- I liked Charles Spurgeon’s evening devotional for February 16th.
2. I liked reading Hans Boersma‘s book Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew.
In his second chapter, provocatively titled, “No Plato, No Scripture,” he argues that readers cannot interpret the Bible without prior metaphysical commitments. Here’s his summary:
[W]hen we try to read Scripture apart from any metaphysical presuppositions whatsoever, our very attempt to exalt the Bible collapses in on itself. Faith isn’t meant to function without reason, and we shouldn’t attempt to do theology without philosophy. The isolation of Scripture vis-á-vis metaphysics is practically impossible: invariably it means the unwitting adoption of one metaphyic or another—most of the time one that assumes nominalist presuppositions since they make up the metaphysical air we breathe and make our own metaphysic without us even being aware of it. When we try to isolate Scripture from metaphysical presuppositions, we make it the unsuspecting victim of whatever philosophy happens to be prevalent. It seems more prudent to acknowledge the potential benefit of metaphysics and to ask which metaphysical account coheres with what we find in Scripture (136, emphasis mine).
For a good online resource, see Craig Carter‘s article, “Philosophy for Understanding Theology: The Metaphysics behind the Reformed Confessions,” and for a book length treatment, see Carter’s Contemplating God with the Great Tradition: Recovering Trinitarian Classical Theism. Perhaps the most invaluable resource, which might be difficult to track down, is Richard Muller‘s essay, “Incarnation, Immutability, and the Case for Classical Theism,” Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983): 22–40. (If interested, email me and I’d be happy to scan it to you.)
Muller shows that John 1:14—specifically the words “And the Word became flesh”— requires a certain metaphysic. Does the word became indicate a change in God? Does the word became mean God is mutable? Muller demonstrates that exegesis won’t resolve the dilemma here. (As an aside, if you take the word became in verse 14 to mean that Christ added a human nature to his already divine nature, it shows that you’ve been catechized into and embraced the orthodox Christian faith as codified in the Council of Chalcedon in 451. See St. Cyril of Alexandria’s book On the Unity of Christ. Check out my summary below.*) Those who affirm divine immutability uphold the metaphysics of the Council of Nicaea (what Boersma and Carter call “Christian Platonism”), while those who deny divine immutability operate out of “post-Kantian metaphysics, specifically from Hegelian ontology” (Muller, 34). Neither Muller, nor Boersma, nor Carter assert that the church fathers swallowed Greek philosophical thought hook, line, and sinker. The fathers did no such thing. Supposing that they, and the classical Christian tradition more generally, borrowed from Greek philosophical thought uncritically betrays a lack of familiarity with both classical Christian theism and Greek philosophical thought.
The sources below have shaped my thinking significantly:
Janet Martin Soskice, “Naming God: A Study in Faith and Reason,” in Reason and the Reasons of Faith, eds. Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hütter (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), Ch. 10.
Janet Martin Soskice, “Athens and Jerusalem, Alexandria and Edessa: Is There a Metaphysics of Scripture?” International Journal of Systematic Theology 8:2 (April 2006): 149–162.
Michael Allen, “Exodus 3 after the Hellenization Thesis,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3:2 (2009): 179–196.
David Bentley Hart, “No Shadow of Turning: On Divine Impassibility,” Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002): 184–206.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 607–610.
For a helpful historical overview, see Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (Ross-shire: Mentor, 2013), 219–224.
3. I liked Al Mohler’s explanation and analysis of the Canadian truck driver protests. It’s a worth a listen. Also, if you’re in the mood for a laugh, read (or listen) to Doug Wilson’s blog, “Worser and Worser,” on the same topic. You may have heard that Juliette Kayyem, a professor at Harvard University, tweeted (and then deleted) her opinion on how to end the protests: “Slash the tires, empty gas tanks, arrest the drivers, and move the trucks.” I lol’d when I read Doug Wilson’s response: “when was the last time you saw so many leftist progressives so panicked over the workers of the world uniting? The memes almost write themselves.”
* St. Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ. This book is Cyril’s (AD 378–444) response to Nestorius (AD 386–451), whose views were deemed heretical since they divided Christ into two persons—one human and another divine. In this brief reply, Cyril appeals both to Scripture as well as prior patristic writings in order to demonstrate how and why Nestorius’s views were not in line with historic Christianity. Nestorius’s blunder, in short, was the same as other heretics’: Trying to squeeze the triune God of Scripture into the confines of what his own logic could manage. As Cyril noted, however, the divinity and humanity of Christ come together in an “incomprehensible union without confusion or change” (77)—hence the phrase “Hypostatic Union.” In keeping with almost all theological disagreements, Cyril and Nestorius sparred over theological method as well as biblical interpretation (36–37). Whereas Nestorius appealed to logic and unaided human reason, Cyril countered by appealing to Scripture, arguing that human logic is no indicator of what a sovereign God can and will do (note how the Christian worldview has its own metaphysic). Further, while Nestorius appealed to Scripture to support his views of Christ (not unusual since every heretic cites Scripture), Cyril rebutted that he failed to properly locate the incarnation in the Trinity’s wider program of redemption. Briefly: While God cannot die, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who assumed a human nature could die. Still, even this requires careful reasoning, since it is the person of Christ who dies, not the divine nature. Christian orthodoxy holds that in the incarnation the eternal Son of God assumed into union with himself a human nature, not a human person (the latter is the heresy of adoptionism). Further clarifying matters, historic orthodoxy maintains that the Son and the assumed human nature are the same person, not two distinct people (as Nestorius’s views implied). This language employs the theological grammar established at Nicaea, where the distinction between natures and persons was hammered out on the anvil of controversy.