contrast over against a Roman Catholic theology that has remained more genuinely true to the genius of high medieval thought such as we find in Aquinas and Bonaventure.

While there are, of course, profound and systemic differences between post-Reformation Roman Catholic and Protestant scholastic thought on any number of issues, the story is one of interdependence and convergence, as well as one of contrast. Perhaps several centuries of Catholic and Protestant polemics - especially in the wake of ascendant late 19th century neo-thomistic philosophy - have obscured the multi-faceted developments of our respective post-medieval traditions. Moreover, perhaps they have obscured the degree to which any number of Roman Catholic theologians were enmeshed together with emerging Protestant scholasticism within the same complex patterns of Renaissance humanism, philosophical and pedagogical advances, and institutional situations.

There’s much more to be said on these last topics, but I do not think I have yet gained the kind of proficiency with the relevant materials in order to draw many solid conclusions. In light of that, I very much look forward to gaining a more extensive understanding of Suarez and his thought, along with wider trends in the 16th and 17th centuries, as I continue to study.

is the religious right eroding?

The past couple of weeks have brought two significant changes within the world of right-wing evangelicalism: the death of Moral Majority founder, Jerry Falwell, and the coming demise of Coral Ridge's Center for Reclaiming America.

Situate those events in a larger context: the Christian Coalition remains $2 million in debt and in organizational disarray, James Dobson has recently failed to exercise successful influence in several areas (including his inability to force Cizek's resignation from the National Association of Evangelicals over environmental issues), and the religious right appears fractured over the current slate of Republican presidential candidates.

While Facebook is hardly a scientific survey (and bears witness to the idiosyncracies of my friendships), as I scan through the profiles of evangelical friends, the largest groups list themselves politically as "Other" with "Moderate" coming in second. In significantly fewer numbers, evangelical friends identify themselves as "Liberal," "Apathetic," "Libertarian," and "Conservative" in almost equal amounts.

Among these same friends, I find a diverse array of political causes. While traditional conservative positions are certainly (and justifiably) present (e.g., pro-life issues), a number of other causes receive almost equal attention: alternative energy, global poverty, AIDS in Africa, opposition to the Iraq war, genocide in Sudan, and so on.

Again, checking out Facebook profiles is hardly a predictor of anything and it trends towards the younger end of the spectrum - mostly 20-somethings. But this may represent a shift among younger evangelicals, although 20-somethings are also the ones most likely to change their views in coming years.

It does seem to illustrate, however, what other data bears out - that there is a growing political realignment within evangelicalism, away from a too-easy identification with secular (neo-)conservatism and with a greater degree of skepticism about the direct role of the church in politics. This isn't to say that younger evangelicals are apolitical, but that their conception of what counts as "political involvement" seems broader, more oriented toward service, less enamored with power, more flexible, and less partisan.

I'm not convinced whether the death of Jerry Falwell and the demise of D. James Kennedy's political organization really do mark any important change in the wider world of evangelical politics, but I suspect that the kind of politics these figures symbolize is no longer so central among American evangelicals. I also happen to think that this is a good thing.

15 May 2007

summer writing

Since my summer teaching didn't materialize, it looks like I'll have time on my hands to do some writing. Moreover, I have a very generous offer from a friend to act as a research assistant.

I have several smaller writing projects already that I need to get off my plate: a worship guide for our church, some book reviews, revising a paper I presented earlier this spring, and a couple of paper proposals for fall conferences. But once I'm finished with those (I hope before the end of May), my options are wide open.

Several popular-level book-length projects have been rattling around my head for a few years and I have a pretty good idea what I might like to spend my time on. Still, I'd be interested in any feedback readers of this blog might have.

So, knowing something of my interests and the sort of writing I do, what would you all suggest? Leave suggestions in the comments.

14 May 2007

silly blog rankings

UnSpun is some kind of ranking program cooked up by Amazon.com. Different people create lists that rank some group of related items. Others can add further items. People can vote to re-order the rankings.

Of course, it doesn't really measure anything except the opinions of the people who have voted, relative to the items actually listed.

Here's a ranking of theologically-oriented blogs:



All you need to vote is an Amazon account or you can create an account to vote on UnSpun. You'll find me ranked somewhere down in the 70s, which is likely far more than I deserve with my long spans of non-blogging.

13 May 2007

suarez, natural law, and sabbath

In several earlier posts, I've noted some connections to and lines of influence from the work of Francisco Suarez within the emergence of Reformed scholastic theology in the 17th century. Those have primarily concerned theology proper, prolegomena, and natural theology.

In this post I want to say a bit about natural law and the conscience.

We may begin by noting ongoing discussion within 16th and 17th Reformed scholastic theology in regard to the question of whether sacred theology is most properly a practical or a speculative discipline. As with Aquinas, there was never any real question among Reformed scholastics as to whether both theology was both practical and speculative, but rather a question as to the relative precedence of each of these aspect. And unlike Aquinas, more often than not, the emphasis fell upon theology as a primarily practical disciple.

One of the primary influences here was Petrus Ramus who defined theology as “the doctrine of living well” (Commentariorum de Religione) and whose method tended toward a bifurcation of practical and speculative concerns. Add to this Ramus’s disdain for Aristotle, particularly in the area of ethics, concerning which he said the ethics of the Bible knows nothing of the ethics of Aristotle (Oratio de Professione liberalium artium, Paris, 1563: 104).

Despite the influence of Ramus, however, Aristotle was not entirely abandoned the area of moral theology among Reformed scholastic authors and neither were traditions of Christian use of Aristotle. In England, for instance, the Thomistic sympathies of Richard Hooker and William Perkins (1558-1602) permitted them both to develop teleological virtue ethics in which the right formation and exercise of conscience plays a central role. This is especially evident in Perkins’s extensive casuistry of conscience in two major works on the topic, though, since he was an earlier figure, the shape of Perkins’s discussion is largely dependent upon Thomas Aquinas himself rather than later Thomists.

We know, however, that Perkins’s student, William Ames (1576-1633) held volumes of Suarez in his personal library along with selections from Lombard, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Scotus, Cajetan, and Bellarmine. And in two of his major works, Marrow of Theology and Conscience: Its Laws or Cases, Ames shows evidence of Suarez’s influence in the area of moral theology, despite his sharp divergence from Suarez on a variety of other matters, such as the relative independence of natural theology from revelation.

In particular, as his treatise Against Metaphysics shows, Ames is far more skeptical than either Suarez or Continental Reformed scholastics (he specifically criticizes Keckermann) with respect to philosophical arguments concerning the existence and nature of God. In that work Ames repeatedly attacks metaphysical speculations, on several occasions referring to Suarez by name, objecting particularly to his understanding of figures such as Suarez as attempting to provide a natural theology that is “entirely other” from that of supernatural revelation in Scripture. Moreover, Ames makes use of Ramus as a foil to Suarez and to Aristotelian-inspired thinking in general.

Nevertheless, Ames himself still remained deeply indebted to the tradition of Christian use of Aristotle (retaining, for instance, the Aristotelian scheme of the four causes) and, with reference to Suarez, was profoundly shaped by his approach to moral theology, including the natural law and the conscience, even despite Ames’s distaste for natural theology.

For instance, early in his Marrow of Theology, while Ames gives priority to the practical over the speculative, he also maintains that faith and obedience are inseparable, pointing to the relationship between metaphysics and ethics and, remarkably, citing Suarez’s “First Disputation” positively in this regard.

As Ames unfolds his discussion of conscience in the Marrow and elsewhere, he does so drawing upon Thomistic discussion of synteresis as an underlying natural habit, conscience as involving acts of jugdment, and the four cardinal virtues as foundational to a wider discussion of ethics rooted in the Decalogue. In this discussion, however, Ames appears to be strongly influenced not only by Aquinas himself, but also Suarez’s discussion of Thomistic moral theology in his De Legibus, his treatise on the three theological virtues, and his First Treatise on the Nature and Essence of Religious Virtue.

If this is true with regard to the broad outlines of Ames’s moral theology, it is particularly true of his discussion of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. At the time of the Reformation, a number of sects began to raise questions about the Christian observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, some seeing it primarily as an ecclesiastical ordinance to be rejected along with other abuses and some, thereby, advocating a return to the Jewish custom of Sabbath observance on Saturday. The issue was taken up by Reformed scholastic theologians, among whom some maintained the ecclesiastical nature of the Lord’s Day as an ordinance properly observed by the Christian church, while others wished to root the Lord’s Day in the Decalogue’s teaching on the Sabbath and, behind that, the very order of creation itself.

It is with respect to this latter position that Suarez came to exercise a significant role in the emergence and growing strength of Puritan and Dutch observance of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath. In this regard, William Ames is only one figure among many Reformed theologians, both English and Dutch, but his use of Suarez is representative.

In defense of the Christian Sabbath, Reformed theologians primarily drew upon Book II of Suarez’s treatise on religious virtue, which deals with the topic of sacred days. Ames cites Suarez to the effect that some observation of the seventh day very likely existed from the creation of world onward, even though it was only codified as law with the giving of the Decalogue to Moses. As such, the Sabbath should be seen as somehow rooted in the very order of creation. The difficulty, of course, is that Christians do not observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, but rather the first day, the day of Christ’s resurrection.

An argument for flexibility with regard to the day, however, can be launched using the Thomistic distinction between moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws within the Law of Moses. As such, the observance of one day in seven can be seen as moral, while which particular day is to be observed is a matter of ceremonial, positive law and, as with other ceremonial laws, has been transformed with the coming of Christ (just as, for instance, baptism comes to displace circumcision as an initiatory rite). As a ceremonial law, however, the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day is seen by Ames as a matter of divine law, rather than merely ecclesiastical law, and in this connection Ames summarizes Suarez’s argument to the same effect, citing the same earlier sources he provides (Banez, Abbas, Sylvester, Alexander III, etc.).

As the discussion of the observance of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath carries over into other English and Dutch Reformed scholastics, dependence upon Suarez re-appears frequently. Thus, we can trace another area in which Suarez exercised lasting influence in the developing Reformed tradition.

11 May 2007

codex question

At lunch today Claire was rolling up a strip of baloney from both ends. "Look at my book!" she said and pretended to read a story about bumblebees.

"What kind of book is that?" I asked. She looked at me, an eyebrow twitching upwards, not sure what I was asking. "I mean, what kind of book rolls up like that?"

"Oooh," she said. "It's a scroll."

"That's right." I picked up a bound hardback from a nearby shelf and flipped through the pages. "Do you remember what this kind of book is called?"

"Mmmm," she hesitated, eyes squinting. "It's...it's...it's a co..." she trailed off.

"That's right. A 'co' what?" I urged.

"A co...deh...deh...ex. Codex." An unsure grimace swam across the surface of her satisfied expression.

"Yes! That's right," I assured, pleased with her keen memory.

I blogged some time ago about the "holy internet" - the webs of relatively efficient communication that existed even in the first century and which aided in the spread of the Christian gospel. In that connection, I mentioned Loveday Alexander's contention that early Christians used the codex "far more extensively and more consistently than their pagan contemporaries."

Scrolls were the standard and more prestigious technology, particularly for serious, important, and valued texts among the pagans - religious, legal, and philosophical texts in particular. Codices had more humble origins in travel journals, inventories, shipping manifests, and the like.

Christians nonetheless were willing to adopt the more lowly codex, even for their most sacred writings. There are probably several reasons for this, including ease of production and portability, as well as facilitating the ability to access and cross-reference among texts.

Today, however, I was wondering about a further factor in the Christian use of the codex, though I don't have the historical knowledge to substantiate my hunch.

In 2nd Temple Judaism, as I understand it, the scroll was the dominant form for sacred texts - particularly the Torah scroll - and such writings were valued highly and treated, as artifacts, with a high degree of pious reverence. It was also the case, I am told, that at least some Jewish theologians believed in the eternity of the Torah. Moreover, some held that when men came together around the Torah, the divine Glory dwelt among them. If this is so, then it would further underwrite a sense of the Torah (and the other canonical scrolls) as sacred objects.

What I was wondering is whether Christian theology would have relativized Torah in light of Christ and the gift of the Spirit within the Christian community itself, and whether this might have shifted the way in which the sacred texts themselves were regarded.

Paul pointedly argues against the eternal character of Torah, emphasizing that Torah came 400 years after Abraham and, in the larger picture of salvation history, only held a subsidiary and instrumental role directed towards its true end: Christ. Moreover, in the Gospels, we see Jesus taking up in his own life and teaching, the role and place that Torah held in much of 2nd Temple Judaism.

Add to this the sense that the Christian community itself was the site of the God's own dwelling through his Spirit. Furthermore, as Jesus himself was sent as the Word of God, so God's people are sent into the world to proclaim that Word through the Spirit of truth.

Obviously, these thoughts are only half-formed gropings towards a thesis. But there may well be a fruitful avenue for research here in exploring whether the growing Christian preference for the codex over the scroll not only represented a break with pagan valuation of the scroll, but also with Jewish understandings of Torah and other sacred texts.

10 May 2007

why the mystics matter now

Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, who teaches theology at Loyola College in Maryland, has a wonderful little book entitled Why the Mystics Matter Now (Sorin Books 2003). I'd been re-reading it recently and finding it well worth a second time through.

Now, I know a lot of folks are a bit put off by the notion of "mysticism" and all that is sometimes taken to imply. But Bauerschmidt does a good job in his introduction of cutting through the sometimes untenable things that are said about mysticism (e.g., all religions share the same mystical core) and trying to arrive at a good working sense of what it's all about from within the resources of the Christian tradition and rooted in holy Scripture.

In particular, he notes how the notion of "mystery" - both in the coming of Christ as the goal of revelation and in the celebration of the Christan sacraments - are contexts in which the early church began to speak of "mysticism."

Thus, the "mystical" interpretation of Scripture referred to how Christian readers would look "beyond the veil the of the surface meaning of a text" to find Jesus Christ typologically hidden within the narrative of the Hebrew scriptures (14). Similarly, it is the believer's "mystical" union with Christ that is celebrated, deepened, and worked out in the Christian sacraments.

Mysticism in this sense does not refer to something that's ethereal or less real, but rather more true and real than one might think. When the early church referred to baptism as a "mystical washing," it meant that it involved the "most real washing possible," the washing of our sins through the blood of Christ, the ultimate cleansing to which all lesser washings point (15). This deeper significance, however, is one that is only accessible to the eyes of faith and the prayer of the church.

Bauerschmidt's strategy in the book is to take a number of classic mystical authors and their texts and to approach them through contemporary questions and concerns. In many respects we still live in the "disenchanted" world of modernity, which would seem to put us at a great distance from our more mystical forbears in the Faith. Yet, Bauerschmidt is deftly able to find entres into these texts through questions and struggles of the mystics that resonate with our own contemporary issues.

Therese of Lisieux's trial of faith, her "night of nothingness" in which God seemed totally absent, provides an engagement with a modernity that seems to live without God, so that God's seeming absence becomes an event in which he can be found.

Meister Eckhart's stance against the idolatries of attachment to created things leads to a discuss of a proper detachment that, far from turning away from creation in a gnostic gesture, allows us to more deeply move beyond idolatry further into our createdness in order to receive the God who shines in all things.

Hildegard of Bingen's meditation upon "veriditas" enables to recognize the serious issues of environmental ethics that press upon us today without thereby falling into pantheism, even while recognizing that in beautifying creation, we beautify ourselves by participating in the beauty of God himself.

Other mystics whose messages Bauerschmidt unfolds include Ignatius of Loyola, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, and Thomas Merton. The author's unusual and engaging approach to these profound spiritual figures provides a wonderful opportunity for a contemporary audience to appreciate their riches.

09 May 2007

summer conferences

This summer I plan to head to a couple of conferences that sound fascinating.

First, Fordham University is hosting a conference on "Orthodox Readings of Augustine," June 14-16, focusing upon conflicting interpretations of Augustine among Eastern Orthodox theologians. Speakers include Andrew Louth, David Hart, Joseph Lienhard, Jean-Luc Marion, and David Tracy, among others.

Second, Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a conference called "Karl Barth and American Evangelicals: Friends or Foes?," June 24-27. Speakers include D.G Hart, George Harinck, Michael Horton, George Hunsinger, Bruce McCormack, John Franke, and John Hare.

There is also a conference on Peter Martyr Vermigli at McGill University in August that looks interesting.

Whether I actually make it to any or all of these will depend on how the summer progresses. At the moment, my two summer sections of Business Ethics have been cancelled due to lack of enrollment. That's a significant blow to our family income, so we'll be trying to figure out some way to supplement our finances. Any ideas or leads are appreciated.

Assuming all goes well, I look forward to seeing some of you at Princeton and Fordham.

08 May 2007

suarez and reformed metaphysics

In an earlier post, I noted the relationship between the Jesuit theologian and metaphysician, Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), and the thought of the Reformed thinker Bartolomaeus Keckermann (1571-1609).

From Keckermann, we can turn to the German Calvinist and academic philosopher Clemens Timpler (1563-1624) whose Metaphysicae systema methodicum was published in 1604, nearly contemporary with a number of Keckermann’s major works. The influence of Suarez upon Timpler is evident, first of all, in the nine arguments he gives for the existence of God, the first six of which are taken over almost directly from Suarez, in summary form. Moreover, Timpler appears to be following Suarez in his suggestion that “anything intelligible” (omne intelligibile) divides into the categories of either “nothing” (nihil) or “something” (aliquid), and that “something” divides into the real (aliquid positivum) and the unreal (aliquid negativum) and so on.

In this connection, we can also note the work of Gilbertus Jacchaeus (1578-1628), a Scottish theologian who taught at Leiden. It is arguably his 1616 work, Institutiones Metaphysicae, that most decisively introduced Suarez’s metaphysics into the scholasticism of the Dutch Reformed theologians, at least if by “introduced” we mean within the published work of a Reformed theologian. Manuscript evidence of unpublished works indicates an already present and independent interest in Suarez on the part of the Dutch.

As I noted in an earlier post, Jacchaeus concurs with Suarez on the univocity of Being, but his dependence upon Suarez does not end there. Elsewhere, for instance, Jacchaeus more or less repeats Suarez’s argument for the existence of God from his 29th Disputation. In particular, Jacchaeus draws attention to Suarez’s criticism, following Scotus, of Aquinas’s theistic argument from motion, particularly the assertion that “everything that is moved is moved by something else.”

Likewise, the Dutch theologian Antonius Walaeus (1573-1639) is largely dependent upon Suarez when he presents his own summation of arguments for the existence of God in his Common Places (Loci Communes). His summary is clearly a brief resume of Suarez’s argumentation, even with regard to what objections are raised and how they are dealt with.

Other lines of dependence upon Suarez might be traced, though they become increasingly indirect. So, for instance, on the doctrine of divine simplicity and the distinction between divine attributes, Reformed theologians were not eager to follow Suarez in his positing of a “formal” distinction (though that language occasionally creeps into Reformed discussion in a positive way). Nonetheless, given the shape of the discussion in Protestant scholastic texts, it seems to me that much of the medieval conversation on the topic is mediated to Reformed authors through Suarez’s treatment. Such forms of dependence, however, are more difficult to verify than more direct forms of dependence that are made evident by citation, literary structure, logic, vocabulary, and the like.

It is clear, nevertheless, even from the limited evidence I’ve presented, that in the areas of metaphysics, natural theology, and theological prolegomena, Suarez did significantly mold the course of discussion within emerging Protestant scholasticism.