Another observation on today’s Federal Vision is the parting of ways among some of their thinkers. Most notably is Calvinist International’s rejection of Jim Jordan’s model of “Hebrew Thinking.” I don’t come down on either side of the discussion, but I will make some observations. Unlike both parties, I don’t hold to Van Til’s system. They write,
In his lecture, “Exorcising the Saints of the Great Hangovers,” we were named as a dangerous influence because we stand with the Reformers, the mainstream Reformed tradition, and C S Lewis regarding the natural law and natural theology.
I follow the above guys only so far as it keeps me out of trouble. Their use of categories was wise and shouldn’t be likely discarded. I think natural law can work if we see that equity is an inescapable concept. At the end of the day, though, I will go with Torah over natural law. Much of CI’s response is a justification of natural law. I won’t interact with that since I presuppose (irony?) a form of natural law at the most basic level.
This positions him to be the herald of a new age, who speaks with the authority of a new age; previous ages are thus imperfect not simply as all ages are, but rather, are deeply tainted with paganism which only he and a few predecessors have been able to see and correct.
Yes and no. That much of Western Civilization held on to remnants of paganism is beyond doubt. The question is whether these specific remnants can fall under common grace (and so be retained) or are they truly pagan and should be rejected.
The idea that past doctrines might actually have the same meaning as some of his own formulations seems ruled out for him by his historicistic principle; the past must be inferior simply because it is past, and truth is new.
Can I say two things: this is a true proposition as regards Jordan but much of the “Hellenic” thinking is bad and that affirming the latter clause does not entail the former?
Only the Bible stands above this, but not the Bible as read consensually over time; but rather, the Bible as read now, by him.
This is a legitimate criticism of Jordan. Many times I would have no problem with his conclusions if he would take the time to work out the sixteen steps he used to get there instead of being so dogmatic about it.
Is There a Greek Mind?
The next section of the essay explores who is the true Van Tillian. Since I am not one I won’t come to a conclusion. Ironically, I think I will agree with Van Til on his use of the Greeks. I think the guys at CI do a good job in showing how Jordan borrows from various streams of antiquity while claiming to reject antiquity.
However, I think Jordan does score some points on the effects of Hellenic thinking and I realize that much esotericism is Jewish in origin. Here is what neither CI nor Jordan have said: ancient Greek thinking is by no means Western. It is Eastern. Many Greeks borrowed from Egyptian and Babylonian magic religions. So when Greek Orthodox Christians engage in pagan practices like monasticism and extreme ascetism, they are not shucking their Greek heritage for some bastardized Judaism. They are simply drawing upon the Eastern strain of Hellenic thinking.
And the sad fact remains: read the earthy sexuality of Song of Solomon and then read Tertullian, Basil, and Augustine on married sexuality. There is a huge difference between Hebrew and Hellenic thinking.
As to Jordan’s historiography of the Reformation on this point, the CI guys are correct. Calvin did not simply recover the Hebrew worldview. Calvin held to Plato’s view on the soul. Bucer quoted False Dionysius with approval. I disagree with both gentlemen.
But the antithetical polarity continues in Mr. Jordan’s lecture, with him at one point sounding like an odd combination of Adolf von Harnack and Dr. Bronner:
I can’t shake Harnack’s thesis. Sure, it’s a bit crude but there is something to it. When I read the ancient fathers and the Greeks, I see “hyperousia,” the termination of motion, and a serene god. When I read Zephaniah I see Yahweh fighting like a drunken Samson!
The CI guys then give a list of scholars who have supposedly rebutted the Greek vs Hebrew thesis. All I can say is, maybe. I don’t think there is such a view that the Greek brain functions differently than the Hebrew brain. That is silly. But the philosophical concepts behind the Old Testament and the ancient Greeks are worlds apart. Hesiod (and Virgil, too-cf Aeneid Book VIII) saw each successive age as worse than the last one. Hebraic Christianity on the other hand sees a progression from Older Glory to Newer Glory (2 Corinthians 3. It’s in the text, Barr notwithstanding).
The CI guys then point to “Hellenism” in the New Testament. I don’t deny Greek influences, but I do stand by my thesis that pagan Greek philosophers would find certain categories in the OT as incompatible with their own. The rest of the paper is a spiel on natural law. I’ll leave it at that.