December 13, 2012 by Jason Hood
One of the things I love most about church history is the discovery that the “new” is actually remarkably old. Almost everything of value I’ve learned about apologetics, epistemology and the like from Kreeft, Pascal, Van Til, Jamie Smith, Keller and other wise teachers can be found in predecessors like Augustine. Even when mediated (and the following excerpts are from Robert Louis Wilken’s excellent The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 172-4), Augustine has more to offer a modern Christian than a sailor has to offer an Amish lad.
Augustine notes the indespensibility of “authority,” that is, the need to rely on someone other than self and sense perception. Autonomy is simply not an option in any sphere of life. Self-reliance is as impossible in religion as it is in farming or child-rearing or trusting your mother that your father really was your father (Augustine’s example, not mine, and certainly a very personal one for him).
The acquiring of religious knowledge is akin to learning a skill. It involves practices, attitudes, and dispositions and has to do with ordering one’s loves. This kind of knowledge, the knowledge one lives by, is gained gradually over time. Just as one does not learn to play the piano in a day, so one does not learn to love God in an exuberant moment of delight.
Augustine’s lexicography of love is quite foreign to the emotion-driven definitions of love, but it is quite in line with the Bible’s approach.
With these ideas on the need to rely on authority, Augustine particularly attacked the Manichean tendency to take a posture of criticism and skepticism. We don’t read Virgil rightly, Augutines says, unless we give ourselves to him, unless “we love him” and become his apprentice, so to speak.
Without sympathy and enthusiasm, without giving of ourselves, without a debt of love, there can be no knowledge of things that matter….
By making authority a necessary part of knowing, Augustine shifts the question away from What should I believe? . . . to the question Whom should I believe? that is, Which persons should I trust?
And this leads Augustine not just to trust in God and his Word, but to the importance of “persons whose lives are formed by the teachings,” and of “placing one’s confidence in men and women whose examples invite us to love what they love.”
The knowledge of God sinks into the mind and heart slowly and hence requires apprenticeship. That is why, says Augustine, we must become “servants of wise men.”
In other words, others are highly unlikely ever to learn to love something or someone unless they first see love.1 Comment
September 4, 2012 by Jason Hood
I regularly hear laity, theologians, and sketpics alike employ a bizarre tool: the denial of biblical or theological points on the basis of the reductive nature of their own imagination. We might call it the “I-can’t-imagine” strategy.
Some people can’t imagine healthy complentarianism; others can’t imagine that egalitarians might be partners in gospel work. Many can’t imagine a God who has the right to judge his creatures. Not a few can’t imagine racial equality or the intensely fallible nature of their favorite political party.
What’s particularly naive about this approach is that it overlooks the depravity of our minds in general, and our imaginations in particular. And as one symptom of the Fall, it feeds gross selectivity in historical and biblical analysis. David Koyzis at First Things highlights a great paragraph from Jamie Smith, who comments on “the New Universalism” in light of a Lauren Winner review of Rob Bell’s Hell book for the NYT Review of Books:
The “I-can’t-imagine” strategy is fundamentally Feuerbachian: it is a hermeneutic of projection which begins from what I can conceive and then projects “upwards,” as it were, to a conception of God. While this “imagining” might have absorbed some biblical themes of love and mercy, this absorption seems selective.
More importantly, the “I-can’t-imagine” argument seems inattentive to how much my imagination is shaped and limited by all kinds of cultural factors and sensibilities–including how I “imagine” the nature of love, etc.
The “I-can’t-imagine” argument makes man the measure of God, or at least seems to let the limits and constraints of “my” imagination trump the authority of Scripture and interpretation. I take it that discipleship means submitting even my imagination to the discipline of Scripture.
As Tom Wright sometimes says to exegetes, you need to expand your imagination a little. Or to riff on Richard Hays: your imagination needs to be converted, baptized with Scripture.
Read all of Smith’s post–it’s a Winner. (So sorry for that pun.)4 Comments
May 16, 2012 by Jason Hood
This week’s Sunday assignment is a bit different. I have two sessions with the high school kids, a sort of “Bible and Jesus FAQ.” This week they turned in questions to the youth ministers:
- 1. Where did Cain get his wife?
- 2. If God knew Satan would turn evil, why was he created?
- 3. Are people pre-destined to go to heaven or hell?
- 4. How do we know the Bible is accurate?
- 5. How did the Bible become 1 book and how did they decide which ones went into the Bible?
- 6. What is the most important thing in the Bible?
- 7. Why do we worship God since we haven’t seen Him?
- 8. Where was Jesus the 3 days between his death and resurrection?
- 9. What are the “Lost Gospels” and why didn’t they make it into the Bible?
- 10. Which came first…chicken or the egg?
- 11. How would you explain “evolution” from a creationist viewpoint?
- 12. Why isn’t much of Jesus’ childhood included in the Gospels?
- 13. What does Jesus look like?
- 14. When will Jesus come back on earth to take all his believers?
- 15. Where did God come from?
- 16. Can you explain the Trinity and how it works?
- 17. How do people know when God has spoken to them?
- 18. Why didn’t Jesus marry?
- 19. When God spoke to people in the Bible does it mean out loud?
- 20. How do we end up with peoples on the North American continent with histories dating back longer than the Bible dates the earth being?
- 21. Why would God create people knowing they would go to hell?
- 22. What is the point of prayer is God already knows the plan?
- 23. How did we determine the 10 commandments are still important to follow as Christians, but not the rest of the Mosaic Law?
- 24. What happened to Jesus’ flesh when He ascended?
- 25. How do you explain the 2 billion year old rocks found on Iceland?
- 26. How do we know our religion is the right one?
- 27. Where did hell come from?
September 12, 2011 by Jason Hood
Awaiting the next batch of fiction to catch my eye, I’m swimming in the sublime seas of Peter Kreeft’s 1993 text, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined, and Explained. I was trained on Pensees for apologetics in seminary; it’s a wonderful starting point and Kreeft is a fantastic guide. Kreeft takes Pascal’s thoughts, organizes them along (Pascal’s own) Augustinian lines, and produces a gorgeous travelogue-in-trade-paperback, a recounting of the journey from modern paganism to belief.
I hope to blog more on this text in the future, but I will simply say that there is a great deal of quotable, ponderable, and worshipful material in that book. I can think of no higher praise to bestow than this: this book is actually worth what my published dissertation costs.
In a recent paean of praise for Christopher Hitchens that has some highlights, The Australian managed to bungle it all:
Hitchens is the kind of writer who quite deliberately uses words like evil, and wicked, and shameful, and sinister. He reclaims these words from the religious; he deploys them in a robustly humanist way that maximises their meaning and weight.
I enjoy that quality of CH’s writings, but it does prompt two questions. The first and most obvious is that one cannot reclaim an object or concept one did not previously possess, and for which one can offer no proof of ownership or authorship. We usually call that theft.
Then there is the question of the author’s affirmation of the use of such morally-loaded words. It is difficult to take “a robustly humanist way that maximises their meaning and weight” to mean little more than that “Hitchens deploys words that were previously employed in anti-human ways by religious bigots, so that I, a sophisticated person, can agree with them.”
On this morning’s walk I listened to the “debate” between Hitchens and Doug Wilson at Westminster Theological Seminary. I was disappointed by the ADD quality of the discussion. Wilson proposed to talk about beauty; in response Hitchens spoke beautifully on everything but.
I’ve greatly enjoyed the flurry of posts in the NYT’s Opinionator blog on moral relativism; start here and here and work back through the discussion by clicking the links in the opening paragraphs of those pieces.
July 27, 2011 by Jason Hood
What we have to offer as Christians is not just evidence that demands a verdict. More importantly, all of us are living in a chaotic, broken story that demands (1) a plot that makes sense of chaos, and (2) a resolution for that plot. Our Text offers a storied arrangement of chaotic events, and a way to resolve the plot’s tension created by rebellion and catastrophe.
Why and how does history impugn the excellence of creation? In chapters 4 and 5 he shows us a tableau of creation, in which the throne of God is surrounded by the symbolic representatives of the created order, ceaselessly offering their praise.
But their hymns are interrupted by the discovery of a sealed scroll in the hand of the Most High. As a scroll, it represents a history; as a sealed scroll, its contents are unintelligible to us. So the prophet poses his problem: how can the created order which declares the beauty and splendour of its Creator, be the subject of a world-history, the events of which are directionless and contradictory?
The goodness of creation is impugned by the meaninglessness of events. Only if history can be shown to have a purpose, can the prophet’s tears be wiped away and the praise of the creation be resumed. We can all repeat the words in which the consolation of the Gospel is announced to him: ‘Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
And then, as the prophet tells us unforgettably ‘I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’ (5:5-6). The sacrificial death of God’s Messiah is the event to interpret all events, which alone can offer human existence the cosmic meaning which it demands. It provides the justification of creation in history, and the justification of history in new creation.
Oliver O’Donovan, “The Political Thought of the Book of Revelation,” TynBul 37 (1986), 171.
If we are not living in a story, then there is no plot; there is only chaos and brokenness. And if we have no story, we have no justification not only for history, but for beauty, righteousness, and love.
In fact, we have no justification for the world.2 Comments
July 16, 2011 by Matthew Mason
This is a really helpful musical analogy from Jeremy Begbie, illustrating how God does not inhibit or overwhelm our freedom, but rather frees us to be the persons we were made to be.
HT: Jason Goroncy0 Comments
December 1, 2010 by Jason Hood
When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” They called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates in order to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (Acts 14:11-15)
As frequently happens in the ancient world when a Jew or Christian encountered the pagan world, there is significant irony at work here, for the pagans are not as far off from the truth as we often think.
Granted, they need to learn the creator-creature distinction, which places Paul and Barnabas with them on the human side of the divine-human split (14:15). They need to learn monotheism. Paul immediately instructs them accordingly.
But ironically, God has in fact come down to Lyconia in Paul and Barnabas. His Spirit resides in them; He is encountered and known through them. In two of his servants, who are themselves putting on Christ, “the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4), God is showing up via his image-bearers.0 Comments
November 9, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
When it comes to apologetics, Barth (who says he is indebted to Anselm’s Proslogion on this matter) insists we must not suppose that we stand as a neutral observer, adding up the pros and cons of God’s existence. This is precisely because there is no place we can stand outside of God — above God — to judge him. The “God” that we would prove in this way cannot be the true God, for the true God is not subject to human judgment. Thus we do not argue from a neutral place to the existence of God, but rather from the existence of God toward other conclusions. God is the first principle that we assume in faith, who in turns makes sense of all other principles . He goes on to talk about how doubt can never be put to rest as long as we suppose ourselves able to stand in judgment over God.
“The doubter cannot free himself from doubt, even by persuading himself to will to doubt no more, even by performing this sacrificium [i.e., utilizing the intellect]. And the doubter cannot free other doubters from their doubt be exacting this sacrificium from them – perhaps by making it convincing, perhaps by inducing them to perform it themselves. He must not be a doubter at all if help is to come to him and through him to others. But that means that he must not think that he can choose and that therefor he can help himself and others. He must be bound already to the Word of God. Any desire to bind himself (emphasis mine) to the Word of God can only demonstrate to himself and others that in fact he is not yet bound. And any supposed certainty, built on a desire for this self-binding, will only show his actual uncertainty to himself and others. Binding by the Word of God (emphasis mine) must take place at the beginning (CD, II.I, p.9).
That bit about doubt strongly resonates with me, and has rich pastoral implications that I need to think more carefully about — not only for others, but even more chiefly for myself. God binds himself to us through the Word Made Flesh. We do not bind ourselves to him via our intellect.
Thomas shares a similar sentiment when he writes, “[Sacred doctrine] does not argue in proof of its principles, which are articles of faith, but from them it goes on to prove something else” (Summa, I.I. 8). And I recall Lewis writing something along the lines of, “I do not believe in the Sun because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
As I understand it, this basic insight about faith as a first principle is the chief starting point of Reformed Epistemology.1 Comment