Review: 75 Bible Questions

He should have stopped after page thirty, for then it would have been a magnificent pamphlet instead of a painful book.  The opening section defending Reformed soteriology is probably the best in print.   I am still waiting on Orthodox Bridge to do a review of it.  The next section on God’s law is decent but the theonomy debate has moved on.

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The final section on eschatology is just bad.   There are good varieties of postmiillennialism.  Puritan and Covenanter Historicism, for one. This isn’t it. He offered no exegesis on the timing of the resurrection and the Bock/Blaising/Blomberg crowd have already won the debate.  He didn’t even try to interact with the epeita…eta construction in 1 Corinthians 15.  This is bad.    Further, he cannot explain why men live longer in the millennium (though he is correct, contra amillennialism, that they will and these passages should be read literally).  Further, he cannot locate a “link” between dominion and the return of Christ, which is brand of postmillennialism desperately needs (it makes sense after a few moments thought:  if there is no link between our current obedience and dominion and the late-return of Christ, then we cannot define the texts as postmillennial.   We can just as legitimately see an era like the Reformation as the “golden age” and expect an apostasy now.).  Even more, he defaulted to the view that all premillennialists are of the Hal Lindsey variety.  Tactics like these explain why Historic Premillennialism is the mainstream view among conservative evangelical scholars.  In short, this book reaffirmed my premillennialism.

The appendices alternated between insightful and sinful.  His tactics of resistance are necessary against a humanist institution.  I’ve used a few of them before.  They are sinful against a Christian institution (even one as corrupt as a certain one in the American South; 1 Corinthians 6).  This is particularly ironic since he (rightly) earlier says we should have Christian courts to adjudicate these matters.

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Review: Defending Constantine

I used to be a fan of Leithart’s writing.   Even a few years ago when he openly attacked Reformed theology in *The Baptized Body,* his writing was cogent and impressive.   Something happened between the writing of that book and the writing of this one.    Admittedly, Leithart does accomplish a few useful ends in this book.   I will list where he is strong and where is his is either wrong, misleading, of inadequate.

Pros:
1) Leithart does a good job handling the disciples of Yoder
2) Leithart does a good job dealing with the secular scholarship that downplays the obvious persecution of Christians.   I like Gibbon a lot, but Leithart ably rebuts him.
3) There remains the fact of a Christian *polis,* and we see such in Constantine.

Cons:
1) While I side with Leithart over Yoder, it cannot be denied that there was a seismic shift in the Church’s praxis with the advent of Constantine.

2) Further, there was a seismic shift in the church’s eschatology.   While some have challenged the ubiquity of premillennialism in the pre-Nicene church, it was there and its eschatology was forward-looking to the reign of Yahweh-in-Christ upon the earth.    With the advent of a Christian Emperor over the known world, an emperor who was known as “Equal-to-the-Apostles” (which can still be heard in Eastern Orthodox litanies today), in whose person Empire and Sacras were united (cf Runciman, *The Byzantine Theocracy*), there is little point for the church to retain its premillennialism.  Yoder and Moltmann capably document this.   In losing its premillennialism, one must acknowledge it lost a lot of its original ethical thrust.

2a) This is a tangential note:  In *Against Christianity* Leithart attacks Eusebius for his postmillennial ethics centered in the Advent of Constantine, saying we should have a more Augustinian eschatology centered in the tension of already-not yet.   Now Leithart writes a book where he tacitly endorses Eusebius’ eschatology. One of them has to give.

3) Constantine was a bad Christian, if I may not judge.  I am willing to concede the point he was a Christian.   I can even buy, for sake of argument, the miracle in the sky.  But there are significant problems:   1) He put his family members to death (yes, I know it was realpolitik), 2) he postponed baptism based on very bad theology, and 3) He was not always friendly to Nicene Theology (yes, I realize he didn’t understand it, which further underscores my point).  These facts to not negate Leithart’s thesis, but they remain tough pills to swallow.

Conclusion:

My criticisms notwithstanding, this probably is the best work on Constantine in modern times.

Do you claim Pseudo-Dionysius?

(This is kind of a repost, but it dovetails with some stuff I’ve been thinking of lately).

I never quite understood the impact that Ps-Dionysius had on theology until recently.   (The Title is taken from a footnote in the Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov’s work The Comforter). Summarizing a host of monographs and risking oversimplification, one can say that Ps-Dionysius represented the final triumph of neo-Platonic thinking over Hebraic-Apostolic-Creational thinking (and I realize the infinite shades of Middle and Neo-Platonism apply, but few people can follow those discussions, so neo-Platonism is as good a moniker as any.  I can always advance something like von Harnack’s thesis if I have to).    True, it is Olivianus who informed me of the Ps-Dionysius problematic, but my critique has operated somewhat independently of his.   People criticize him, but few have actually answered him point-by-point.  You can begin here.

The Negative Way

Ps-Dionysius argues that as our ascent toward God continues, language falters–becoming more and more abstract, more and more negation.   As readers of Joseph Farrell recall, the more “abstract” talk-of-God becomes, eventually it doesn’t say any-thing, which seems to be Ps-Dionysius’s point.

A Problem by way of response:  this is not how Scripture reveals God.   Scripture is full of positive statements about God.  The most devastating critique is from Colin Gunton:

This worldview ought to have been rejected centuries ago on the grounds of a doctrine of creation in light of the Trinity.  The interaction of God and the world in Christ–with its implicit affirmation of the goodness of the created world, material as well as spiritual, implies a radical critique of the dualism of material and intellectual, sensible and insensible…But without that dualism, the way of ascent becomes impossible, cut off by the descent of Christ (Phil. 2)…who makes God known within the world, within the structures of space and time, not by abstraction from them” (Gunton 65).

Earthy Hebraic Christianity

When we go to the Bible for talk of “kingdom” and “heaven,” does the Bible sound like Ps-Dionysius?  Is the goal of human existence to abstract towards unity with the one OR eat and drink with Jesus in the Kingdom?  Or to look at it from another way:  would Ps-Dionysius be comfortable speaking the way the Bible speaks?  Ps-Dionysius talks about negating language on our unity to the One, freeing language by means of abstraction.  The Bible talks about blood, sweat, and hair.  Is it any wonder that allegory arose in the Greek Christian tradition?  Adolf von Harnack was very wrong on some important things, but there is an undeniable grain of truth to his Hellenization thesis; he simply misplaced it.  I don’t have a problem with Hellenized formulae like impassiblity, provided at the end of the day we let exegesis, particularly Hebrew Old Testament, be the guide).

Works Cited:

Buglakov, Sergius.  The Comforter

Gunton, Colin.  Act & Being.

A reflection on some millennial positions

Criswell college did a decent job on these debates.  I know it is fashionable and good form to make fun of traditional dispensationalism, but I sometimes wonder if that intellectual sip has already sailed.   Some of the older dispensational arguments against “spiritualized” amillennialism were actually quite good (e.g., Payne, others).   Recently, when I’ve listened to classical dispensationalists debate, as seen in the above link, they almost appear tired and jaded.   Wayne House at no point appeared interested in offering a cogent position.

Further, given the modifications in dispensationalism, few premillennialists seem to defend it today (which is a point many Reformed scholars need to come to grips with and update their arguments accordingly).  When I first started interacting with progressive dispensationalism, there wasn’t much to refute at first (yes, there was the occasional Israel-worship and other problems).  What should a Reformed response be:  initially, we should encourage them.   They are starting to incorporate Covenant theology into their eschatology.  Do problems arise?  Of course, but still.  We should be encouraged that they are making progressive instead of our laughing at them and telling them how stupid they are.

For most of the past seven years, I was historic premil.  From an exegetical perspective it is the strongest case.  There are some difficulties, but those are more of a theological reflection and not an exegetical bending of texts.  Sam Storms listed what he thinks are problems with premillennialism.  First, it should be noted that none of these are actually logical refutations.  They are simply difficulties with which a premillennialist must deal.   At the end of the day, it must be admitted that “difficulty” does not equal exegetical refutation.  Secondly, I think it is safe to say that most Evangelical scholars in North America today are some form of historic premil and/or Progressive Dispensationalism.  Number counts do not equal truth, granted,

I should also encourage Reformed folks to interact more with historicist readings in church history.  There are few modern works that appear to defend historicism from a magisterial Protestant position.   There are some decent sermon audio series on the topic, but I hesitate to recommend them because of their neo-Steelite leanings.  Now to give a surface-level evaluation of some points:

Amillennialism

The pros of amillennialism:  it is the simplest and neatest of the systems.

Cons: notwithstanding its protests against dispensationalists, Amillennialism does spiritualize most of the OT texts.  It is one thing to claim and demonstrate that the apostles used some OT texts in a non-literalist manner.  It is quite another thing to spiritualize ALL other OT prophetic texts with the end result being whatever you want it to be.  Secondly, I haven’t found amillennial exegesis of Revelation 19-20 to be all that compelling.   As a good friend of mine pointed out, amillennialists essentially take a red crayon and write “JESUS” and “CHURCH” over many OT prophetic texts.

Postmillennialism

Pros:  While holding this position might get you barred from Reformed seminaries, and there are some difficulties with post., it does do justice to a number of passages.  When postmillennialists point to OT texts that illustrate the glorious future, they are on the right track.  The passages really do talk like that.

Cons:  When one reads the New Testament one does not get the impression that there is going to be coming golden age for the church.  If anything, the NT texts speak of a coming darkening of culture.   A postmillennialist could respond by means of the partial-preterist route, I suppose.

Premillennialism

Pros:  It is the most exegetically straightforward reading of the texts.  Further, it does have the merit of being how the post-apostolic church read the Bible.   Even better, as Donald Fairbairn notes, this view fell out of favor when the church adopted the gnosticizing tendencies of Augustine and Origen.   However, the early church held to a historicist historic premillennialism, whereas modern historic premillennialists hold to a futurist reading.  So when the modern historic premillennialist says, “We read the Bible the way the early church read it,” it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Cons: Modern premillennialism needs to continue divorcing itself from zionism and American activism.   More seriously, some texts which offer a literalistic reading (Ezk. 40-48; Rev. 20) also offer some strange difficulties (rebuilt temple; sacrifices; death in the millennium).   The only serious problem of these is the continuing sacrifices.  But the same God who wrote Ezk. 40-48 also wrote  Revelation 20.  I plead ignorance beyond a certain point.

An Eschatological Musing

There is no logical contradiction between the fact that some nations covenant with Christ in the last days but yet Antichrist rules over some nations and wars with the saints. I think even a lot of Reformed people default to the Left Behind mindset that Antichrist rules the entire globe by a supercomputer.

This allows for several things.   The amil wants to affirm the NT passages about falling away and a darkening of culture.   The postmil wants to affirm the passages about nations coming to Christ.    There is no logical contradiction between these two statements.  Many historic premils have successfully affirmed both propositions.

Review of the Criswell Millennial Debate

This is worth a listening to.  I haven’t yet listened to the non-premil positions.  I plan to listen to Beale’s.  I’ve read so much of Gentry and Bahnsen I am really wondering if I should bother.   I’m iffy on Listening to Preston’s.  It’s just hard to get excited about listening to a heretical position.

Per the premil views:

Thomas:  Classic Dispensationalism–I’ve been guilty in the past of not preparing for a message.  I think we see this here.  He makes a couple of distinctions between his view and the progressive view, but I am not entirely sure what his point was.  He didn’t make an actual argument and he ran out of time.  Even worse, I don’t think he even cared.

Blaising:  Progressive Dispensationalism–this is pretty good, actually.   It sounds very covenantal and he appropriates the insights made by Ladd and others, yet retains the emphasis on God’s promises.   It was more of a distinction of his position vis-a-vis with dispensationalism and little critique of amillennialism.

Blomberg:   Blomberg basically explains his interest in historic premillennialism, and it is interesting.  He really doesn’t develop his position and he certainly doesn’t offer a critique of the others.  Even worse, he wasn’t always speaking into the microphone.

 

Is the original church the Dionysian Church?

I think I’ve come to the point in my theological journey where I am no longer bothered by the claim that Protestantism isn’t the original church.  I’ll go further:  Neither is the Dionysian Church.   The following from Olivianus should be helpful.  We further see this influence in the early church’s movement away from a plainer reading of Scripture (evidenced by its commitment to historic premillennialism) to allegorism (evidenced by its spiritualizing everything) and its scorn of the “carnal passages of Scripture.”

Lossky mentions that Maximus claimed that Proclus copied Dionysius and not the other way around. Lossky mentions that Koch believed it to be the other way around. Lossky rejects Koch and believes the opposite is true. Lossky says, “here is a Christian thinker disguised as a neo-Platonist, a theologian very much aware of his task, which was to conquer the ground held by neo-Platonism by becoming a master of its philosophical method.” (pg. 122) This is laughable. Paul says, 1 Cor 1: 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God. Men do not come to know God by mastering the methods of pagans but by revelation. Lossky believes he has found another point of individuation between the Eastern Philosophy and the Alexandrian/Plotinian in the doctrine of the divine darkness. Lossky says,

“Knowledge of God can only be attained by going beyond every visible and intelligible object. It is by ignorance…that we know the One who is above all that can be an object of knowledge. It is not divine gnosis which is the supreme end, but the union…that surpasses all knowledge…We grasp the unknowable nature of God in ignorance, by detaching ourselves from all His manifestations or theophanies.”Attempts have been made to connect this union with God through ignorance to the ecstasy of Plotinus….[Individuating His view from Plotinus’ Lossky says] Human beings united to God are not simply identified with Him, they are ‘entirely in God’…In the state of union we know God at a higher level than intelligence-nous– for the simple reason that we do not know Him at all.” (pg 122-123)

I am still trying to figure out why he thinks the Plotinian view is an intellectual issue where thought reached the One as I demonstrated above. Dr. Clark in describing Plotinus says,

“The Supreme One, transcending even the duality of propositional truth, transcending Mind, beyond all knowledge, shines by its own nature, and its expanding rays are the ranks of being in the world, each less brilliant than the prior one, until the light is lost in darkness and nothingness.” Clark, Gordon. The Trinity, (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1985) pg. 115

The Neo-Platonic view and the Eastern view are indistinguishable.