Tag Archives: Historical Theology

Salvation at Stake

Today we wrap-up a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history.


The final essay in we will look at in this series is a chapter from Brad Gregory’s Salvation at Stake. This final essay represents the strongest set of arguments against a form of historiography dominated by what have variously been called, “the new historicism,” “the linguistic turn” or most simply, post-structuralism.

In the introduction to Salvation at Stake, Gregory describes his two-fold purpose: 1)

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Brad Gregory holds the Dorothy G. Griffin Chair in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame.

present an account of Christian martyrdom from the perspective of four traditions and 2) make a methodological contribution to how historians approach the early modern period. (2) For the purposes of comparing this essay to the others from this week, our focus will be on the section titled “On Understanding Early Modern Christianity.” Here Gregory addresses how poststructuralist theory “alleges a radical disjunction between representations and realities, rendering truth claims unverifiable.” (9) The “insights” of post-structuralism have “taught” us that the martyrs who died for their religious beliefs, in fact held views that are mere constructions. Post-structuralism has also “taught” us that these martyr’s beliefs were nothing but “strategies of domination” and that the literature which reported martyrdom was nothing but propaganda and political power-plays.

In light of these “lessons” Gregory calls us to declare a postmortem for poststructuralism “so that we may avoid its dead end.” (10) Instead we should take these martyrs and their storytellers on their own terms. (10) Instead of deconstructing early modern accounts we ought to be reconstructing these accounts. (11) When we do this we will have come up with an account which (hopefully) the subjects of study would have recognized as their own.

In order to reconstruct plausible accounts Gregory has to address two issues. First, that all claims, including religious claims, are embeded within social relationships, institutions, and other cultural expectations. Second, that people often act for covert interests and rationalize their actions. The second issue can be addressed without adopting a hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutic of suspicion should be avoided because it “destroys the very possibility of understanding historical difference” and “undermines the sincerity and integrity of people whose actions fall beyond the boundaries of behavior enacted ‘in good faith.’”(14) Instead of a hermeneutic of suspicion we ought to adopt a hermeneutic of charity, taking sources at their own words unless there are reasons to believe that the source is being deceptive. In the case of martyrological sources, one can maintain a fine balance between suspicion and charity by checking martyological literature against literature produced by opponents. Surprisingly, both kinds of accounts tend to be very similar in what they report. Thus, it seems as though a hermeneutic of charity can give us adequate details of events as they are reported.

Analysis

Out of the five essays we have examined this was the essay that I resonated the most with. I find myself agreeing with much of what Gregory has to say; especially as it concerns the problems of post-structuralism or “the linguistic turn.” The method he proposes does a good job of guarding against some of the realities that post-structuralism brings up, namely subjectivity and covert motives. His method does not dismiss these realities, however he refuses to let historiography be put into bondage by these realities. Instead he leverages these two points to develop an even more objective account of historical events.

In addition to the fact that this method has some payoff regarding research I believe that it also has another strength: it displays Christian virtue. By this I mean, that this method attempts to refrain from reading false motives into its subjects. In a sense you could say that this method attempts refuses to bear false witness against its neighbor and thus keeps 9th commandment. Also, one might think that this method is in line with Paul’s description of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13: love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. For these two simple reasons I am drawn to Brad Gregory’s method over the method of the other authors we have examined thus far.

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The “New” Historicism

Today we continue a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history. In the next few days we will take a look at all sorts of views regarding how to do history. These views range from critical realist accounts all the way to post-structuralist accounts and even some feminist accounts.


What happens when E.H. Carr’s claim that “The historian, before he begins to write history, is the product of history” is applied to the historical study of literary texts? (Carr, 48) [See the previous blog post] What happens when “the norm of disembodied objectivity to which humanists have increasingly aspired” is perceived as an illusion, and not just an illusion but an illusion which is capable of producing harm? (Veeser, ix) The result is what is called, “The New Historicism.”

Although the term escapes a clear definition (Veeser, x) or an “agreed upon intellectual and institutional program,” or a “systematic or authoritative paradigm” for practicing the New Historicism,” (Montrose, 18) there are several key assumptions which tend to mark New Historicist thought. Veeser lists five of these assumptions. (Veeser, xi) What binds these assumptions together is the idea that all “texts” both literary and non-literary do not stand apart from cultural-linguistic frameworks. Because no text ever exists a se the literary critic ought to discard modes of analysis which content themselves in analyzing the purely literary features of written texts. There is no purely literary text. As Montrose explains, “the social is understood to be discursively constructed”  and “language use is… socially and materially determined and constrained.” (Montrose, 15) Because language is socially and materially determined and constrained, literary texts like those of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Orson Wells or any number of authors of “great books” are products of history, culture, society, politics, institutions, class and gender. (Montrose, 15) Recognizing that all texts are socially constructed (even determined) the New Historicist also recognizes that her own writing of “texts” will be socially constructed. She will realize that she is also “incapable of offering any description or explanation that is located at some Archimedean point” outside of history. (Montrose, 30) She will recognize that issues of politics, gender, ethnicity, class, age color her choice of which literary texts to read, how she reads these texts, and how she writes about them. In other words the New Historicist is a “product of history.”

Recognizing that she is a project of history, the New Historicist cannot help but be invested in her “product.” She has a task, namely to, “disabuse students of the notion that history is what’s over and done with.” (Montrose, 25) This task, is by no means neutral, it is a task of “oppositional social and political praxis.” By showing students that “they live history” the New Historicist takes part in the task of exposing hidden assumptions in our own cultural-linguistic frameworks. In doing so she takes part in confronting “harmful” ideologies.

Analysis

There is something attractive to me about this approach to the study of historical texts. The New Historicism as represented in these two texts correctly, in my mind, draws our attention to the fact that historical texts do not exist in a vacuum but that when they were first created they were placed within a particular cultural-linguistic framework. That is historical texts are based on the assumptions of their day. Second, the New Historicism draws our attention to the idea that even the historian is socially and linguistically located, and that such a location affects both the texts we select as worthy of study and how we study those texts. To ignore the role our own history plays in doing history would be foolish. These two points are points that are very similar to E.H. Carr’s in What is History? However, these two points differ a bit from Carr’s points in that they emphasize not just that cultural-linguistic location affects the texts that are read and our reading of these texts, but that the cultural-linguistic location determine and constrain texts and reading of texts. Carr advocated for the possibility of “objectivity” through a dialectical process of moving between the past and present. However, it is not clear to me that the New Historicist believes that such a dialectical process is even possible. Without the possibility of “objectivity” even in the sense that Carr calls for it seems to me that the possibility of doing history is severely undercut – historical analysis ends up being the critical practice of analyzing  how our own ideological commitments color older ideologically colored texts.


For references see:

  • H. Aram Veeser, “Introduction” in The New Historicism (New York: Routledge, 1989), ix-xvi.
  • Louis A. Montrose, “Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture,” in The New Historicism, 15-36.

Edwards and an Argument for the Eternity of Hell (Miscellany 279)

Assuming you believe in the eternity of hell, how would you go about arguing for this position? Would you go to Scripture? Would you look back at what some historical theologians have said about the matter? Would you try to make some argument based upon your intuitions about justice and the heinousness of sin before God? The 18th century Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, doesn’t take any of these routes. He makes a move that many people today would find quite shocking….

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Jonathan Edwards Preaching or Jonathan Edwards walking like a Zombie? Take your pick.

First let me give you the context. I am currently writing two essays for a book on Edwards’s miscellanies. The book will hopefully come out early in 2019. I will be writing an essay on the Trinity in Misc. 96 and Hell in Misc. 279. In Miscellany 279 Edwards makes an argument for the eternity of hell based on happiness/love/thankfulness. Basically its this:

  1. The happiness of the blessed in heaven is eternal.
  2. Knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of making them vessels of wrath would make them happy at time X.
  3. Without a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced had God not saved them the saints would not know that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of vessels of wrath.
  4. In order for the saints to be happy eternally they need to know God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy at time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  5. Therefore the lively sense of opposite misery needs to occur t time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  6. Therefore the damned must eternally exist in hell.

Mind you this is just one of Edwards’s arguments for the eternity of hell. Personally, I think it’s a bad one. If the point of this argument is that the happiness of those in heaven is eternal and this is secured by knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of wrath then there are certainly other ways in which God could have accomplished giving them a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced. For example, and this is absurd, God could have a daily showing on a really big screen TV viewable everywhere in the New Creation that shows the moment God judged the reprobate. That scenario is a bit absurd, but it would accomplish the “lively sense” Edwards is after. This absurd scenario would be compatible with annihilationism. Or perhaps if one takes a more Barthian stance on things maybe God could constantly present the saints with a vision of the cross, by seeing Christ crucified they would see the misery they would have faced had not Christ died for them. This again would be compatible with annihilationism.

Please don’t take me to be arguing for annihilationism here – I have elsewhere written defending the traditional doctrine of hell (Themelios). I’m just pointing out – this is a pretty bad argument for the eternity of hell.

Review of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective by Mark Cortez

Cortez, Mark. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 272, $27.99, paperback.

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Marc Cortez is currently associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His prior works include Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark, 2008). As the title of these previous monographs indicate, Cortez has an interest in theological anthropology. The recently published Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology represents his third full length contribution to this field.

What makes us human? This is a question upon which much ink has been spilled. Most studies attempting to answer this question have tended focus on one of several topics: 1) human origins, 2) ethics, and 3) the imago dei. What Cortez brings to this already oversaturated field is a rethinking of the methodology upon which so many of these studies are founded. Cortez’s approach to theological anthropology is strictly Christological.

You can read the rest of the review at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.

Pastoral Position Opening: Minister of Word and Sacrament in Geneva

The following is a lighthearted (and facetious), but historically realistic, job opening advertisement for a pastoral position in Calvin’s Geneva.

Position Focus:
Minister of Word and Sacrament in Geneva

Why This Position Is Needed

John Calvin’s alternate at St. Pierre’s had recently fallen ill. Although the other ministers in Geneva visited our colleague to pray for him on his deathbed, Pastor Abel Poupin, passed away on March 5th into the Lord’s presence.[1] Thus he leaves his position vacant. In addition to the passing away of Pastor Abel, another pastoral position has opened up. Pastor Jean Fabri has been deposed of his position. There have been claims made that he was making sexual advances (if not actually seducing) a married woman and also accusations have been made against him saying that he has gotten his serving girl pregnant.[2] After further investigation, the consistory has decided to dismiss Jean Fabri. Thus, we have two pastoral positions open.

The Church

The churches in Geneva are a multi-generational, multi-site network of churches located on the banks of of Lake Geneva at the mouth of the Rhone River. Our springs are wonderful, and our winters are bitterly cold. During the summer you and your family can spend time at the lake, but make sure to stay away from it during the winter. Many have died due to hypothermia! If you can ignore the fact that the Bernese, The Savory, and the French are always at odds with each other because of us, and the inconvenience that the plague brings, this is a great town to raise a family.

If you take this position you may be one day be appointed to serve as the pastor of St. Pierre’s Cathedral, Magdeleine, or St. Gervais (though in all likelihood you will probably begin by being appointed to pastor one of the countryside churches.)

Primary Responsibilities

‘The Scriptural office of the Christian minister involves nourishing and instructing God’s people on the divine Word by means of sermon, sacraments, catechism, spiritual conversation, and corrective discipline.’[3] Thus your job is divided into several categories:

Ministry of the Word

  • Preaching and teaching will form a bulk of your weekly work. In accordance with most others within the Reformed tradition your sermons ought to be expository, working through a single book, verse by verse (i.e. lectio continua).
  • Your particular parish will have at least four Sunday services. One of these Sunday services will be a catechesis service. This will mostly consist of children, though some adults who are converting Catholicism or Anabaptism will also attend this service. (You may also get some adults who are technically reformed, but are horribly misinformed about their faith).
  • You will also preach during weekday services (Monday-Saturday) and direct the Wednesday Prayer liturgy.
  • As one of eight pastors in Geneva you will be paired up with another pastor. You will alternate preaching duties with this pastor. On occasion you may be moved to another parish to fill needs.
  • There is an expectation that you will continue your theological and ministerial education. John Calvin lectures at 2pm on a book of the bible, verse by verse in Latin. All ministers are invited to be there.[4] There will also be a gathering of the congregation each Friday. Here you will have the opportunity to preach in front of the other pastors. You will receive feedback on your preaching from the other pastors and hear Calvin give his exposition of the text.
  • You are also expected to meet with the Company of Pastors on Friday afternoons.[5] There you will take part in the business of organizing services, making preaching assignments for specific pulpits at specific hours, examine candidates for ministry, etc.

 Ministry 0f Sacrament

  • The Lord’s Supper happens four times per year (even though we wish it could occur more regularly). The Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated at Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and the first Sunday of September.
  • All those who have reached the age of discretion and are able to satisfactorily articulate the basic doctrines of the faith are invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Thus the week before the Lord’s supper you must examine the catechumen regarding their understanding of the Genevan Catechism.
  • The week before the celebration of the Lord’s supper it is your duty to visit all your parishioners for spiritual examination and preparation. (Some of your parishioners will likely not want to talk to you, they may not even open the door for you! But you should find a way to examine them prior to the Lord’s Supper.)
  • It is your duty to ensure that certain people do not receive the Lord’s supper. For instance, those who wear ostentatious or provocative clothing, those who are insane or mentally impaired, and those who have been excommunicated cannot participate in the Lord’s supper. However, those who are demon possessed can participate as long as they behave peaceably.[6]
  • You will lead the rite of baptism before services. You must not use any superstitious elements which rob baptism from its true meaning (i.e. oil, salt, spittle, wax papers, etc.)
  • You ought to follow the baptismal liturgy which is published in the Genevan Psalter. First you should ask who is presenting this child to be baptized. Then you ought to deliver a five minute baptismal exhortation summarizing the gospel and the meaning of baptism. You also ought to give a defense of infant baptism. Once this is done, sure that those presenting the child for baptism recited the Apostles Creed and promise to instruct the child in Christian doctrine. You shall conclude by sprinkling the child on the forehead in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[7]

 Pastoral Services

  • Funerals
    • Burials generally take place in the afternoon. You ought not do anything which would approximate Roman Catholic masses for the dead. Funerals ought to be austere.
    • Burial must take place within twenty four hours of the death.
    • There is no specific church service, but by custom you ought to visit the home of the deceased before the procession of the gravesite. There you are free to speak some words regarding the faith of the person being buried.
  • Marriages
    • Marriage ceremonies occur prior to services. You must announce the banns for couples seeking to marry. If everything is in accordance with the rules you will follow the marriage liturgy and then begin the time of worship. Please ensure that the wedding party stays for the whole service.
  • Pastoral Visitation
    • The Venerable Company expects that all of Geneva’s ministers would pray for their parishioners…offer them spiritual counsel and consolation, correct their sinful behavior through discipline, and visit them in their homes.[8]
    • The Ecclesiastical Ordinances stipulate that every year before Easter pastors ought to visit all the households of the parish in order to examine the members of the household for the Lord’s Supper. As Beza has taught, ‘As a minister of the gospel it is our duty to fulfill all the duties that our office required, which includes chiefly the consolation of poor sick people.’[9]
    • You are also expected to conduct less formal visits throughout the year, especially when parishioners are suffering bereavement and extreme poverty. (The family of those suffering are expected to notify a pastor of any pressing needs.)
    • You are also expected to join a rotation of pastors who visit our local prison, the Evesche, on Saturday afternoons. Here you will preach a brief sermon, and help take care of the needs (spiritual and physical) of the inmates.
    • You are also expected to visit the sick and dying in the hospital, even though they may be suffering from the plague. We understand this can be a frightening thing. Some of our pastors have contracted the plague and died after visitations. However, we believe this is part of our pastoral duty.
  • Pastoral Services Towards Exiles & The Oppressed
    • At times you may have to follow Calvin’s lead in offering pastoral care to those who are suffering for their faith. This includes exiles who escaped from persecution and are seeking refuge in Geneva. You may also have to write letters to Christians undergoing persecution. You ought to encourage these brothers and sisters[10] reminding them of the great call that is upon their life to suffer for Christ. Remind them that he will give them strength to fulfill their duty.
    • Although Calvin was in the habit of writing letters to government officials and even going on journeys to other cities to lend support to persecuted protestants we do not expect you to go to the same lengths as Calvin did in offering these brothers and sisters pastoral care.[11]

Prior to Being Hired:

In addition to having the ability to fulfill the duties prescribed above you must be able to sign on to (with good conscience) the Genevan Catechism and the Ecclesiastical Ordinances. Also you must meet the following requirements, based upon Calvin’s theology of calling and ordination, prior to being hired:

All Christians have received a calling to glorify God and seek the well being of their neighbors. However this does not mean that Christian ministers do not receive a special calling in which they are entrusted with being “the chief sinew by which believers are held together in one body.”[12] Those who are called are ordained to govern the church through the act of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. These are the means by which God’s people are instructed and nourished. In order to take this job, you must agree that this is your primary vocation. You also must be able to describe the subjective aspect of your twofold calling. All those who are called to be ministers receive a conviction in their heart that one ought to aspire to ministry, not for personal gain, but out of a fear for God and a desire to edify the church. If you can testify that you have received such a call, the Church will determine whether you are objectively called as well. Once this is met, your theology and way of living will be examined by your fellow ministers. Second, the magistrates will give their approval of your ordination. Third, the congregation will give consent to our choice. Fourth, you will take office by the laying of hands. We sincerely believe that the church should seek the candidate, and not the candidate seek a church,[13] thus if we have a sense that you are the right candidate for this job we will extend an offer to you.


[1] McKee, “A Week in the Life of John Calvin”, 69.

[2] McKee, “A Week in the Life of John Calvin”, 74.

[3] Manetsch, 72

[4] McKee, “A Week in the Life of John Calvin”, 65.

[5] McKee, “A Week in the Life of John Calvin”, 73.

[6] Manetsch, 279.

[7] Manetsch, 258-9.

[8] Manetsch, 280.

[9] Manetsch, 287.

[10] McKee, 321 and 330.

[11] McKee 315-20.

[12] Manetsch, 71.

[13] Manetsch, 81.

Analytic Theology and Traditional Theology

An analytic approach to theology may not be the only approach worthy of consideration by the theologian. But it does provide a mode of doing theology that looks a lot like much traditional theology, and which may find in these historic resources a rich vein of ideas which can be mined, and already are being mined, by those interested in such theology and an analytic sensibility. In this way, Analytic Theology may also demonstrate its credentials as a theology of retrieval, using historic discussions of particular topics to resource contemporary reflection on particular doctrines. Such a prospect is a far cry from the ahistorical logic chopping with which some analytics have been charged. It offers a rich, variegated way of pursuing matters doctrinal that is historically sensitive, using methods adopted from analytics to fructify the theology of tomorrow with the ideas of the past. – Crisp (Expository Times)

Book Review – The Kingdom of God by Morgan & Peterson

“Seek first the Kingdom of God….” Jesus was a man who practiced what he preached. He lived, ate, breathed the kingdom. He advanced it through his ministry and he opened the doors to it through his death on the cross on our behalf. In other words Jesus was all about the Kingdom of God.

Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson. The Kingdom of God, Crossway, 2013.

The Kingdom of God

The “Kingdom of God” has been the central focus of theology for many protestants over the last several decades and for good reason. Jesus emphasizes the Kingdom throughout the Gospels, theologians have widely speculated about the nature of the kingdom, and have given even wider speculations about how the kingdom relates to eschatology. (I’m looking at you my dispensationalist friends). Along comes this book by Morgan and Peterson, they seek to give some clarity about the Kingdom of God. To do so they have collected essays by some well noted scholar to treat five different areas: 1) Historical, 2) Biblical, 3) Theological, and 4) Ethical. By adopting these perspectives they attempt to “move closer to a comprehensive exposition of the kingdom (Loc 217).

Overview

This book has 9 Chapters: One on history, two on the Old Testament, three on the New Testament, 2 on systematic theology, and one on Ethics.

  • Chapter 1 – Stephen Nichols writes a chapter on historical perspectives on the Kingdom of God.
  • Chapters 2-3 – Bruce Waltke takes on the task of articulating an OT theology of the Kingdom. True to his reformed theology he pays special attention to the role of covenants in the Kingdom.
  • Chapters 4-5 – Robert Yarbrough takes us through Matthew and Mark as a way to lay out the basic themes of the Kingdom in the NT. Then he gives us a brief overview of the Kingdom by reading Mark-The Epistles. Think of this as a survey of the NT.
  • Chapter 6 – Still focused on biblical theology, Clinton Arnold tackles The Kingdom and Satan. He presents an excellent overview of what role miracles play in the kingdom, and what place satan and his demons have in it as well.
  • Chapter 7– Ecclesiology meets Kingdom theology in this essay by Greg Allison. People often conflate the Kingdom with the Church. Allison gives us good reasons why that is a terrible mistake to make.
  • Chapter 8 – Gerald Bray takes on Eschatology and the Kingdom. This isn’t your typical “speculate about world events” kind of eschatology. This is Systematic eschatology, focused on the nature of time, eternity, and the ascension.
  • Chapter 9 – Anthony Bradley shows us what justice has to do with the Kingdom.

Pro’s

  1. Clinton Arnold’s Essay – This was my highlight in reading this book. Unlike some people who see Jesus’s miracles as merely authenticating his divinity (as though nobody else ever performed a miracle…) he shows that miracles are a foretaste of the kingdom. He also give a thorough evangelical treatment of demonology.
  2. The NT Survey Chapters – If I ever make my way out of teaching Pauline studies and teach the Gospels or an NT Survey I could see myself making use of this book. I would certainly make use of Yarbrough’s chapter on the Kingdom in Mark through the Epistles.
  3. The Book’s Price/Value – If you get the paperback it will set you back about $14. That isn’t too bad, but if you get it on the kindle (which I did) its only $0.99! For $0.99 a collection of essays by first rate evangelical scholars is a hard deal to pass up. With this book you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Con’s

  1. Anthony Bradley’s Essay – I don’t know how else to say this, but this essay just doesn’t fit this volume. I know its about “Kingdom Ethics” but He never really makes the connection between why his ethical injunctions are the necessary overflow of Kingdom theology.
  2. An Undefined Audience – I am not exactly sure whom this book is for. Its fairly academic (if that means dry and full of footnotes) so I assume its for academia. However its so basic that it doesn’t add anything to the pool of scholarly resources. It also seems too basic for even seminary students. Is the target audience college undergraduates? I’m not sure. This book would certainly work as a textbook for a college bible class. But that isn’t the way this book was promoted.

Conclusion

At $0.99 I don’t regret buying this book. I didn’t really learn much though (except for Clinton Arnold’s essay). So personally I wouldn’t shell out the $14 for the paperback. However I would make this book required reading in a biblical theology class for undergraduates.