Tag Archives: history

The Epistemological Foundations of History: Bloch and Carr’s Philosophy of History Compared

Today we begin 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.

The Epistemological Foundations of History:

Bloch and Carr’s Philosophy of History Compared

When reading evangelical theologians, one is almost bound to discover that there exists a passionate debate concerning the nature of knowledge and truth. Such debates typically revolve around the concepts of foundationalism and coherentism. Regarding foundationalism some evangelical theologians and philosophers have gone as far to say that “on all fronts foundationalism is in bad shape. It seems to me that there is nothing to do but give it up for mortally ill and learn to live in its absence.”[1] However there are others who offer a more temperate opinion. For instance Alvin Plantinga has argued that classical foundationalism[2] is self-referentially incoherent, yet he advocates for a different sort of foundationalism.[3] Besides being a significant debate among theologians, the subject is also debated among scientists and likely has its roots in the philosophy of science.[4] Given that these epistemological debates likely have their source in philosophy of science, or at the very least find significant contemplation in philosophy of science, it is not surprising that this debate has made its way into the realm of history which some have considered a science. How does the debate between foundationalism and coherentism play out in the philosophy of history? It does so in several areas: (1) the nature of history and historical enquiry, (2) human nature and social change, (3) causation, (4) objectivity, and (5) the meaning of history. How foundationalist and coherentist epistemologies of history play out in theory is exemplified by both Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft and E.H. Carr’s What is History? respectively. In what follows I briefly examine some of the differences between Bloch and Carr’s approach to history with an eye towards evaluating their approaches from a theological perspective.

What is history? Is it a science or is something else? Bloch believes that it is a science. Specifically, it is the ‘science of men in time.’ (27) This phrase might be read in various ways. For example, history is a science performed by “men” (read human beings) in time. Or, one might read this phrase as saying that history is the science which studies human beings who exist in time, including those who are dead and living. This is Bloch’s approach. As the science of humanity, Bloch is interested in drawing from all sources and disciplines in order to develop “universal history.” (48) Thus Bloch’s view of history is a Histoire Totale.[5] Carr, however, is insistent that history is not a science (at least in the way that science is typically conceived). Carr objects to the idea that history be called a science because it “justifies and perpetuates the rift between the so-called ‘two cultures.’”(110) What does this rift consist of? It consists mainly of the notion that the “sciences” are after universal laws and principles. This notion has been applied by some historians, including Buckle, who states that the course of human affairs is “permeated by one glorious principle of universal and undeviating regularity.” (Carr, 73). If this is what is meant by history as a “science” then Carr will have no part in it. Science however, is no longer practiced with the confidence that we can discover, let alone have access to, such universal principles. Instead, as Carr explains, “Nowadays both scientists and historian entertain the more modest hope of advancing progressively from one fragmentary hypothesis to another, isolating their facts through the medium of their interpretations and testing their interpretations by the facts.” (Carr, 77) Is this much different from Bloch’s view which also holds that various conceptual tools shade how we interpret historical data? Remember, Bloch holds that language, periodization, and characterization all affect how historical analysis proceeds. (Bloch, 156-189) Despite the apparent similarity between Bloch and Carr on this subject, the difference is radical.

At its core the difference between Bloch and Carr’s view is to be found in how they understand the process of deriving truth from the data of history. Bloch takes a tempered foundationalist approach.  As a foundationalist Bloch believes that some beliefs, i.e. our belief that the historical event X is to be explained as Y, is grounded on other beliefs that are justified. The initial or basic belief that justifies Y is the belief that X can be accessed adequately. Bloch is not naïve about how we access X. He acknowledges that the “tracks” or documents need to be carefully examined because they can be forged, tainted, skewed, or just plain wrong. Similarly, he recognizes that the scholar who examines the historical data is in danger of imposing her personal inclinations into reading the data. (Bloch, 139) This is especially true when examining historical causes because in examining causes the historian is likely to make value judgements. Carr on the other hand also believes that we can be justified in saying that X can be explained as Y. However, Carr does not understand this justification process in a foundationalist matter. There is no “basic” belief that justifies saying that X is true. Rather, the belief that “X” is true exists within a system of other beliefs. These other beliefs which make up the historian’s system of beliefs are rooted in the historian’s individual, social, and historical background. As Carr explains, “The historian, before he begins to write history, is the product of history.” (48) In a sense, the historian is stuck within this system of beliefs, and cannot transcend this system to get at what “actually” happens. Thus, the historian cannot actually explain or provide the causes for Y as they exist mind-independently. She can however, provide the logic of the events given her other beliefs.

Does this view of history reduce to an examination of our own interpretation of events? Does this mean, for example, that the historical study of the American revolution just is the study of how our current historical and social situation affects the way we understand the events of this war? Perhaps. This however, doesn’t mean that one’s historical and socially created interpretive lenses will be provincial and narrow; i.e. that does not mean one can only approach the American revolution as a 21st century pro-American because one was born in the 21st century in a patriotic setting. The historian has a “capacity to rise above his social and historical situation” but the capacity to rise above a provincial and narrow set of interpretive lenses is “conditioned by the sensitivity with which he recognizes the extent of his involvement in it.” (Carr, 54) By recognizing that he functions within an interpretive framework, and that his historical analyses are justified by other beliefs within that framework, and not something external to that framework, the historian can begin the process of expanding the framework in order to develop a more “objective” account of historical events.  This process can best be described as a hermeneutical spiral. I quote Carr at length,

The historian starts with a provisional interpretation of facts and a provisional interpretation in light of which that selection has been made – by others as well as by himself. As he works, both the interpretation and selection and ordering of facts undergo subtle and perhaps partly unconscious changes through the reciprocal action of one another. And this reciprocal action also involves reciprocity between present and past, since the historian is part of the present and the facts belonging to the past. (Carr, 35)

This hermeneutical spiral, or “unending dialogue between the present and the past,” just is the discipline of history. (Carr, 35)

Thus far we have examined some differences between Bloch and Carr’s approach to history. As an aspiring theologian engaged in the discipline church history I can’t help but ask what the theological implications of these views might be. I agree with Bloch when he says that Christianity is essentially a historical religion, that is, “a religion that is, whose prime dogmas are based on events.” (Bloch, 31) If we were to take Carr’s approach to history, then our theological reflection which is based on historical events, would result in theology which looks a lot like post-liberal theology. Postliberals, like Carr, emphasize how much language and tradition do to shape our understanding of reality. Post-liberals believe that Scripture is “world-creating,” thus the biblical narrative forms the cultural-linguistic “world” for the church. According to post-liberals we attend to the world primarily through whatever cultural-linguistic framework we possess. Thus, our experience of the world is not neutral, it is concept laden, it is experienced in light of our “language” or grammar of faith. Postliberalism’s emphasis on intra-systemic coherence and intertextuality calls into question whether Postliberals are making “real-world” claims in their theology or whether they are simply making claims about their own language/grammar. One concern with post-liberal theology is that “dispenses with external referents and reduces truth claims to simply intra-systemic consistency.”[6] Agreeing with Bloch that our dogmas are based on events, I am concerned that a full-scale adoption of Carr’s method would result in a form of history which undercut’s theology’s ability do derive dogma from historical events. For this reason, I believe that Bloch’s tempered foundationalist approach to history is preferable to Bloch’s coherentist approach.

[1] Grenz and Franke quote Nicholas Wolterstorff in: Stanley Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: WJK, 2001), 38.

[2] That is: A proposition p is properly basic for a person S if and only if p is either self-evident to S or incorrigible for S or evident to the senses of S.

[3] Plantinga’s proposal for Reformed Epistemology is clearly laid out in “Reason and Belief in God” which can be found in the book Faith and Rationality (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 16-93.

[4] Cat, Jordi, “The Unity of Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/scientific-unity/&gt;.

[5] This is a riff on Sarah Coakley’s idea of Theologie Totale in God, Sexuality, and the Self (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[6] Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm,“The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals,” in The Nature of Confession, eds. Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1996), 16.


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.

Pannenberg on History and Truth for Method

Having given a brief overview of Chapter 1 of ST1 I would now like to highlight two key themes in this section of Pannenberg’s work. These two themes also play a key role in the rest of ST1. These themes are 1) truth and 2) history.



First regarding the theme of “history.” In the Foreword to ST1 Pannenberg mentions the reluctance of some theologians to focus on the historical nature of Christian doctrine. Yet Pannenberg believes that Christian doctrine rests on “the historical revelation of God in the historical figure of Jesus Christ and on the precise evaluation, by historical interpretation alone, of the testimony that early Christian proclamation gives to this figure.” Pannenberg’s focus on the importance of history is evident throughout ST1 but it becomes especially important in his discussion of the truth of Dogmatics. In section 1.2 Pannenberg says that “all the NT authors bear witness in their different ways to the act of God in Jesus of Nazareth.” Christian faith rests upon the confession of Jesus of Nazareth and the act of God in him which we come to know through the historical witness of the NT authors. His emphasis on history is also seen in his detailed discussions of the history of Dogmatics. He often goes into long details outlining the history behind a certain doctrinal position. Here he shows the importance of the fact that doctrine does not just materialize, rather is has a history which develops and eventually matures.



Now regarding the theme of “truth.” Pannenberg stresses that Dogmatics attempts to articulate the truth of God. As it relates various themes of doctrine, the goal is to present these themes in light of the reality of who God is. Theology which does not attempt to be grounded in the truth of God is not theology in the true sense of the word. Any sort of theology which simply attempts to find coherence with other Christian doctrine or with the world, yet fails to be done in relation to the object of theology cannot be called true theology. The fact that his theology pursues truth is also displayed in the fact that Pannenberg explains that there is a difference between human theology which copy and imitation of that which is true divine archetypal theology. Pannenberg’s emphasis on truth as a theological category is also evident in his discussion about the truth of dogma in which he lays out various theories of truth and argues that coherence and consensus are not enough to establish the truth of Christian dogma.

Faith, Freedom, and The Spirit

Several years ago Paul Molnar wrote a book on Divine Freedom and the doctrine of the Immanent Trinity – now he adds to his works on the Trinity by offering us a book on Freedom and the economic Trinity (specifically in Barth, Torrance, and contemporary theology).


Molnar’s aim in this book is to explore divine and human relations within the economy of salvation with a major emphasis being placed upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He seeks to demonstrate how our experience of and knowledge of God changes when it is considered in light of the sphere of faith in God’s Word and Spirit as revealed within the economy.

He focuses in on the Holy Spirit as the thing which enables us to have faith in and know God. However his religious epistemology is not merely grounded in our experience of God in the economy. He argues that any articulation of who God is and what our relationship with God is like must begin by articulating who God is in himself (immanent Trinity) in order to even speak clearly about who God is for us what God does in the economy of salvation. Otherwise we allow history and experience dictate the content of our theology. When this happens the result is that God and revelation tend to become indistinguishable from own own experience within the economy. According to Molnar this is a problem that many recent interpreters of Barth (including Bruce McCormack and Ben Myers) run into.

There are several ways Molnar sees this in recent interpretations of Barth. One is the discussion about Trinity and election. Molnar argues that one cannot reverse the direction between election and Trinity without doing damage to our knowledge of Christ’s true deity and humanity. Those who take election to be first are out of line with what Barth thought. (Molnar thinks that Barth did not change his Christology – still believed God would be God without incarnation or even without creation.) To reverse Trinity and election undermines God’s freedom for us and our freedom which is only enabled by God himself. Also rejecting the Logos Asarkos (which some recent Barth interpreters do) undermines Jesus’ deity and makes God dependent upon history.

Human freedom is the freedom to live by the grace of God. If God’s grace is not free (as historicized theology makes it) then we are not truly free. Thus our freedom is based upon God’s own freedom.


Molnar makes a powerful argument for traditional historic positions on the doctrine of God. Whereas many Barth scholars have moved towards a more revisionist reading of our faith Molnar keeps us grounded in the historic doctrines of the church. Specifically he steers us away from historicized versions of the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology. He ensures that God is in no way dependent upon creation or reconciliation for his own identity. This allows us to speak of a Triune God who is truly free. This will be a must read book for anyone interested in the Election/Trinity debate and recent discussions which seek to get rid of the Logos Asarkos. This book deserves to be read by anyone interested in staying faithful to the historic understanding of who God really is.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

The Eclipse of the Old Testament

This week in my Hebrews class we were studying chapter 7, focusing on how the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament (specifically the story of Melchizedek) to make Christological point. I asked the students the following question:

How do we understand the importance of the Old Testament even though in one sense it has been eclipsed by the full revelation of God found in Christ?

Let me share a quote with you from systematic theologian, T.F. Torrance, that I has shaped my own answer to that question.

There are structures of Biblical thought and speech found in the Old Testament which have permanent value both for the New Testament and the Christian Church…they provide the New Testament revelation with the basic structures which is used in the articulation of the Gospel, although the structures it derived from Israel were taken up and transformed by Christ.

Among these permanent structures let me refer to the Word and Name of God, to revelation, mercy, truth, holiness, to messiah, saviour, to prophet, priest and king, father, son , servant, to covenant, sacrifice, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, atonement, and those basic patterns of worship which we find set out in the ancient liturgy or in the Psalms. It was indeed in the course of the Old Testament revelation that nearly all the basic concepts we Christians use were hammered out by the Word of God on the anvil of Israel. They constitute the essential furniture of our knowledge of God even in and through Jesus.

All that to say that it is only through the Old Testament that we come to understand the full significance of who Jesus Christ is and what his life, death, and Resurrection mean for us. Without the Old Testament we would have to try to understand Christ through the patterns of our own cultures. The result would be a Jesus who who is not tied to any permanent and authoritative pattern of understanding. It would be a Jesus who isn’t grounded in history.

It’s not a coincidence! Yes it is….

When somebody starts of a sentence by saying, “this might be just be a coincidence, but…” I immediately get skeptical.

When somebody starts off a comment in class by saying “this might be a coincidence, but…” I immediately roll my eyes.

Its my experience that most of the time when people say “this might just be a coincidence,” it turns out that it really is just a coincidence. However they believe that they have stumbled upon some mystery that has been hidden from human knowledge for ages. Point in case, my Eastern Religions Class…..

As you know, I am going to Moorpark Junior College for the sake of reaching college students with the gospel and equipping other students to do the same. So I enrolled in one class, Philosophy M12 – Eastern Religions. I figured that this would be a great class for outreach, after all its not a required class so whoever is in it will likely genuinely be interested in religious things. I am bound to find some seekers. Good strategy. (At least I think it is).

Any way there is this one guy who is kind of annoying. He goes of on all sorts of tangents. Day one we are talking about Vedic culture, somehow this guy gets on a tangent on Nazi’s, Tibetan Artifacts, Thomas Jefferson, and 6’2’’ Blonde Chinese mummies. He is the guy who believes he is Nicholas Cage and his life is National Treasure. Right off the bat I knew that this guy would be hard to handle.

Well day two rolls along, and we are talking about the Brahmin in Hindu Religion. I’m sitting there absorbing the professor’s knowledge, and then I see this guy’s hand go up. Now I know that he is “that guy.” You know, “that guy.” Nick Cage (that’s what I’m going to call him from now on) starts of a his comment by saying, “This might just be a coincidence, but…” and I think to myself, “But what? But what? What revelation from the gods do you have for our class today?” 

So he begins to say:

“You know Brahmin and Abraham sound a lot alike, and they have the same letters, is it possible, it might just be a coincidence, but”

My mind says, “Yea buddy…. It is just a coincidence now put your hand down

“Could it be possible that Abraham was a derivation from Brahmin, and that Abraham was actually a Brahmin?”

“No buddy… its not possible. That’s dumb. Now put your hand down.”

“Because originally his name wasn’t Abraham it was Abram.”

“Nice observation bro! I’m glad you can spell!”

As you can probably tell… I have a hard time with this guy. The professor was really nice to him though and gently told him it wasn’t likely. Then the guy proceeded to argue for his side, and just I couldn’t resist any longer, I had to say something! So I made an appeal to linguistics, talked about the differences between Semitic languages (of which Hebrew is one) and Indo-European languages. The Professor responded by saying, “that is right, I guess that settles it…”

I guess it wasn’t very fair what I did to the guy, since I have studied this stuff way more than he has, but it just had to be done.

The moral of the story is that the next time you say “this might just be a coincidence, but…” please stop yourself because almost every time it is “just a coincidence.”

But wait! I’m not going to end this post by being a jerk! There is redemptive value to this story. I think I found my person of peace for the mission to Moorpark! Neil Cole has said quite a bit about identifying persons of peace. He says that person’s of peace must have influence in a community, they must be well known. Why they are well known really doesn’t matter. They can be famous or notorious. They can be known for how great they are or how big of a jerk they are. Case in point: Matthew the Tax Collector and the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Both of these people were well known for all the wrong reasons. After I got all bothered by this guy, It struck me that everybody knows this guy for being that guy. This means that he might make the perfect person of peace.

Edwards and Franklin (Pt. 5)

Over the last few days (with a few interruptions in between) we have been comparing Jonathan Edwards with Benjamin Franklin. So far we have seen how different they were in their religious upbringings, their attitude towards tradition, and their views on virtue. Today we wrap up this series by comparing their views on science and the universe.

Benjamin the Scientist

As a kid you grow up learning that Ben Franklin was a scientist…. you probably learned that he conducted experiments with lighting. But Ben’s fascination with science isn’t reduced to the tales we learn as a children, Ben was an actual scientist. Check out what the Franklin Institute has to say about his fascination with weather patterns:

In 1743, Ben observed that northeast storms begin in the southwest. He thought it was odd that storms travel in an opposite direction to their winds. He predicted that a storm’s course could be plotted. Ben rode a horse through a storm and chased a whirlwind three-quarters of a mile in order to learn more about storms.

He was much like modern day storm chasers. But he also dabbled in a bit of oceanography.

Since Ben spent so much time sailing to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean, he became very interested in both ocean currents and shipbuilding. Ben was actually one of the first people to chart the Gulf Stream. He measured its temperature on each of his eight voyages and was able to chart the Stream in detail.

As you can see from both of these examples (and his famous electricity experiment), Ben was very much into mechanical science. He was highly influenced by the deistic Newtonian science of his day.

The logic behind Newtonian science is easy to formulate, although its implications are subtle. Its best known principle, which was formulated by the philosopher-scientist Descartes well before Newton, is that of analysis or reductionism: to understand any complex phenomenon, you need to take it apart, i.e. reduce it to its individual components. If these are still complex, you need to take your analysis one step further, and look at their components. (Francis Heylighen)

In essence, Newtonian Science, and the Newtonian Worldview is a worldview characterized by apersonal forces, reductionism, determinism, and materialism. There is no room for agents with wills, hence there is no room for a personal God to be involved with the way the world works. This was how Benjamin Franklin approached science.

Jonathan Edwards the Scientist

Jonathan Edwards was also fascinated by Newtonian Science. Early on in his ministry Edwards wrote, and hoped to publish, a paper on the “wondrous and curious works of the spider.” In it he describe the behavior and mechanics of spider’s movements. He tried to publish it in the London Royal Society’s journal, “Philosophical Transactions,” which was headed up by Newton himself. However someone else beat him to the punch and submitted a paper on spiders right before he did.

Like Franklin, Edwards was an amateur scientist in his own right (in that day almost all scientist were amateurs), however his view on the nature of science and the universe vastly differed from that of Franklin. Here is what Marsden has to say about this:

Edwards saw that the universe was essentially personal, an emanation of the love and beauty of God, so that everything even inanimate matter, was a personal communication from God… Edwards started with a personal and sovereign God who expressed himself eve in the ever changing relationship of every atom to each other. This dramatic insight would be the key to every other aspect of his thought. (A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards 21)

The fact that Edwards was a personal God communicating himself behind every aspect of creation was Edwards motivation for doing science. When he was studying how spiders move he was studying how God interacts with his creation, when he was studying natural phenomenon he was watching how God communicates with his creation. But maybe more importantly, when Edwards was doing science he was seeing how all of creation reveals Jesus Christ.

Check out what Edwards has to say about how creation reveals God:

I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words; and that the multitude of those things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by these things.

 May we have Edwards’ eyes to see God revealed in all of creation.