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Sometimes you read a book that has been sitting on your shelf for years and think, “I wish I’d read this years ago.”

Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework by Charles Dunahoo is one of those books, at least for me.

I can’t remember how I got my copy. Someone else had read it so it was highlighted and underlined with black ink. I might be the third person to read it. I use red ink when I read a book. Now the book is quite colorful.

Dunahoo is the either retiring or now-retired coordinator for the PCA Committee for Christian Education and Publications (I can’t remember). He served on a variety of committees in the early and formative days of the PCA. He’s been a pastor and taught systematic theology and apologetics at the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. The fruit of much of that work is displayed in this book. You can see the influence of Francis Shaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and John Frame in this volume. There is plenty of  interaction with postmodernism (as well as modernism).

This is not a nuts and bolts kind of book, as he admits. It is a framework. That framework will need to be filled out in ways appropriate to your particular context and strengths. This means the book is not about the acts of discipleship (reading plans, planning prayer and other practices we think of when we think about discipleship). His focus is on the big picture.

This book has three parts: Knowing the Word, Knowing the World and Biblical Models for Applying the Word to the World.

Knowing the Word

The first section is by far the longest at around 120 pages. Knowing the Word is the Framework for Discipleship. that Dunahoo is talking about. He calls this a kingdom model. Discipleship is about reordering a life around the realities of the kingdom of Jesus. That means not simply new practices but a new way of thinking.

“Generic definition: A disciple is someone who accepts a set of beliefs, and embraces a holistic, total, and intentional approach to life based on those beliefs.

“Kingdom definition: a kingdom disciple is someone who thinks God’s thoughts after him and applies them to all of life.”

This involves a brand new way of thinking as Paul repeatedly asserts in his epistles. We are, after all, transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means not simply new beliefs (it includes that) but new ways of viewing and thinking about everything. He differentiates between a program-based model, an individual (often parachurch) model, the small group model and his kingdom model. The kingdom model incorporates the other models but “places them in the context of God’s kingdom. It is informational, formational, and transformational!” There is content, it forms a worldview and transforms lives.

Dunahoo then dives into how we think and know. This has been complicated by neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism. He wants us to be “epistemologically self-conscious” which he defines as “being aware of what we know and how we know what we know.” This includes knowing what we don’t know. He describes the shift in authority from the premodern (revelation) to the modern (reason) and the postmodern (self & community). Since the premodern era “truth and knowledge have been divorced from the person of God.” He stresses that true knowledge comes in relationship with the God who made us and everything else. This God can reveal our biases and filters that so often color our judgments and make our thinking and conclusions distorted. Here his dependence on Schaeffer becomes clear as he develops a “checks-and-balances approach” that helps us identify our biases. One of the problems he identifies with a postmodern approach is “a knowing process wherein truth is relatively determined from moment to moment, form place to place” rather than in an observable process. Tik Tok is an example of this as many young people seem to think they can process politics and society from 30 second videos of people dancing to bad music.

From knowing, Dunahoo returns to the Kingdom and its implications for theology, mission and ministry. The kingdom is larger than the Church, encompassing the whole of creation and therefore determines how we live in all of life (not just at home or in church). Kingdom refers to the realm (creation) and his reign (providence and revealed will). This implies the limitations of the Church’s role in the world which individual Christians don’t share. The Church proclaims the good news and disciples Christians about what to believe and how to live. In the world, as part of the kingdom, Christians work for justice as well as proclaim the good news. The Church has no role in politics, but Christians certainly do as citizens of two kingdoms. We act in the name of Christ under His authority, but not in the name of the Church. Christians vote, but not the Church (nor should it bind your conscience in voting).

“… it helps the Christian know how to live as a member of Christ’s body, the church, but also how to live in the broader kingdom realm.”

From there, he gets into a Christian World-and-Life view. This builds on the previous chapters and is the logical conclusion. As the kingdom shapes our thinking & knowing we develop a Christian world-and-life view. He engages with how our world-and-life views are shaped (and re-shaped) and why it is important. There is a good caution that our world-and-life view is continually being reformed so be humble and don’t think you have it all figured out. You don’t.

The next two chapters cover the Reformed Faith and the Covenant. Discipleship, for him and other Reformed people, happens within the context of our theological heritage and the covenant by which God regulates His relationship with His people. They are essential rather than optional aspects of discipleship for a kingdom model. Discipleship is not atheological. He addresses some misconceptions of theology and then summarizes key doctrines in the Reformed heritage.

Covenant is a key aspect of Reformed Theology. Reformed Theology is covenantal theology, but covers more than covenant theology. Discipleship takes place within and should recognize certain covenantal realities. It shapes how we think of family and God’s work in and through families (you and your seed), as an example. In covenant theology grace precedes obedience. This logic of grace (as Ferguson calls it) is to be an important part of discipleship. Obedience is taught, but not as a way of meriting grace. It is a response to grace and flows out of faith expressing itself in love.

Knowing the World

The second section of Dunahoo’s book deals with the context of discipleship. Discipleship occurs in a context just as it also involves addressing how we know what we know and what we are supposed to know.

“We have to teach people to think biblically, and that requires more than simple Bible study. … We must understand God’s revelation, particularly his inscripturated Word, in our particular circumstance to know how to apply that Word and think biblically about life and reality.”

Dunahoo begins with Modernity. He views it as a threat IF it is allowed to “control our lifestyles consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously.” It can be an opportunity IF “we understand it and its influence, and know how to use it in proper ways.” In this context he defines premodern, modernity and postmodernism as he did earlier in terms of sources of authority for knowledge and true.

Then he moves into modernity’s influence on (American) Christianity. We see it’s influence in pluralism which offers people choices and allows for change. It can make Christianity seemingly irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas. It leads to privatism which also relegates faith to the private sphere of one’s life. This seeks to limit faiths influence on the public sphere so that laws don’t reflect one’s moral views but lack a fixed reference point. He also examines individualism in which my reason (not ours) is the measure of truth. There is a lack of community since life is about me. This also leads us to relativism so there is no standard to measure cultures.

“As Francis Schaeffer often said in his lectures and writings, if there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society itself becomes absolute.”

He also addresses, briefly, techism. We tend to think newer is better. People become a commodity even as we try to extend life (with medicine) without creating proper financial support systems for those longer lives. Tied to this is the rise of pop culture and immediacy.

The next chapter address the postmodern paradigm. Postmodernism takes pluralism to new heights, or possibly depths. Postmodernism is existentialism and nihilism in more concrete forms. Absolute truth becomes a meaningless concept since we can’t define truth. We look to ourselves to create meaning.

He briefly examines four key postmodernists: Jean Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. He then examines the key terms of postmodernism: Foundationalism, Pragmatism (Utilitarianism), Relativism and Structuralism. In evaluating postmodernism he asserts that it is not a reaction to modernism but rather the collapse of modernism which couldn’t bear the weight of its beliefs. Postmodernism can’t bear its own weight either. Long term communities can’t exist when they leave God out as a reference point. Otherwise self-interest and extremism rip them apart.

Both modernism and postmodernism are present in our culture. This is a function of the generational context. Older generations still operate in a modernist mindset (generally) and younger generations are more influenced by postmodernism. Discipleship can’t ignore modernism and postmodernism, and can’t ignore the generational context either.

He explores the Traditionalist, In Betweener, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations. He looks at the context in which they grew and their commitments (or lack thereof).

“We need all the generations coming together to produce the kind of covenant family that will survive the pressures, dangers, and consequences of today’s often degenerate and demoralizing world.”

Dunahoo is not trying to pit one generation against the other. He does note their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their general outlooks which can complement one another. Multi-generational ministries will balance the concerns of the various generations and help them humbly offer their strengths.

Applying the Word to the World

The third section applies the Word we’ve come to know to the world in which we live. This is the crux of discipleship because theology is meant to be lived, not simply asserted and assented.

He provides three biblical models or examples of how to do this. The first is Paul in Athens (Acts 17). Paul gains a hearing by building bridges through points of contact. Our message has to have some meaning to those who listen. In many cases this means first listening to the concerns and questions of those to whom we speak. This doesn’t mean that Paul was a relativist. He had a fixed reference point. He didn’t compromise his worldview but built on common concerns to then communicate his worldview. In this Dunahoo distinguishes between actual relevance (what it means for our lives) and functional relevance (whether or not we see that relevance).

The second model is Ecclesiastes which examines various worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. He notes that many Muslims criticize Christianity because western Christians have ceased to see it as a worldview, a system of thinking and doing. The topics he relates through Ecclesiastes are life, pleasure, happiness, wisdom, work, possessions, man and eternity. These are viewed from “under the sun” or from a human perspective and “above the sun” the view from above otherwise known as a Christian worldview.

In this context Dunahoo approaches the problem of legalism. We have liberties that we can enjoy in this life. We don’t avoid pleasure, happiness, wisdom etc. but seek them in God-honoring ways. This means in their proper place so they are not what we are living for but rather enjoying them as gifts from God to be used for His glory.

The third example is a covenantal reading of Genesis 13. We have to place texts within their context of the rest of Scripture and therefore the covenants. Dunahoo is getting at the gospel logic of indicative-imperative, moving from God’s grace to gospel implications. This rescues us from trying to merit God’s favor. The successes and failures of Abram must be viewed within the context of the covenant in which God gave grace to pagan Abram.

“That is the heart of discipleship: knowing about God in a way that transforms our lives by making us more like him, loving and caring for what he love and cares for.”

He is highly dependent upon S.G. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance which seems to be out of print now. The life of a disciple is fundamentally a life of faith in the promises of God. As we see in Hebrews 11 faith acts on the promises of God. Our faith is “truths fleshed out in vertical and horizontal relationships.”

As I noted, this is a book I wish I had read years ago. It is a more theological, abstract book. It does get at the presuppositions of discipleship and that is a necessary endeavor. I may try to communicate this material in a SS class or in teacher training. It will inform what I’m looking to do going forward.

Providing a framework, Dunahoo does not exhaustively examine his topics. He summarizes quite a bit, and necessarily so. In other words, this is not a book on postmodernism but summarizes the high points pertaining to kingdom discipleship. He then provides some resources to better understand postmodernism (or Reformed Theology or generational differences etc.).

One of my takeaways, for instance, came from the chapter on generations. Boomers tend to look for a “how to” in sermons. One older elder I knew used to write YBH in outlines, meaning “Yes, but how”. Busters/Xers like myself tend to look for “Why” in a sermon. Those are the two that I’m used to addressing. The one I need to add more consciously is the Millennial focus on the “so what”. Hopefully this will improve my preaching as a result, and preaching is a key component of discipleship.

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In light of the upcoming election (and numerous debates connected to Covid-19) I decided it was time to read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. I will break up my review into 3 parts corresponding to the three parts of the book. As a result, I won’t go into great detail but will focus on what stands out to me.

Haidt writes well. While he is discussing developments in philosophy and psychology, particularly moral psychology, it is not boring. It is largely his story as he entered the field at a critical time and made significant contributions to the discipline. I think he strikes a good balance between enough detail to be meaningful and not so much that it becomes incomprehensible to “laypeople” in that field. He does a good job of defining terms so the uninitiated can follow the argument sufficiently.

What is interesting to me is how often he talks about evolution. Haidt comes from a materialist worldview. He recognizes the place of religion in the life of individuals and cultures but ties all that in to morality as an evolutionary process. I think his conclusions still have validity, despite his evolutionary presuppositions. He holds to some innate ideas and morality, but posits them in evolution instead of the imago dei. There is also a place for nurture in moral development. We are not tabula rasa, nor are we fully programmed and unchangeable. In light of his commitment to evolution it is ironic to me to see him say we are “born to be righteous.” His worldview doesn’t really explain why we aren’t actually righteous. He assigns his conclusion to evolution, not sinfulness. From my perspective he’s observing the darkened and futile mind of Romans 1 at work. He thinks we created gods to order our societies, not to explain the universe (pp. 13). I see Genesis 1 a bit differently.

“But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.”

He wrote this book in 2012, and compares the news about politics to the riots after the Rodney King riots- helicopters showing us disturbance and trauma. In the intervening years, the polarization has only increased. We’ve seen 3 summers of riots since he wrote this.

Chidi struggled to teach Eleanor moral philosophy

His goal is to take us on a tour of human nature and history through the lens of moral philosophy. He will also show us why our attempts to discuss politics and religion often produce vexation instead of unity. “Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral philosophy” as he notes. He is essentially writing three interrelated books that address three principles of moral philosophy, as he sees it.

The first section develops the first moral principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. In light of this principle he offers a metaphor with intuition as an elephant and reason as the rider. In his metaphor, the rider is a servant to the elephant rather than controlling the elephant, using it to serve his goals.

I think the metaphor breaks down in that respect. Someone rides an elephant to make it his or her servant, not to serve it. I get his point, and will try to explain it, but he sees that the rider (reason) evolved to serve the interests of the elephant. I will admit that while I’ve ridden on an elephant years ago, I’m not sure how much you actually control said elephant. It is rather like Chidi attempting to help Eleanor become a more moral person. He’s serving her but can’t control her. And if these people aren’t familiar to you, you may want to watch The Good Place.

He begins by asking where morality comes from. He takes the reader through a short history of ideas on this subject. There of course is nature (nativist) either through creation or evolution (he mentions both) and nurture (empiricism). So there is discussion of John Locke, and Jean Piaget who had a “self-constructed morality”. Both came from a rationalistic perspective. He summaries this in terms of not instructing children about morality but letting them play to discover it. He puts it this way:

“And if you want your kids to learn about the social world, let them play with other kids and resolve disputes; don’t lecture them about the Ten Commandments. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t force them to obey God or their teachers or you. This will only freeze them at the conventional level.”

Fear not, he’s only discussing implications of other theorists and not his own conclusion. You are on a tour thru history, remember. He continues with Kohlberg and Elliot Turiel’s development. They discovered that as they age children can discern between moral rules and social conventions. The former prevent harm. Not all rules are treated the same way. But this did not satisfy a young Haidt. He decided to check this across cultures and classes after studying some cultural psychology.

“This was my first hint that morality often involves tension within the group linked to competition between different groups.”

He delves into the differences between sociocentric societies and individualistic societies. This is the question of whether the group or the individual matter more. Western cultures, due to the Enlightenment, focus on the needs of the individual. Most other cultures place the well-being of the group as the priority, and this shaped the answers he received. Kohlberg and Turiel came from and tested individualistic societies. In sociocentric cultures, social convention can take on the force of moral rules because the group is at stake, not just the individual. In other word, Haidt learned that we often “invent victims” to justify our moral positions. The moral view (this is right or wrong) comes first, and then we try to justify that view based on the reason we then provide which focus on who could possibly be hurt. He concludes the first chapter this way:

“We were born to be righteous, but we have to learn, exactly, what people like us should be righteous about.”

The Rationalist Delusion

Haidt begins with Hume to explain that the emotional or intuitive dogs wags the rational tale. We sense a rightness or wrongness, and then use reason to justify our intuition. We don’t reason ourselves into moral positions. He brings Stephen Pinker (briefly) and Edward O. Wilson into the story. Antonio Demasio studied people with particular brain injuries. Those with full reasoning faculties but impaired emotions struggled to make decisions. They lacked moral judgment. Pure reason cannot make up its mind. For Haidt this showed that reason was a servant of the emotions.

Enter Harold Margolis who identified two types of reasoning processes: “see-that” and “reasoning-why”. “Seeing-that” was intuitive. We can begin to see the Intuitive-Thinking polarity in the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, though he doesn’t go there. Reasoning-why only happens in creatures with higher functions requiring language. But intuition kicks the whole thing off. Emotions, therefore, are a form of reasoning.

At this point I struggled with the circular reasoning (from my perspective). If “reasoning-why” requires higher functioning dependent on language, how can language develop apart from the existence of higher functioning. It is a question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. A person with higher functioning can create a new language, but it corresponds to an existing language they already know. This is similar to a Science Friday discussion about how human brains burn up so much energy. We need to cook food to get enough nutrients to support higher function, yet without said higher function how can we decide/discover to cook food? Why are we the only creature to cook food? This is where I stumble over evolutionary presuppositions.

Haidt did develop a model that I think, at this point, is helpful. Haidt notes that we generally reason after forming a judgment based on intuition. We also try to reason with people instead of actually connecting to their intuitions, as if they were rational which they aren’t.

This sounds quite presuppositional to me. In moral discussions we want to “trigger” new intuitions. For instance (my example, and so maybe I’m wrong) pro-life people need to consistently affirm concern for the health and well-being of the mother. We want to add the well-being and safety of the child as a person to the pro-choice person’s intuition. If we focus on the safety of the child we simply have conflicting intuitions that lead to vexation. We need to talk to the elephant, not the rider!

In this context, he thinks Dale Carnagie got it right. “Pastors” like Joel Osteen influence so many because they are generally likeable, appealing to your intuition (greed is good- not). Unfortunately they (in my opinion) influence so many in the wrong way. Peer pressure works because it addresses intuition indirectly: I want to be liked and if I don’t change my view I won’t be liked.

He then explains why elephants rule beginning with a study he did with Thalia Wheatley. She used hypnosis to implant code words into subjects. When their code word was in the story they got a flash of negativity. They asked the subjects to write a sentence to explain their answer. “These subjects made up absurd answers to justify judgments that they had made on the basis of gut feelings- feelings Thalia had implanted with hypnosis.” Our brains are constantly evaluating information and forming judgments.

“The second process- thinking- is an evolutionary newer ability, rooted in language and not closely related to motivation.”

Other studies including politically loaded words indicate that “part of what it means to be partisan is that you have acquired the right set of intuitive reactions to hundreds of words and phrased.” Your elephant leans a particular way so that you affirm concepts associate with your tribe, and deny that which is associated with the other tribe. For instance, two politicians or public figures can say essentially the same thing and you’ll affirm what the guy on “your side” says, and reject what the other guys says. This explains what some talk radio people have called Bush (or Trump) Derangement System. And your response is your elephant leaning left or right when you read that.

“The bottom line is that human minds, like animal minds, are constantly reacting intuitively to everything they perceive and basing their responses on those reactions.”

Psychopaths are people who lack a moral compass. They lack a moral compass because they lack particular emotions. They “live in a world of objects.” They are unmoved by the needs of others, and the only concerned for self. Babies on the other hand feel but don’t reason, yet exhibit the beginnings of morality.

“Elephants rule, but they are neither dumb nor despotic. Intuitions can be shaped by reasoning, especially when reasons are embedded in a friendly conversation or an emotionally compelling novel, movie or news story.”

Vote for Me

Politics is basically the appeal to people’s elephants. They reach people’s intuition through emotions. This is why they often sell fear, as does the media. Haidt brings us to Plato’s Republic where Glaucon implies people are good because they are afraid of getting caught. Sounds a bit like the Devil in Job. Where there is cooperation in a city between the divisions of labor, people work for the common good, and suffer when one segment suffers. Socrates takes this to justify the rule by the philosophers since they alone will seek what is good. Plug in elites and you have America. If only people like us would listen to the experts, all would be well. Or so the argument goes.

When people are accountable they generally do what is right. When they think they are above accountability, or can get away with it, they will do wrong. Haidt depends on Phil Tetlock here. People, particularly politicians, maintain an image. Reality isn’t quite as important. People vote (or won’t vote) for your public image, not who you really are.

Tetlock also broke our rationalizations down into “exploratory thought” and “confirmatory thought”. The former considers alternative points of view. The latter is an attempt to rationalize our point of view. We only engage in exploratory thought when we are forced to. Most of the time we engage in confirmatory thought. We are like politicians looking for votes. Our reason is our press secretary justifying all our actions. Schools, these days, don’t teach people to think but just select the ones best able to make the best arguments based on a higher IQ.

Into this he brings Tom Gilovich who differentiated between “Can I believe it?” and “Must I believe it?”. When we want to believe something we ask the first question. When we don’t want to believe something we ask the second. But then we tend to search for contrary rather than positive evidence.

“If people can literally see what they want to see- give a bit of ambiguity- is it any wonder that scientific studies often fail to persuade the general public?”

It isn’t so much that people are making decisions based on self-interest. Haidt notes that people care about their groups, their tribes. Your group can be racial, regional, religious or political but you will tend to see things in their favor. Our political opinions tend to function like membership badges. We vote to prosper those in our most-favored group status. Partisan people find stimulus in affirming the groups views, and negative reinforcement if they think outside the box. We can become like rats on dopamine- we become addicted to politics, and political views. We should question our ability to reason, especially when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.

“Our politics is groupish, not selfish.”

Intellectual and ideological diversity are incredibly important as a result. This is increasingly absent from college campuses. The refusal of political parties to work together means that public policy suffers from ideological extremes. But our elephants seek their group, and avoid the other tribe to the detriment of the whole.

What he doesn’t account for in this first section is the power of cognitive dissonance. Some people end up changing their views because the dissonance gets to be too great. It drives them to exploratory thought, and all bets are off.

Obviously he doesn’t think people never change their minds. Plenty of kids go to college and change them plenty. Some people shift political views as they enter their 40s or 50s. We’ll see how he approaches these in the sections to come.

 

 

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Who wouldn’t want to read John Calvin on The Secret Providence of God? Well, it depends what kind of book you are looking to read.

The subject is certainly an interesting one. The caveat is that the book is polemical in nature. He’s not simply asserting what he believes on this subject so you and I can be edified. He’s responding to “charges” made by a former student/associate of his, Sebastian Castellio. The editor’s (Paul Helm) indicates some of their prior relationship. But in the final pages of the  book Calvin gives us more information about their relationship. This book reeks of betrayal. Polemics and betrayal make for some bombastic language at times. It may also explain why this book is not as clear as I’d hoped at times (but perhaps this was me having been online too much, rotting my brain, or too focused on the good cigars I’d often smoke while reading this). I read this book intermittently over the course of a few months. Far too long for a book of its size (122 pages), but I’ve been busy with other matters.

All this to say, I’d be careful to whom I recommend this book. I would recommend this for more mature Christians who have an interest in Calvin because they’ve already read his more popular works. It would be of interest to students of the Reformation and theological methods. I would not recommend this to someone struggling with the doctrine of providence or unfamiliar with how to do theology.

Helm’s introduction informs us that this was, in fact, Calvin’s third response to his fellow Frenchman on the subject. I suspect his frustrating was mounting as would mine. They met in Strasbourg. Castellio’s strength seemed to be languages, and Calvin appears to have taken a liking to the man. For a time Castellio was rector of the College of Geneva. It didn’t last long. First, Castellio denied the canonicity of the Song of Songs, calling it a lewd book. Then Calvin worked with him on a translation of the Bible into French. They differed greatly, and argued, about their approaches to translation. As the relationship soured, Castellio resigned from the college. He seems to have accepted at least some of Servetus’ writings, for later in this volume Calvin calls Servetus his master (this could be figuratively since Calvin did consider him a heretic in the body of his response). But the execution of Servetus by the Genevan authorities led to Castellio’s personal campaign against them, and Calvin. He was not open about this, often using a pen name instead of his own.

“The work provides us with a small window onto the boisterous, argumentative years of the Reformation, not in this case to the main conflicts but to the skirmishes initiated by some of its lesser characters, such as Pighius and Servetus and, of course, Castellio.” (pp. 18)

Helm notes that Calvin was generally gentle and accommodating to those he considered open or friendly to his views. “But he is pitiless and unflattering toward those such as Castellio who openly crossed him.” Castellio, on the other hand, seems less concerned with clear theological thinking as to ridicule and misrepresent Calvin. His goal seems to be to repeatedly jab his finger in Calvin’s eye. If they lived next to each other in Bowling Green, one thinks he’s blindside Calvin and stomp him when Calvin got off his lawn mower.

“To Calvin’s intense irritation, here is a man, once a friend and follower, who is not impatient of the carefully crafted subtleties that Calvin sometimes uses to advance his position, and above all contemptuous of the God whose interests Calvin sought to advance. Even their Protestantism provides them with little common ground.” (pp. 19-20)

Helm then moves into some theological analysis of the book. He critiques Castellio’s method. The antagonist blurs theological distinctions so that he accuses Calvin of equal ultimacy regarding God’s decrees of salvation and sin/reprobation. Calvin follows a typical medieval view of the two wills of God: his secret will (decrees) and his revealed will (declarations & commands). Calvin depends heavily on Augustine in this volume, the only other author he quotes. Castellio’s method also relies heavily on reason while Calvin’s on revelation. Castellio sets reason above revelation. While Calvin obviously uses reason, he understands it to be bound to revelation. There are limits to the powers of reason as well as things not revealed to us. He invokes Deut. 29:29 (as any student of Calvin’s would guess). His introduction is helpful in understanding how each participant will engage in this disputation. Helm also notes, at the end, how Arminius’ own formulations are dependent upon Castellio’s. He built, as Muller calls it, a theology of creation, far more popular than Castellio’s. But both rejected Calvin’s theology of grace.

The book proper begins with a series of Articles, 14, Castellio generates (better, fabricates) from Calvin’s writings. He presents as series of strawmen arguments since they bear little to no resemblance to what Calvin actually wrote. He misrepresents Calvin. What is unclear is how much of this he actually believed and how much he purposely twisted just to tick Calvin off. As he explains these articles you do find instances of confusing logic, conflation of ideas, failure to make distinctions and more really bad theological method. Here are some example of him tying himself in knots (as I noted in the margins of my copy):

“If God wills sin, then the Devil does not will sin. That is to say, the idea that the Devil is God is a complete contradiction. If God wills sin, he loves sin’ and if he loves sin, he hates righteousness.” (pp. 45)

“… if the (secret) will of God often contends with his command, how can it be known when he wills or when he does not will what he commands? … For instance, if God commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I commit adultery, and yet I ought not to commit adultery, then I ought to do what is contrary to his will.” (pp. 45)

“Your false God is slow to mercy and quick to wrath. He created the largest part of the world for perdition.” (pp. 52)

“But the God of Calvin is the father of lies who evidently governs sometimes by what he says and at other times by his secret promptings.” (pp. 53)

He’s trying to make Calvin’s understanding of God appear to be a moral monster, and the Christian life not practicable because he can’t make simple distinctions. How you think matters. And this is some seriously stinking thinking. He also appears to operate from a denial of depravity. This is an unstated presupposition of his that seems to infect his reasoning leading to a number of faulty conclusions.

“… if God prompts perverse affections and then he flies into a rage, he hates the same people before the perverse affections arise, for to prompt perverse affections is the work of hatred. Therefore, he hates the innocent. For men are innocent before the perverse affections arise.” (pp. 50)

Castellio also attacks Calvin’s “students” as contentious and sinful. He puts all his arguments into the mouths of Calvin’s opponents while affirming them as personally unanswerable. There is one more claim that his “disciples” depend more upon Calvin “than upon reason.” Here he affirms his view of reason over and above Scripture, and denies that Calvin’s doctrines arise from Scripture.

The main body of the book is Calvin’s point by point response to Castellio. He works through the articles. This divides the book into readable chunks for busy people. Much of Calvin’s argument is that his doctrines are in fact derived for Scripture. He places Scripture above (not against) reason. Castellio argues for common sense, common sense, common sense => theology from below, subject to our judgment. Man is the arbiter of truth.

“But if you allow no other form of reasoning except what an earthly man recognizes, then by such arrogance and disdain you deny yourself access to the very doctrine of knowledge of which is only possible to someone with a reverential spirit. … Everything loses its authority and grace if it does not satisfy your reason.” (pp. 61)

Calvin also notes that he has already answered these objections three or four times thus far. He notes that these articles falsely represent his views. He notes his dependence on Augustine who also faced similar stubborn objections. Castellio frequently didn’t cite Calvin’s works. When he quotes Calvin, he takes him out of context. Some of the accusations he makes are similar to those that Paul faced and answered in places like Romans 9-11. Calvin’s point? “You aren’t arguing against me, but the Scriptures when we examine the tensions in Scripture” is what he’d say. In terms of those tensions and distinctions Calvin asks:

“Truly God invites all men to repentance; therefore, all might return to the road where he offers pardon. Now, what we must here consider is whether the conversion that God requires is according to man’s free choice or is a truly unique gift from God. Therefore, insofar as all men are exhorted to repent, the prophet rightly denies that God wills the death of the sinner. Why does God not convert everyone to himself equally? The reason is in the hands of God’s secret will.” (pp. 71)

He notes that Castellio also has to answer these great questions.

“This knot is also for you to untie. Since no one comes near to God unless the secret influence of the Spirit draws him, why are not all men without discrimination drawn, if God wills all to salvation? For from his discrimination it certainly is to be concluded that God has a particular secret way in which many are excluded from salvation.” (pp .73)

Calvin also unearths some of his other presuppositions: “Nor will you accept that the causes of wrath are in man himself” (pp. 74). Castellio rejects the depravity of men as the root of God’s judgment and man’s temptation to sin. He espouses a weak view of foreknowledge, separating God’s “power and his prescience” (pp. 75). He is judging God by feeble sense, to quote Cowper’s hymn on the subject. Calvin warns Castellio of dualism.  He reminds him that God uses primary and secondary causes (pp. 191). He schools him in the doctrine of concurrence- two or more persons willing the same action but for different reasons (God’s being good and Satan’s and men’s being evil).

There are moments you have to stop and think (especially if you’ve been distracted by your children) to sort out the argument. He will trace out Castellio’s argument at times so keeping the train of thought is essential.

He responds to the questioning of Calvin and disciples’ character with observations about Castellio’s.

“When I fed you in my home, no man had ever appeared to be more proud and more deceitful or more destitute than yo. Whoever does not perceive you to be an imposter and a cynic devoted to shamelessness, and a buffoon barking against piety, they are absolutely without judgment.” (pp. 118)

“But it must certainly be that you were too dull, because you were not able to understand what I have taught you, both in the familiarity of my own home and also what you heard when I so often preached in the public assembly.” (pp. 119)

“… you boast among your followers that study is empty and frivolous (the same study that is employed in philosophy, logic, and even theology) in order that you might gain more disciples for yourself. … You, on the other hand, request that untutored men who despise all learning and are inflated only with the breath of arrogance appear in public so that they may audaciously make judgments concerning the mysteries of heaven.” (pp. 120-121)

You see here the sense of betrayal that drives his harsh words. Still, these words are mild by some of today’s standards. We see a picture of Castellio as something of a fundamentalist Arminian. He was anti-intellectual; anti-scholarship in addition to exalting human reason. He was also, in Calvin’s estimation, a heretic. He didn’t just disagree, but held to views that Calvin put him outside the bounds of the Church. And so he ends:

“May God restrain you, Satan. Amen.” (pp. 122)

There is much here that is important to learn in terms of doing theology. There is some here that we should likely avoid in terms of doing polemics. We should continue to speak the truth in love. Lay out presuppositions to the light of day for evaluation. Clearly make proper distinctions. Reconcile the tensions found in Scripture instead of just proof-texting. Bur resist the temptation to denigrate the other person. Truth in the face of lies (even half-truths), and love in the face of animosity. I believe Calvin did the former but at times failed in the latter. May God have mercy on us all.

 

 

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When John Piper’s book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God was originally release, I wasn’t too impressed with the subject.  “Meh” I thought.  When I found it at a deep discount, I thought “ah, I’ll give it a try.”  A few months later, as it hung out on my bookcase, I thought “now might be a good time to read it.”  And now I realize what a doofus I am.  Unlike the former CEO of Yahoo!, I won’t be sued for using that term since I am referring to myself.

“God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” Jonathan Edwards

Piper wrote this short book to refute two extremes of thought among Christians and to assert the “better way” to think about thinking.  “It is a plea to see thinking as a necessary, God-ordained means to knowing God.”  One extreme are thought separated from the reality of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  This is to think independently of God.  The other extreme is to avoid intellectual exercise because such thinking is unnecessary and wrong.  Piper advocates deep, critical thinking about all things done in recognition and dependence upon God that we might treasure Him.

7Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2 Timothy 2

This is one of the primary texts Piper uses to make his case.  We see that Paul commands Timothy to think.  Without thinking there will be no understanding.  But that understanding is given by God.  We don’t just ask of it and fail to think.  We must think and God must grant understanding.  Thinking is often God’s means, His ordinary means.  So, it isn’t not thinking or praying but prayerfully thinking that Scripture advocates.

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Some pastoral questions have brought the disagreement between Van Til and Gordon Clark to mind.  It isn’t so much the views of those men, but some problems I see emerging when reason is elevated above revelation.

This is one of the dangers of “Christian rationalism”.  The mind subtly usurps the authority of Scripture, or special revelation.  They wouldn’t admit to this (I think), but you see it when there is the denial of various doctrines because it does not make sense in light of other doctrines.  They have a hard time reasoning these apparently opposite doctrines that are found in Scripture.  Rather than submit their minds before Scripture, they make the Scriptures submit to their “rational” theology.

There are 2 doctrines in particular that have been problematic for many who espouse Clark’s views.  They affirm the doctrine of election or predestination.  This is the problem, so to speak.  They have a difficult time with both common grace and the free offer of the gospel.  These don’t doctrines don’t make “sense” in light of election, but our minds are not the measure of truth.  Our theology is not to settle for “reasonable” but to reflect revelation.

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Chapter 4 of Piper’s book God is the Gospel focuses on 2 Corinthians 4-6, part of a great passage that weaves themes from creation (Genesis 1) and redemption (the Exodus) to help us understand how it is we have come to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

“In the dark and troubled heart of unbelief, God does what he did in the dark and unformed creation at the beginning of our world.”

Re-creation begins!  Eyes blinded by the Evil One now see because God has shined light into their hearts.  Finally we see glory, rather than all the substitutes the world, flesh and devil have to offer us.

“The supreme value of the glory of Christ revealed in the gospel is what makes Satan so furious with the gospel. … He is mainly interested in making Christ look bad.  He hates Christ.  And he hates the glory of Christ.”

“The kind of seeing that Satan cancels (vs. 4) and God creates (vs. 6) is more like spiritual tasting than rational testing.”

Too often we can be like Paul’s Corinthian opponents- relying on reason & logic rather than revelation (oops, the classical vs. presuppositional apologetics debate).  Our faith is not illogical or irrational.  But fallen sinners are- at least when it comes to Jesus.  So our appeals to reason and logic are essentially useless (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5).  This humbles us (at least it does me), making conversion the result of the Spirit’s work, not my profound rhetoric.

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