I found this blog interaction between Doug Wilson and Levi Heiple interesting, and you might too. Here are the posts:
I recall hearing a presentation where Doug Wilson passed on advice from his own father about learning to be a father: read through the Gospel of John and note everything that Jesus said about the Father.
I was reminded of that when I read this blog post by Peter Leithart today, in which he comments on John 8. Here is his conclusion:
A good test for fathers to see how they are doing with their kids: Do your children do your deeds? and, Do they share your joys? And behind these questions are others:Should they do your deeds or would they be better off mimicking someone else? Do you rejoice in the truth or something else?
One aspect of this [lifelong reflection on the gospel] is the beautiful image of sleep, a wonderful image of the gospel. The first time sleep is mentioned in the Bible, it was in order for God to bring a wife to Adam. God placed Adam into a deep sleep (Gen. 2:21) in order to fashion a wife for him out of one of his ribs. The first time a man went to sleep, he woke up to the day when he would meet his wife. If you recall, a similar thing happened to Boaz. He went to sleep at the harvest and woke early in the morning to encounter his future wife, Ruth. Sleep is related to the gospel the same way that women are. The Church is the bride of Christ, remember.
Throughout Scripture, sleeping is a type and image of death (e.g. 1 Cor. 11:30; 15:51), and it follows from this that waking up in the morning is an image of the resurrection. God knows that we are slow to grasp this lesson of death and resurrection, this daily reminder of His ultimate intention for us, and so He goes over the lesson again and again. If God gives Zach and Holly a fifty year anniversary, He will have allowed them to go through this pattern of death and resurrection over 18,000 times. God wants us to get this.
In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul says he longs to stay in this life because to live is Christ, but he then adds that to die is gain. Staying awake is good, going to sleep is really good, and waking up is just the best. Christians who have the confidence that Gods forgiveness is resting upon them can know and experience a right attitude toward death because although death is an enemy, it is a conquered enemy. Jesus rose, remember.
Every day is a miniature life. Every day follows a pattern, and has a story arc, and if you live faithfully in the course of each day, you will be learning the very best way to go to sleep. For someone who works as he ought to, going to sleep is one of the most glorious experiences God gives to us. This should teach us about the death of Gods saints, and why God considers a faithful death precious. But this only works if the day is fruitful, and not squandered or frittered away in laziness and sin. And waking in the morning with the hope of a full day before us is even better than going to sleep was. But of course, this daily training program is only possible through Jesus Christ. He helps us form each daily letter on the page so that by the end of our lives, we will have written the larger story He has for us.
In an exhortation to his congregation this past weekend (Fathers’ Day), Doug Wilson talked briefly about the implications of regeneration, where God gives new life to the believer and become’s the Christian’s Father. He concludes:
This is one of the greatest miracle that God performs, and He does it all over the world. He has done it here, with us. New life, but do not think of this as a mere infusion of some spiritual joy juice. No, in regeneration God gives us a new set of ancestors.
Not only does He radically alter our future, He also gives us a new past.
Peter Leithart wrote a nice defense of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Latin for “Scripture alone”), which is part of the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. Sola gratia (“grace alone”), sola fide (“faith alone”), solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and soli Deo gloria (“for the glory of God alone”). He put it in the context of God’s relationship with the church and showed how it applies to his preaching as well. Here are some key excerpts:
Sola scriptura is a theological claim. It is Christological: It says that Jesus is Husband of His Bride, and still speaks to her. As Barth understood, sola scriptura is about the Lordship of the Lord of the church. All Christology is also ecclesiology, and so is sola scriptura: It says that because Christ is Head of the Body, He directs the Body, as and by Word. It is also, as my colleague Toby Sumpter pointed out recently to me, pneumatology: It means that the Spirit speaks to the church not merely through her.
It means that tradition is not the church talking to herself, but God talking to the church and the church talking back. To affirm sola scriptura is to acknowledge that tradition is prayer. To affirm sola scriptura is to say that tradition is liturgy. To affirm sola scriptura is to affirm the primacy of dialog over monologue.
Sola scriptura, despite the apparent import of the word “sola,” doesn’t claim that Scripture is the only authority. Scripture itself affirms the validity and real authority of other authorities: Obey your leaders (Hebrews 13), and the brother who refuses to listen to the church is treated as a tax collector (Matthew 18). But the Reformers followed the example of Jesus, who challenged Jewish tradition with an appeal to the written text (Matthew 15:1-6; Mark 7:1-13). Jesus argued that the Pharisaical tradition (or some thread of that tradition) taught that it was legitimate for children to give money to God rather than caring for aging parents. Jesus refuted them by saying that their tradition nullifies Scripture. Scripture is Jesus’ trump card. He doesn’t point to alternative threads of Pharisaical tradition (though he doubtless could have). One might say, for Jesus Scripture has final authority to judge the legitimacy of tradition. One might say, sola Scriptura.
Paul taught the same in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Paul reminds Timothy of the people who taught him Scripture. But Paul speaks of Scripture as a “God-breathed” text, which, one might assume, makes it quite different from other texts. In the final clause of the passage, Paul tells Timothy that the Scripture is useful to equip the man of God “for every good work.” Is there a good work that Scripture fails to equip us for? Paul says No. Is there a good work that is not in some fashion an application of Scripture? Paul says No. That’s the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture in a nutshell. That’s sola scriptura….
Of course, of course, of course: When we talk about Scripture correcting the church, we are talking about people reading and studying Scripture and coming to the conclusion that a traditional belief or practice violates Scripture. Of course, that process is subject to all the dilemmas and pitfalls of any interpretation. But then the question again becomes a question of theology proper, not simply of Scriptural authority. Suppose God wants to correct a corruption in His church. Is He able to speak to it? Can God’s voice break through to rebuke and correct and train in righteousness? Can our traditions muzzle the Lord of the church? Can He by His Spirit speak independently of, and against, the tradition? Is tradition a conversation, a liturgy of antiphon and response, or is it the church’s monologue? Is Jesus Lord of His church? Or has the Head been absorbed into the body?
See his whole post for, among other things, his appreciation of the Roman Catholic tradition and the reforms that have taken place within it.
I think that in part Leithart’s post was part of the on-going conversation about the resignation from the Presbyterian Church of America of Jason Stellman (who unsuccessfully prosecuted Leithart in a PCA presbytery for deviating from the Westminster Confession). You can see Stellman’s letter here. Stellman lost confidence in sola fide and sola Scriptura. Here’s what he said about sola fide:
Regarding Sola Fide, I have become convinced that the teaching that sinners are justified by a once-for-all declaration of acquittal on God’s part, based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone, is not reflective of the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. I have come to believe that a much more biblical paradigm for understanding the gospel—and one that has much greater explanatory value for understanding Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John—is one that sets forth the New Covenant work of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, as internally inscribing God’s law and enabling believers to exhibit love of God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law in order to gain their eternal inheritance (Rom. 8:1-4). While this is all accomplished entirely by God’s grace through the merits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it is at the same time not something that occurs through the imputation of an external and alien righteousness received through faith alone. Rather, as Paul says, God’s people are justified by a faith that works through love—itself the fruit of the Spirit—and with God’s law inscribed on our hearts and minds we sow to the Spirit and reap everlasting life (Gal. 5:4-6, 14, 16, 22; 6:8).
Here’s how Doug Wilson responded to Stellman on this issue:
With regard to sola fide, he is quite right to see the very narrow position he was nurtured in as contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to sinners, and the instrument of a God-given faith is what receives that gracious gift. But the gift received is that of living faith, breathing faith, loving faith, the only kind of faith the living God bestows. It is sola fide, not nuda fide. Stellman was wrong to identify his previous narrow view of sola fide as the doctrine of sola fide itself.
You can see Leithart’s more direct response to the matter here.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Doug Wilson and others turned their presentations at a conference into a short book that tries to explain the universe as the Bible depicts it. There are chapters on celestial beings (cherubim, seraphim, orphanim, and living ones from Ezekiel and Revelation), “the governing princes” (principalities), divination and witchcraft, and other things that don’t fit into a naturalistic worldview.
The best chapter, in my view, was Doug Wilson’s called “The Heavens, Hades, & Man Between,” which described the heavens populated with the heavenly host (stars, which aren’t only flaming gas), Sheol (corresponding to the Greek concept of Hades, where the dead dwell), Hell (Gehenna), and the New Jerusalem. The rest of the book was a bit uneven in that rest of the chapters were not as substantial as I would have liked.
The overall theme is that the world as seen by the biblical writers is quite different from a naturalistic view, and that the Bible should be understood in these terms rather than translated to smooth out these difficulties.
I’ve read some good reflections on Hitchens’ death in the last few days from the following authors:
- Doug Wilson, who had many debates with him and turned some of them into a movie, Collision (hat tip: Rick via Facebook)
- Ross Douthat, who helped me understand a bit why I always enjoyed reading Hitchens’ columns (hat tip: one of Joel’s comments on this post)
- Brian Mattson, who began with William Cowper’s poem about Voltaire and made what I thought was a good comparison between Hitchens and Voltaire
Peter Leithart notes Horton Davies’ summary of the English Puritans’ scaling back of Calvin’s Reformed structure of worship services. They celebrated monthly rather than weekly communion and dropped written liturgies, the Apostles’ Creed, absolution, confirmation, and confession. Leithart’s post concludes: “Davies attributes this to the Puritan “fear and detestation of the Roman Church” that led them to ignore “the customs of the primitive Church” and even of “the Reformed Church on the Continent.”
This might help to explain the general American evangelical allergy to liturgy. Not only is there an association of liturgy with Catholicism, but the Puritans and their successors have had a major cultural influence in the US. Doug Wilson has recently been making the point that many interpreters have throughout our history: Americans have an essentially Puritan “DNA.” (You can see what he’s talking about here, especially in the posts “An American Reformation,” “Repent Like an American,” and “Four Kinds of Puritan.”)
Filed under: American Church, Reformation and Early Modern Europe | Tagged: American evangelicalism, Douglas Wilson, Horton Davies, John Calvin, liturgy, Peter Leithart, Puritans, Reformation, worship | 2 Comments »
Doug Wilson writes about Christ’s pattern of “table fellowship”:
Careful study of the gospels shows us five distinctive characteristics of Christ’s table fellowship. First, He consistently sought out fellowship with outcasts. Secondly, those outcasts responded to Him with joy. Third, the religious establishment routinely grumbled about it. Fourth, the table fellowship was preceded by a call to radical discipleship. And fifth, such incidents frequently conclude with Jesus talking about His redemptive mission.
As he notes, “we should be careful not to let our embrace of His call to radical discipleship in the fourth point turn us into the grumblers of the third point.”
I’d like to try to look at this myself to notice this pattern.
Walter Russell Mead writes that the French model of secularism is crashing in the Middle East in places like Turkey and Syria (and already has in other parts of the Arab world). In Turkey, he believes, it succeeded long enough to create a stable society.
He lays out four models of Western secularism:
In England (the situation in Scotland is a little different) the Church of England is the official religion, supported by taxpayers, and by law the Queen is the head of the church and no Roman Catholic can wear the English crown. On the other hand, other religions are fully free and in Parliament, where the real power lies, Catholics, atheists, Muslims, Jews and anybody else can serve. Much of Nordic Europe has similar arrangements and much of the English speaking world is linked to this system through the position of the Queen as the Head of State in countries like Canada and New Zealand.
- In Germany, there is no single established religion, but the state acts as a tax collector for the major churches, funneling the equivalent of dues from members to religious bodies through the tax system.
In the United States, the government takes no religious position and endorses no faith, but exercises a benign neutrality toward any faith whose tenets support American democracy and the rule of the existing legal order. The tax system provides an indirect subsidy for both religious and philanthropic activity; charitable contributions reduce the basis of income counted for tax purposes.
The French system is the most aggressively secular Atlantic system. It grows out of the experience of the French Revolution, when the Republic and the Catholic Church were at daggers drawn. The hierarchical and highly organized nature of the Catholic church, its deep involvement with the monarchy and aristocracy, its wealth and land holdings, its extraterritorial connections with Rome and the intense loyalty to the church felt by many French people all made the Catholic Church a potentially hostile and powerful force.
- Despite the efforts of moderates in both camps to find common ground, the Revolution persecuted the Church and the Church resisted the Revolution. The rivalry and even hatred between republicanism and Catholicism was an important driving force in French life well into the twentieth century and still echoes in French politics today. French secularism sees religion as a dangerous force that must be excluded from the public square; if you give the priests an inch they will take a mile, and civic republicanism must be constantly on its guard to prevent religion from reconquering the state. (Modern French hostility to the burqa is not just about Islamophobia; it also represents the enduring power of the lay republican ideal in France — religion must remain a private matter and stay off the street.)
Hand in hand with this vision is the belief that religion is a backward-looking, anti-enlightenment, anti-modernizing force. The Republic must curb the Church in order to fulfill the task of economically and politically modernizing the country. If the Republic fails, the Church will drag the country back into economic and political backwardness. Religion from this point of view not only debauches human intelligence and suppresses human freedom; it condemns the fatherland to impotence. A backward, superstitious country will not be strong enough to overcome its international rivals. The Republican vanguard is the only force capable of enabling the country to stand up against its foreign foes: the fight against religion is a fight that patriots must embrace.
Peter Berger explains a bit about the German system here:
Also, the German churches have encountered financial problems, losing income from the “church tax” because of a loss in members. (Note: The term “church tax” is misleading. It is not a compulsory tax. Amounting to about 8% of an individual’s income tax, it is collected by the state on behalf of the various churches from those who voluntarily declare themselves to be members. An individual can save himself the “church tax” by simply declaring himself to be konfessionslos—without religious affiliation.)
Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (watch or read the transcript here, extended interview with Jocelyn Cesari here) featured a report recently about French secularism. French education stresses religious violence as part of the need to keep religion private. One of the people interviewed was a French professor who is Catholic and wears a small cross that is mostly hidden under his shirt. At a meeting with senior French officials it came out and one official told him, “Be careful!” Here was his summary of the situation: “Our culture erases religion. We’re here, but we don’t show ourselves.” He continued:
Today it’s unimaginable to go against the state, against the public space, and to show a cross, a skullcap, a veil. It’s impossible. It’s wanting to destroy the state. That’s what the French feel. The majority of French people do not think it’s possible to be French and Muslim. Most French people think you can’t be a citizen and believe in God. We are the most atheist people in the world. Why? Because when you are a believer, in France people think you have lost your freedom, your reason, okay?
A couple of ways that religion continues in public do exist: the continuing Catholic pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres, 5% of the population regularly attending mass, religious schools that get state money (including Muslim schools where girls can where headscarves, which they can’t in public schools in line with other religious dress restrictions), the allowance for Muslim public prayer where their facilities are too small.
Doug Wilson has written provocatively about this, as is his wont. Here addresses the assumption that underlies French-style secularism:
This foundational myth — that secularism saved us from the death trap of sectarian, religious strife — is a myth that needs to be denied, root and branch, every chance we get….
We should not deny the secular myth because the myth is not ours, or because it is getting in the way of what we want to do. We do not deny it because it is inconvenient for us as Christians. We deny it because it isfalse. The Thirty Years War was fought by religious people, sure enough. It was fought by Protestants and Catholics, certainly. But there are some inconvenient and stubborn facts that are tangled up in this version of the myth. For example, did Protestants always fight Catholics throughout the course of the Thirty Years War? Did Protestants ever team up with some Catholics to fight with other Catholics? If that happened, what might the explanation for that be? Might it have been the fact that the conflict was actually being driven by the rise of incipient nation-states?
Might it have been that when the dragon came and captured us all, he told us a great story about how he was delivering us from dragons?
Filed under: Church and State, Modern Europe | Tagged: American religious culture, Britain, Douglas Wilson, France, Germany, Jocelyn Cesari, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, secularism, United States | 5 Comments »