My non-existent neo-Plantingian Interview

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.

Luther and Speech-Act

“God’s word, according to Luther, is a “Deed-Word,” which not only names but effects what it signifies.   Adam looks around him and says, ‘This is a cow and an owl and a horse and a mosquito.’  But God looks around him and says, ‘Let there be light,’ and there is light.”

“God’s word creates new possibilities where no possibilities existed before.  The Word of God is a Word that enriches the poor, releases captives, gives sight to the blind, and sets at liberty those who are oppressed.  It is a Word that meets men and women at the point of their greatest need and sets them free” (115).

“Preeminently for Luther it is Jesus Christ who is the Deed-Word of God.  It is he and no one else who has been anointed to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (116).

David Steinmetz, Luther in Context.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.

Beer Journal: Southern Tier’s Choklat

This may be the most perfect beer I’ve ever had.

Why do most people drink? To enjoy quality and to feel good and relaxed.  What is the number one problem with drinking:  the loss of rationality which leads to hangovers and destructive decisions.   Here is why this beer is great:   with its 10% alcohol content, it gives the “relaxed feeling” but it doesn’t have the hangover effect.  I doubt you will drink more than one because it is expensive and filling.   You literally get the best of both worlds.

It has a stout beginning and a chocolatey finish.   Most stores will sell around $5 a pint.   It’s somewhat pricey, but it is perfect for the “once in a while” special.  While it won’t give you a hangover, I would not drink it and drive or operate farm tools.

Beer Journal: Imperial Bock

I decided to try the Pint of Sam Adams’ Imperial Double Bock.   Overall a very fine beer.  It looks smooth but it finished thick.  You can definitely taste the heavier alcohol content (9.5%).  While it cost $5, considering both the high quality and the Pint size, it’s a reasonable price.  Definitely will try again.

Lord and Servant

This is Mike Horton’s second installment in his Covenant series.  He reframes Christology around “covenant” and is stunningly successful.  His genius is in using the covenant to contrast two ontologies:  overcoming estrangement (classical metaphysics) and meeting a Stranger.

Similar to proposals by Robert Jenson, Horton shows how we meet the Stranger by his own revealing himself to us, and doing so “by strong verbs” (23, 55).  The noun (God) is revealed by the verb (his actions).  From this Horton draws the brilliant conclusion about Speech-Act:  speech is an act.  There is no dilemma between word-revelation (Propositional Protestants) and Act-Revelation (the truth at what Barth was aiming, if not fully getting there).

This segues into God’s freedom (and freedom in general).  Horton refuses to see freedom in the abstract.   We do not abstract God’s will from his nature.  Freedom (of any sort) is a natured freedom and if our ousia is a covenanted ousia, then we have a covenantal freedom (this is much more concrete and refreshing than discussions about “Free will,” whatever that means).

The next theological locus is creation.  Contra Anchoretism, the covenant allows us to view creation in its integrity.  It is neither divine nor demonic, rather “Nature has capacities for answering back to the creative speech-act of God” (66).  (While Horton doesn’t draw out the implications, this could explain how the land is said to be defiled by man’s sin).

Horton suggests that the covenant is the nexus between transcendence and immanence.  The God-world bond is covenantal relation (I realize that Aristotle used “relation” as a thinner form of essence; I am not using it in that sense).


Horton does a wonderful job in establishing the “federal-ness” of Adamic humanity.  Horton will contrast his model with the Platonic paradigm (Overcoming Estrangement).  Continuing with the covenantal paradigm, Horton sees the imago dei as:

Sonship/ Royal Dominion:  Adam was invested with kingship as the imaged-son on the Sabbath day.  In Christ this dominion is restored.  Shades of Rushdoony!

Representation:  We are God’s embassy to the world.

Glory:  The glory is ethical-eschatological, rather than essential.

Prophetic Witness:

All of this is recapitulated in Christ.   Interestingly enough, Horton rightly points out that Scripture never speaks of anthropology in the abstract, but always in the covenant.

Christology Proper

Horton gives a brief and lucid description of Reformed Christology against Lutheranism, particularly in the non capax.  He has a very interesting suggestion that the debate between Alexandrians (Divinized humanity) and Antiocheans (Schizo Jesus) is because neither could locate Jesus as he is given for us in the covenant (166).


The basic challenge he gives to anyone who rejects penal substitution:  on said gloss, how is the work of Christ appropriated pro nobis?  How does “defeating Satan” (or any such Christus Victor, political liberation variant) become actual for us?


It’s hard to say which one is better, this book or the one on soteriology.  Both are magnificent.  I think Horton’s use of the covenant model is more tightly argued in this book.

Memorials aren’t Zwinglian

Some high church Protestants over-react against Zwinglianism as an over-reaction against Rome.   They say, “See, we have a high view of the sacraments, too, even if we don’t impute archaic philosophical systems to it.”    Then we have a problem when the New Testament says “Do this in remembrance of me.”  That’s memorial (and not substance-!) language.

But I don’t think it is Zwinglian, either.   God always has at least two witnesses to his promises.  In our case it is Word and Oath.   The language of “signs” is appropriate, as Augustine understood, but it is far richer than Augustine could have imagined.  “Signs” aren’t merely “think on this as an aid to devotion,” but an objective testimony of God’s action in history.  When Joshua created the stone memorials of God’s work, they still functioned as signs of God’s promise even if no one were to subjectively appropriate them.

Jordan interestingly ties sacramental theology to the Trinitarian processions.

What, then, is the relation between the Second and Third Per-sons of God? If we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Fatheronly, then Word and Sacrament are independent, separate revela-
tions. Each stands alone. This has been the position of some East-ern Orthodox theologians.
If we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, then the Sacrament is only a confirmation of the Word, and secondary to it. It is a supplement, which we can take or leave.
This is the unconscious view of most protestants.
If we say, rightly, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, and also from the Son, then the Sacrament is tied to the Word inseparably (proceeding from the Son), yet is also a separate line of testi-
mony (proceeding from the Father). Because the Spirit proceedsfrom the Son, the Sacrament should be done liturgically after the proclamation of the Word. Because the Spirit proceeds from the
Father, the Sacrament should be regarded as a distinct revelationof God, different in mode, but not in content, from the Word
(Sociology of the Church, 41).

The Mirror of all Christian Kings (Henry V)

Kenneth Brannaugh’s stellar performance might mislead new readers to this play.  Those who saw his “Band of Brothers” speech might rightly view Henry as the greatest of all Christian kings (and thus the greatest of all possible rulers).   It would be hard to contest it.   (Below I am leaning heavily on Peter Leithart’s analysis)

Shakespeare gives us a subtle caution, though.  In 2.0.14 he calls Henry “the mirror of all Christian kings.”  What do you see when you look in a mirror?  You see your own reflection.  If so, then maybe Henry is a type of Christ.  He was denied his rightful claim in France and so invades enemy territory.  Even better, the story ends in a wedding and reminds readers of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Revelation.

But mirrors can work in more than one way.  When you look into a mirror, you see the “opposite” of what is there (your right hand is on the left, etc). Further, mirrors can play tricks on the eyes.   Perhaps Shakespeare is inviting us to see deeper in the picture.

The drama begins with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Ely discussing church politics.  They are worried that they will lose church lands in a coming political sweep.   Long story short, the convince Henry to go to war in France (and presumably gain lands there).  Henry never stops to ask if this is actually just.

The drama then moves (unexpectedly) to a tavern and we are introduced to three idiots from the previous plays:  Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym.  Viewers of the film version will be at a loss here:  what relevance to these men have to Henry (and even worse, the audio on the film version is particularly bad and it is hard to know what is going on)?  These were Henry’s old drinking buddies.   Of particular interest is Shakespeare’s constant juxtaposition of Pistol and Henry.  While Henry is noble and Pistol an oaf, Shakespeare is inviting readers to see a similarity.

But Henry isn’t entirely bad.   He gives orders that French churches are not to be harmed (and hence would seem to follow Just War Theory). He puts off his airs and appears among the men in camp, calling up remembrance of “Our good king ‘arry.”  His unmasking the three traitors is pure genius.  And of course, his Band of Brothers speech is one of the finest moments in the English language.

Unfortunately, though, dark clouds remain.  The presumed bad guys, the French, are fighting a defensive war against an invader whose claim to the throne is strained at best.   Worse, when Henry lays siege to Harfleur, he threatens to cry havoc and bring fire, sword, and rape to the city if it does not surrender.  Not surprisingly, the city surrenders.  But is he really the mirror of all Christian kings?   His conversation with his future (French) wife is charming, of course, but reading between the lines shows that it is little more than a continuation of Henry’s conquest by other means:  she marries him because (she knows and her father knows) France has lost the war.  Henry is negotiating from a position of power.

The drama may end with a wedding, but it is not the Wedding of the Lamb.  Shakespeare’s readers know, as the contemporaries would likely guess, France will soon be plunged into more war at England’s hands, staving off defeat by a series of desperate miracles (think Joan of Arc).

Postmodernists love to think they are original and fresh.  Early modern artists like Shakespeare had them beaten in both originality and content.  This play is an example of deconstructionism in its best sense:  looking below the surface of events, we see multiple layers of meaning, many of which conceal power plays.

LAGNIAPPE:  Shakespeare gives us an interesting example of how Protestants view the difference between the sign and the thing signified.  Henry is reflecting on ceremony (Act IV).   What is ceremony?  On one hand it points to something noble.  It makes the difference between kings and commoners.  On the other hand, it doesn’t change the man ontologically.  If a sick commoner appears before the king, the king can’t heal him.  Ceremony doesn’t give him that kind of power.  But as we have just seen, it isn’t an empty ceremony either.   The sign (ceremony) and the thing signified (royalty; glory) are held in appropriate tension.  Other traditions, by collapsing sign into thing signified, lose this tension.

Blogging Through Comedy: The Hilarity of the Gospel

Weep, weep for all that is lost. Seven years ago I read Peter Leithart’s Deep Comedy.  I was amazed at its effortless weaving of Shakespeare, Greek ontology, and Christian eschatology into one tapestry.  It is easily his most important book–and that is what is tragic (no pun intended) about it.  He has gotten himself into a lot of needless trouble with the FV, and while it is funny to watch the PCA try to deal with it, the damage is irreversibly done.

Fast-forward seven years. I’ve since read about as much on the historical, theological, and philosophical issues of Trinitarianism as I suppose any lay reader could.  When I reread Leithart on this topic, it almost seemed like he neatly solved all of the problems created by our earlier borrowing from Hellenic categories.   It is a post-Platonic subversion of Plato.   I now think I can better appreciate more of his arguments.   Some of these blog posts will focus on key philosophical issues that shed light on Trinitarian and ontological problems.

Sadly, this does not mean I recommend his other works (well, I reject all of his specifically theological works).   His commentaries are fine and his expositions of literature are about as good as one can find anywhere.