Vanhoozer’s First Theology

Kevin Vanhoozer (KV) bases this prolegomena off of speech-act theory.   He is working from several methodological presuppositions, all of which I think are sound:  our understanding of God and our understanding of Scripture presuppose one another (or are correlates). This is helpful because it alleviates the problem of whether we need to start with God or Scripture.

His book has three parts:  God, Scripture, and (Cultural) Hermeneutics.


KV raises the problem of whether the Trinity belongs in a philosophy of religions.  He advances the standard claims against pluralism: whenever a pluralist defines a “core” of all religious beliefs, that core is inevitably exclusivistic–it excludes other categories (57).

Drawing from themes by Robert W. Jenson, KV places God’s identity in his self-identifying acts as the God of Israel.   Before that he notes the problem of the term “identity.”  Does it mean ontological sameness or self-constancy in the case of God?  According to Paul Ricoeur, the God of the Philosophers is the God of idem-identity (bare essence; ground of being, the ineffable One swallowing the Many).  This makes differentiation of any sorts (persons, relations) a movement towards non-being. By contrast, the God of Israel is the God of ipse-identity (constancy, covenantal fidelity).  God identifies himself as Israel’s God and ties his name to a promise.  This is not the god of the philosophers.  Very fine section.

Effectual Call as Case Study

KV perceptively notes that the doctrine of effectual call is simply an example of the problem of the God-world nexus. Does God operate on the world in a causal manner merely, or is the relation one of calling, speech?  As Descartes noted, the God-world nexus is seen in the following problem:  how does the mental (God, mind, spiritual, etc) have any effect on the physical?

KV proposes we see this relationship in communicative categories.  If there is a God-world nexus, the “calling” is the “communicative joint” (118).  The Word that summons has both content and illocutionary force (energy).

Speech Act Terminology

Before continuing it will be helpful to explain key speech-act terms.  A perlocution is what one brings about by one’s speech act (120).  Locution is the speaking (154).  Illocution is the content and intent of the Locution.

Scripture as Speech-Act

KV proposes that speech-act theory allows us to transcend the debate between revelation as content and revelation as act, since Speech-Act includes both (130).

He has some good responses to high-church readings of Scripture and tradition:  “I see no reason that cognitive malfunction could not be corporate as well as individual” (223).   He notes the Anabaptist claim to “read in community” is not that materially different from the Romanist/EO claim that the Church reads the Bible.

This claim to “self-referentiality is artificial; it disconnects the text from the extratextual world and from the process of reading…[quoting Francis Watson] To regard the church as a self-sufficient sphere closed of from the world is ecclesiological docetism” (Vanhoozer 216).

Indeed, such a position reduces to “interpretive might makes right.  One may very well question the grounds of such optimism: the believing community in Scripture is too often portraryed as unbelieving or confused, and subsequent church history has not been reassurring either” (219)

And Vanhoozer asks the most painful and unanswerable of questions:  how can we guard against the possible misuse of Scripture?  If we have to read the Bible with the church, we have to posit the corollary:  the church’s interpretation is what counts.  But what are the criteria so we know the church interpreted it correctly?  The Holy Spirit will guide it.  Well, what about Heira?  That doesn’t count.

It’s kind of like the definition of pornography:  I’ll know it when I see it.


The book is mostly magnificent.  The final sections on Cultural Hermeneutics have promise, but only if you are already interested in that topic.

Problem and Promise of Effectual Calling

The smarter Anchorites will not open the debate on predestination.  Reformed live to debate that topic, and many Anchorites  probably realize that they themselves are logical open theists on that point.  No, they will open the move on effectual calling, stating that it involves a coercion of the will, which means–if there is a 1:1 correspondence between our humanity and Christ’s–that Christ didn’t have a fully human will.

They are correct that the key point is effectual calling.   Effectual calling, as Kevin Vanhoozer aptly summarizes, illustrates the problem of a causal nexus between God and the world.   Every theology must own up to this.   Ever since Descartes’ insights about the mind-body dualism, philosophers and theologians had to face the question:  that there is a distinction between Creator and creature (or mind and body for that matter), how can one affect/effect the other?

For all of the problems and difficulties with the Reformed answer, it can at least answer this question.  I doubt Anchorites can.

Who maketh thee to differ?

One thing that struck me while I was reading volume 2 of Turretin (pace effectual calling) is that in responding to the Romanists and the Socinians, when it came to the why of individual salvation, he kept quoting 1 Cor. 4:  Who maketh thee to differ?  Why am I saved and another isn’t?  The non-Augustinian has to answer, “Because chose.”  But is that the implied answer to Paul’s question?

Monergism and effectual calling: Maximinianism Rebutted

Arakaki used something like this argument, and it is getting more popular:

P1:  Jesus has a real human will.
P2: Jesus freely exercises this will (and/or the monotheletic opponents denied its free use; this is an iffy historical point and I haven’t seen compelling evidence on either side).
P3:  Jesus’ human nature is consubstantial with ours.
P4: Reformed theology denies free will
C1: Reformed theology is incompatible with the 6th Ecumenical council.

So how do we respond?  There are several deliberate confusions in this argument, which I will try to address.  We agree that Jesus has a real human will.  We agree with P1-P3, but note that extreme interpretations of P3 are flawed.  But do the Reformed deny free will?  Not only do the Reformed not deny the real use of the human will, the Reformed are the only group who even tries to give a cogent definition of human willing.

God is an absolute and necessary being.  Few will deny it.  Man, by contrast, and by definition, is a contingent being.  If contingent, then mutable.  If mutable, then not necessary.  This also applies to man’s willing.  True, the Reformed do believe that the future is certain.   What the synergists have failed to demonstrate, however, besides constant pratting, is that future certainty necessarily entails coaction (external coercion) of willing.  They’ve asserted it, but they have never shown the necessary (no pun intended) propositions demonstrating it.

The heart of the argument against “monergism” is that if the human will cannot of its own apart from God freely choose God-in-Christ, then it is not truly free.  If it is not truly free, then it is not truly human.  If it is not truly human, then our humanity is not consubstantial with the Son’s.  I’ve already addressed some of the problems in EO’s hyper-realism (see above link), but I will now deal with the specifics:  On the face of it, given the Maximinian criteria of a free will, it’s hard to see why God is needed at all in salvation!  If I’m doing everything, and God isn’t raising me from spiritual death, then I fail to see why I need God at all.  Indeed, why can I not boast in my own salvation?  I am the active, efficient causal agent.   Admittedly, few synergists will be impressed by this reasoning, but it should make one stop and wonder.

The synergist has never given a convincing reason for the following:

1.  Is it true that God’s foreknowledge entails a loss of real human agency?  The synergist has not shown that God’s knowing the future (and hence the future’s certainty) externally compels the human agent to do x.
2.  Synergists refuse to see that “salvation” is not synonymous with regeneration.  On a Reformed gloss, the human will is mightily active in “conversion” but not “regeneration.”  The point here is not to convince the synergist that regeneration precedes faith, but to establish the fact (on a Reformed gloss) that the Reformed allow for the will to be active in an element of salvation.
3.  In Eph. 1:16-20 Paul is praising God that he might give the Ephesian believers a new heart, etc.  If regeneration, however, is simply the act of my free will and moral suasion, it’s not entirely clear why Paul is praising God for anything.   God ain’t doing nothing!  Paul should be praising the Ephesians for choosing to be saved!