Nov 14th 2007

An Apology in regards to heretofore unexplained assertions: Theological Hegemonies & Calvinism

The following is a response to a the concerns expressed regarding what I wrote in responce to a review by Mark Tubbs of Discerning Reader of The Future of Justification by John Piper at http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/john-piper.php

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Dear Mark,

This is a bit long; but I think it has enough substance to make up for it.

But first –

Thank You

I wanted to thank you for your gracious concerns regarding what I wrote in the above. They are warmly received and accepted as on target and genuinely appropriate in regards to what I posted. So often the potentially vapid pontifications of doctrinal grumblings obscure the intent and message of those who are otherwise well-intended, but fumblingly inarticulate – not in grammar – but by express virtue of their temperament in the transaction thereof. I am to be counted among those who in their own season of frustration may shed the leaves of words best quickly raked up. I can only hope that even in the brokenness of my own humanity; God still yet allows me to yet shed viable seeds among their number. I potentially have a ‘Marine; shoot first – ask questions later’ disposition, one that I am not always proud of. I am gradually learning to be more ‘the diplomat;’ and if God uses me as a writer for the His Kingdom, this will no doubt be a life-time endeavor for me, for I am accustomed to the taste of my own words; the grace and humility of Christ are surely a salt to make the ingestion of them all the more palatable – and certainly I am persuadeably close to having to do that here a well.

My words were not meant as an attack against you; and they represent more or less an outburst/escape of a larger expression of thought that is still floating around in my think tank, one which I need to write out somewhere soon. There are personal aspects to it, and it will also serve as a bit of self-explanation. I will try to hyper-abbreviate it in this way: I do not believe in either a forced nor unallowable mitigation in presentation; neither do I believe it is obscene to view theological expression as not just a purely soteriological event – but that it can necessarily be this, but also an art: an art in that the constraints of ‘do it this way – and not that’ actually have the potential to essentially rape it’s own inherent style, dignity and ultimate purpose. Christian theological/literary output/expression should not be a stream, but rather a spectrum; it is for this reason that I do not fully discount the work of Osteen and his ilk; because they are truly non-dogmatic and are effectually perceivable as emotive in their chosen task and concerns; and while this may not measure up to an assumed “center” of what an appropriate theological voice should look like/sound like/be composed of; there is yet a need for those who can serve not just as a simple voice – but also the conventional and even the Scholastic. These types, if they are sincere in their faith will/have recognize(d) the limitations of a “simple” non-dogmatic voice. It is my understanding that Hybels recently acknowledge the accuracy of a report that showed that his “movement” does not build spiritually mature Christians; conceding, in so many words “we have made mistakes.” The mistakes that they made were that believers brought in through a seeker-friendly approach must still progress to something more complex – and by complex I certainly mean dogmatic – and generally the latte does not give way to a steak in their theological conversation. I mean simple because it is the milk that may potentially draw you to the supper table; and it is there that you should be exposed to the deeper elements/compositions/expressions of the Christian Faith. Many defenders of the faith are somewhat correct in their criticisms of Osteen, Hybels, Shuller, and Warren – insofar that the believer must move on from a simple voice to the more deep and nuanced if not confrontational aspects of Faith in Christ. But just as some who wants everything to be of the same formulation; just as you can be unforgivably shallow (as they would condemn the previous “rouges gallery” of being) many of these same would seem to also condemn those who would aspire to reach even higher in terms of the simple, the conventional, and then the complex; and a disavowal of the complex is just as bad and troublesome as a single-minded focus on only the simple: for this too is a faulty approach, sooner or later the practitioner must admit to having made a mistake. I think that the difference between a good pastor and a good theologian; is the pastor is a believer who has mastered the transmission of the Gospel in both it’s simple and conventional itinerations and forms, whereas a good theologian is a good pastor who retains mastery of these realms but can suitably task his own “parishioners” with the complex and deep things of the faith. It is this enforced hegemony of commonality or assumed normatives; you have to cover these bases – nor less and no more; that ultimately hurts the voice of the church; though like most things we humans will do – it looked like wisdom in the front of the affair to us. I don’t think that this is exclusively a limitation attributable to a purely postmodern view of anything – nor can you blame modernism alone: they are both at fault. You can create just as must epistemological havoc and dissonance theology-wise with Modernism as you can Postmodernism. Those who rabidly attack postmodernity need a long look in the mirror at what Modernism lost when it rejected the Mythological/Classicist apophatic approaches to theology. Part of modernisms distaste for postmodernism is postmodernities re-acceptance of the potentially apophatic – which the cataphatic tendencies of Modernism obsolved of having virtually any use [cataphatic: speaking to what you can say about God, apophatic: speaking to what you cannot say about God].

I’m probably rambling now – but suffice to say; I have a strong conviction that healthy theological conversation cannot flow exclusively through an assumed formulation; in as much, however -that it always preaches Christ and Christ crucified in some form of eventual and inescapable presentation – which it must.

This is a crisis which is steadily unfolding within Evangelicalism; the New York Times Magazine (October 28, 2007) article End Times for Evangelicals?, for instance, highlights the secularly-perceived disorganization within our movement. I don’t think that such an apprehension is really is an expression of disorganization, but rather one of the authenticity of what it is and what defines it: a movement that genuinely reflects Christ, one which – when in a state of authenticity – will necessarily serve to, in ways, present itself as an image to also truly define His Character: it will be very simple and at yet other time tremendously challenging/complex, full of mystery and yet also contain absolutes, open and accepting -but also deeply and seemingly unforgivably confrontational – and above all, completely embraced by, yet transcendent of any Political Party or denomination. It is the natural reaffirmation of the latter, that secularist perhaps confuse as weakness or disorder. Rather – it is strength manifesting it’s truth, contra normative assumptions of both the unregenerate and potentially even of the redeemed.

I am sorry for the long explanation; I’ve been wanting to get this at least partially out of my system for a while.

Possibly to potentially redeem this whole digression; I wish to state that I want to read Piper’s book – but I also want to read N.T. Wright and; I bet – that there is a case to be made that both men hold very valid conclusions, and neither – though they seem at odds with one another in a mortally-expressed, theologically-oriented epistemolology – are really that far apart of in terms of actual Divine Reality; recalling, if you may – what Calvin speaks of as the “Lisp” by which God speaks to us with, when condescending to us in reaching down from the Divine to the Mortal; the Infinite enveloping, transcending and adopting the finite . In ‘further conclusion’ I would also say this: that I affirm and will staunchly defend the continual dogmatic preaching of exegetical theology (vs. the Isogetical; which I greatly protest, and even the “micro”-exegetical, which I caution against), but I also affirm that there is a place in theology, where – to somewhat reluctantly reference Tillich; understanding the assumptions that such a reference might potentially incur – we can only say that God is, and that He is the Ground of all Being – and that – He – just – IS. Sometimes you just have to say that God is just the I AM and work at your own pace and capability from there. Our adamancy to enforce logical knowables (I should have no need to reference all the verses in the scripture that reference the fallibility of our Reason) is a consequence of our Modernism. It is for this reason that I do not like Calvin (Gasp) because he is a thoroughgoing Modernist in his own Determinist evaluations of the will of God and that of Man. For all their claim to him (Calvin: “Augustine is ours”) in regards to Augustine – he is not. He, like Boethius, knew that foreknowledge did not neccessarily force occurrence, as if such were true: that God’s knowledge of what we would choose forced us to do it – then God’s own knowledge of his own choices would likewise invalidate His own sovereignty over his own choices. Augustine realized that it was not wise to pick and choose which “mystery” you want to accept: you cannot say that God’s own self-knowledge cannot limit his own self – but it can yours; you’re just performing epistemological back flips with God’s ontology, and then your own – leaving God’s transcendence as your ‘end all/be all’ for the equation. Can a God be beyond himself? I don’t think so, well – maybe I do; but is it safe to stake out claims, or worse yet openly neglect the implied foundations necessary to built such formulations – though there can be a God beyond what we might truthfully or wrongfully understand Him to be – it is dangerous to say, ‘yeah, or nay’ that he can or cannot transcend himself; as in such an act – you are so far into a potential for an anthromorphological molestation of the divine, any attempt to do such is at best laughable, and at worst damnable. They – Augustine/Boethius – gladly ceded the apaphatic affirmation of it’s mystery. Luther and then Calvin refused to accept what I believe was Augustine’s wisdom. Augustine wrote on the freedom of the will and expresses this fact; while Pelagious (who initially started off as being affirmed as a good theologian by Augustine, as is my understanding) took this concept and did what Luther and Calvin did, yet in the opposite direction; just as – I believe – Brevard S. Childs pointed out, Liberals and Conservatives in applying their own rational logic to theology did also, only to run it two separate directions with their implemented notions of a scripturally-lived life. (see Introduction to Dogmatic Theology, A Canonical Approach, by Paul C. McClasson; I’d like to see a review on it by you guys).

Both Pelagius and Luther/Calvin represent cataphatic treatments of a necessarily apophatic dimension of God and his relation to us. Summa Summarium – there is a critical necessity to sometimes keep it simple and at other times allow it to be complex, likewise a time to affirm that something can be known – and at others, not. Knowing when to be which, with what, when where and how – coincide with our own growth, not just as Christians, but also Pastors – and even unto Theologians.

Thank you for you correction and your grace,