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Common Grace and Natural Law

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:11 AM

While the ideas of Thomas and Calvin overlap a great deal (more than is often admitted), their agreement does not always seem obvious at the surface level. Certain key words differ in ways that create the appearance of a chasm between the scholastic and the reformer where such does not necessarily exist. Paul Helm has a nice essay that looks at one of those areas: common grace and natural law.

To say that a human ability or activity is the effect of common grace or that it is the working of nature, human nature, are thus two ways of saying the same thing, or almost the same thing. What the phrase 'common grace' brings out is that these abilities and activities, as found in fallen and unregenerate human nature, are the result of undeserved, divine goodness. The effects of the Fall on human nature could have been worse than they are, and why they are not worse than they are is due to God's undeserved goodness. 'Nature' looks at the same phenomenon from another angle, focusing on the persisting structures of human nature.

Established Church

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:12 AM

The Financial Times has an interesting piece on the Archbishop of Canterbury, which touches on the question of whether the Anglican Church is helped or hurt by being established:

Some of his colleagues were appalled when he raised the issue of disestablishment 18 months ago. This would give in “to a widespread and ignorant view that the Christian faith has nothing to contribute to public life”, fulminated Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester. Yet, might it be that separating church and state is a route back to the public square?

Book Review: the Evolution of God

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:42 AM

The new issue of the Journal of International and Global Studies is out and you can find yours truly's review of Robert Wright's the Evolution of God in it on pages 183-186. Wright utilizes game theory to propose a model for the development of religion and an agnostic argument for the continuation of religion that prove thoroughly interesting. He explains his ideas in a most engaging, often humorous style. But, the argument has significant flaws that you can read about if you hop on over there.

The Church

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:51 AM

I have been reading Edmund Clowney's the Church for one of my classes. While at first I was not sure I was going to like the book, as I have gotten further into it, it has amazed me with how precisely Clowney hits on the major issues within the church and even ones I thought might be considered generally minor but are of great interest to me.

Juxtaposed with the reading of Clowney, we were assigned to read our denominational book of order for three hours. I found reading the Book of Church Order (BCO) for that time with no goal other than gaining a greater understanding of the “territory” caused me to discover quite a few interesting things I was not even looking for and find several others I now know I need to dig into more thoroughly.

I am really enjoying the study of ecclesiology this semester.

Acts of Remembering

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:41 AM

For a major exam on Thursday, I need to be prepared to outline the book of Acts, noting a major theme for each chapter. To prepare, while keeping everything straight, I thought I'd take advantage of a very basic tool for keeping the chapters in the right order: the alphabet. I did have to get a little creative, switching to numbers, for the last two chapters, since Acts has 28 chapters and English only has 26 letters. For your amusement, I present my list:

1 Away from here — go spread the word to the ends of the earth.
2 Broadcasting Pentecost Peter does.
3 Crippled is healed by Peter
4 Denounced, the Gospel is/Apostles are, by the Sanhedrin,
5 Errors in accounting end Ananias and Sapphira's lives.
6 Finding seven to care for the widows
7 Gospel boldly given by Stephen, Stephen killed.
8 Here and there w/ Philip (Samaria and conversation with Ethiopian)
9 “I was wrong,” says Paul.
10 Judge not Gentiles, Peter is told, goes to Cornelius.
11 “Kill and Eat” was what I was told, Peter tells disciples in Jerusalem.
12 Lapse in judgment of his own worth kills Herod.
13 Missionary journey one for Paul, Barnabas; they go to Cyprus, Antioch (Antioch is Barrs's Evangelism Style Sample #1)
14 “No, we aren't gods,” Paul and Barnabus to Lystrans (Lystra is Barrs's Evangelism Style Sample #2)
15 Only a few requirements are sent out from Jerusalem Counsel.
16 Prison for Paul (Timothy is now along for the journey with Paul and Silas)
17 Queries from philosophers in Athens.
18 Rhyme Priscilla & Aquilla (in Corinth)
19 Silversmith, Demetrius, in Ephesus.
20 Trying departure from Ephesus (a very sad goodbye)
21 Unquenchable anger at Paul in Jerusalem.
22 Value of citizenship in escaping said anger.
23 Wise dividing of Sanhedrin by Paul (“I am accused because of the resurrection”)
24 feli(X) questions Paul.
25 “You have appealed to Caesar,” says Festus.
26 Zero guilt, Aggripa assesses, but Paul must be sent to Caesar.
27 1 big storm = 1 big shipwreck = no 1 harmed.
28 2 years Paul preaches in Rome unhindered.

On Reading, Part IV: Structuralism

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:51 AM

This is a continuation of my series on literary criticism and Biblical hermeneutics. You can find the previous pieces of the series here: I. Old Historicism, II. New Criticism, III.1. Reader Response, III.2. Reader Response Cont'd., IV. Mimeticism.

I realized I never finished this series, and that means I never got to some of my favorite schools of criticism, including the school I myself now claim to belong to. That school is still down the road a bit, but for today, we can stop and consider Structuralism.

This school, it seems to me, shares a lot of affinities with Wittgenstein's Language Game theory. Essentially, the argument of Structuralists is that the text derives its meaning from its membership in its textual world (generally, in criticism, we would be talking about membership in the literary canon). For example, to understand Shakespeare, we must understand the broader literary frontier that his works access — Greek mythology, the Bible, contemporary stories, political intrigues, and so on. Without any of theses, Shakespeare's brilliance would be muted. But, according to Structuralist theory, much like Reader Response, this “sharing” is bidirectional. Shakespeare informs the Greek poets. Virginia Woolf informs Shakespeare (and I do not mean just Judith). In some odd sense, might we even say blogs, like this one, take part in a conversation with Shakespeare? Yes, we might.

This may sound odd, problematic or even — if we apply it to the Bible — heretical. However, the key recognition of Structuralist theory is language's existence as a constructed framework which is meaningless without the meaning instilled intra-framework. Our understanding of the language of the Bible is influenced by our understanding of the Bible, which is influenced by our understanding of the language of the Bible. For example, when interpreting 1 Corinthians 14, I proposed that we look to the English word “idiot” to understand the Greek word ἰδιοτης, for the English word itself derives its meaning from the thirteenth century interpretation of the Greek. That's not to say it is right, but it is an important undercurrent, to say the least. We cannot approach the Bible with a blank slate, if we could, it would be impervious to interpretation.

Even if we wish, rightly, to stay true to the Biblical text, we must recognize that our present theological contributions change in some real sense the Biblical text, perhaps as much as our theology is influenced by the Bible. Outside of any contextual framework, the Bible would be meaningless, just as Shakespeare is only sensible to someone who knows English and has grasped at least a few conventions of Elizabethan or Jacobean culture. Without divine intervention, certainly, this should be a serious alarm for the Biblically oriented theologian. In this, Structuralism offers not only a proper critique of our understanding of language, but also serves to call us back to humility as part of a critical language game, and, further, to remember that we should never see ourselves as members of the church, properly reformed, but always part of the church ever reforming.

Is Prolegomena Permissible?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:44 AM

I was reading Covenant's own Dr. Michael Williams on the matter of systematic theology, and he covers a lot of very good ground. However he raises a question that I have struggled with for some time: should systematic theology burden Scripture with extra-scriptural prolegomena? That is not far from the problem Barth dealt with as he sought to have the Bible provide not just the answers, but also the questions for theology.

I would suggest that we must have prolegomena. We cannot come to the text tabla rosa, we will apply an interpretive framework to it. We bring our cultural and linguistic frameworks to the text; we bring our epistemological frameworks to the text; yes, we even bring our understanding of the text to the text. The hermeneutical spiral is what it is regardless of if we wished we could simply extract the text as we was meant to be known. I know Dr. Williams acknowledges this as well, and, for that matter, we have spent much of this semester in what appears to me to be the prolegomena of Covenant Theology, and so I am sure there is more to his position than what I have stated above. I need to talk to him on this subject perhaps, but I leave it to my readers for tonight: how do you deal with the tension between sola scriptura and the need for interpretive frameworks in reading that Scripture?

For me, I think, following Calvin and the Westminster Confession, I find it mostly helpful not to look solely to Scripture, but rather to place whatever I look at under the authority of Scripture. I would argue we must have extrabiblical assumptions, but that does not mean we abandon sola scriptura. What do you think?

On Reading, Part IV: Mimetic Criticism

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:11 AM

This is a continuation of my series on literary criticism and Biblical hermeneutics. You can find the previous pieces of the series here: I. Old Historicism, II. New Criticism, III.1. Reader Response, III.2. Reader Response Cont'd..

So far, you can see the progression we have made from the strong objective belief in authorial intent and historical influence, as it appeared in the Historicism, to the even stronger sense of the text as an objective reality of its own in the New Criticism, to the strong subjectivism that followed in Reader Response. I was inclined to skip over Mimeticism — which has some close ties with Reader Response — despite the fact that I find it interesting, because I have not spent as much time studying it as I would have liked to prior to commenting, and because I am anxious to move on to our next stop, Deconstructionism.

But, in Covenant Theology today the lecture outline contained a quote from Erich Auerbach's Mimesis and I decided I had to at least mention Auerbach's school as we continue this survey.

Mimetic criticism focuses on the text as that which portrays reality. There is a heavily Platonic sense to this critical school in at least some forms, given its sense that literature can illumine reality better than what we normally think of as “real life” can. The common analogy being Plato's Cave: if our experience is the flickering shadows on the cave wall, literature is perhaps looking in the pond outside the cave and seeing the sun reflected with relative clarity.

For some reason, my fascination with Mimetic Criticism has been largely in applying its principles to a Jungian archetypal model. Though Jung's ideas usually show up in Reader Response, it is my assertion that they fit perhaps better here, for my interest is in seeing how the author, reflecting on reality, creates the text, and not nearly as much on how the reader responds to the text. The archetypal figures do not just come out of the readers imagination to be imposed on the characters of the text, rather they exist in the text. Hamlet would not evoke archetypal inspired responses in readers if he did not fit the characteristics of the tragic hero to begin with. In a sense, to return to the New Criticism, we might say there is such a thing as an objective correlative — an objective feature of the text — which evokes the archetypal recognition in the reader.

Thinking about Auerbach reminds me of another point I find interesting with Mimeticism, however, and this one is more closely related to Biblical hermeneutics. While as a good Thomist (to the extent that Thomism does not impinge on my Barthian tendencies) I view too much emphasis on Plato to the exclusion of Aristotle as a bad thing indeed, I think the notion of the realm of the ideal forms is somewhat compatible with the Christian notion of God. If we follow Barth's emphasis on the self-revelation of God and the fullness of revelation in Christ Jesus, then it may make sense to say that the Bible, as the clearest witness to that revelation, points from lesser to greater views of reality. Furthermore, natural revelation (such as it functions at all) fits well the analogy of the shadows on a cave: it gives a highly distorted view of the true reality. Nevertheless, even fallen creation reflects the original Word of God, by which it exists.

While we want to be careful to avoid Platonic dualism in the church, I think this perspective need not lead us to that point. We do not want to say we are trapped in a lesser physical revelation, but rather that the created world is in its entirety a witness to God that is lesser not because it is bad, but rather because it is not direct. The true self-revelation of God in Christ is a direct viewing of the Creator by creation rather than merely a view of reflections.

Obviously, there is a lot of potential applications in theology to the basic framework of Mimeticism — I am not by any means doing it justice. But it is at least worth mentioning on the “Attractions Next Exit” sign, so that you may get off and explore it more fully before we pass it up en route to the bigger and more recent stops on the itinerary.

Gratitude and credit is due in large part to Dr. Ana Schnellman of Lindenwood University for the basic understanding of Mimeticism off of which I am working. Don't blame her, however, for my Jungian musings, those are my own reader responses to the ideas of this school.

Greek Tidbit: Granville Sharp

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:37 AM

Well, Mike asked for a little sample of Greek weekly. I'm not good at doing things weekly, but I'll provide one for this week, at least! This is an interesting grammatical rule which came up when I was teaching the high school Sunday School class at my church last week. We were looking at Titus 2.13, “while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (NIV). Now, it seems natural enough that the author of the epistle is referring to Jesus as “our great God and Savior.” But, it could also be read, theoretically as “our great God” and also “our Savior Jesus Christ.” I noted in passing that there existed a grammatical rule in Greek that helps argue for the first reading.

Much to my surprise, I found out the class was really interested in hearing about this grammatical rule, so I told them it was called the Granville Sharp rule, and explained it something like the following. When there are two singular, non-proper nouns (e.g. God and savior) that have one article (“the”) in front of them, and those two words are joined with a conjunction (“and”), they both refer to the same thing. Granville Sharp, in formulating his rule, was a “little” more precise than that, but such is the gist.

In Greek, the text looks like this: “προσδεχόμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.” Notice the part in bold. The article is “τοῦ,” and the two titles applied to Jesus are “μεγάλου θεοῦ” (“great God”) and “σωτῆρος ἡμῶν” (“our savior”). The conjunction (“καὶ”) is right were you would expect it to be. So, as you can see, all the necessary components of Granville Sharp's rule are present. To answer one common question, yes, “God” is non-proper; we talk about gods or a god in English, and such usage would have been even more common in polytheistic Graeco-Roman culture.

So there you have it. Now, Titus 2.13 is not the most helpful verse in many discussions on the deity of Christ, even with Granville Sharp's rule, because of the question of the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. That is, even if I affirm the Pauline authorship of them, many others do not, so even now that you are armed with this useful Greek tidbit, it will not necessarily be a convincing verse to many. Then again, even if it was without a doubt Pauline, it would remain unconvincing to many, so perhaps authorship really does not matter in this case.

On Reading, Part III.2: Reader Response

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:05 PM
Continuing from Part III.1 on Reader Response

A few more words, perhaps, should be said about Reader Response criticism. What did I mean when I said that Reader Response is not permission to interpret the text anyway that I might want? That's a good question. What Reader Response does is look, as I said, at certain types of “readers” that it creates to analyze the text. The control on this is that we are not interested in one individual, but in a comprehensive interpretation.

So, for example, I might create a Freudian reader, and look at how on average, using a Freudian model, I would interpret the text. A liberation theologian or Marxist would create an oppressed reader and look for key parts of the text as they appeal to the downtrodden. As for me, in as much as I would participate in Reader Response, I would likely provide a Jungian model of interpretation.

It has been my long term assertion that the Jungian model is better placed in the next school that we will look at, Mimeticism, but for the sake of argument, consider it here. If we assume that there are certain key archetypes embedded in humanity (whether you wish to call them part of natural law or be truly Jungian sounding and dub them the “collective unconscious”), then it stands to reasons that the text will be read with the reader constantly searching and meeting the text where the text can enter into the archetypal roles. Hamlet is the famous prince he is because we can read into him the role of the tragic hero, or — with only a little stretch of the imagination — a savior figure.

Norman Holland talks of “subjectivity questioning objectivity.” The good part of reader response is its focus on a dialectic. The text and the mind are in a constant conflict to create the poem (used in the looser sense, not the sense of verse). This explains why we enjoy texts that conflict with our views and we are prone to forget about simplistic texts that have no ambiguity or depth. There is little dialectical value in those texts. No text is completely free of dialect to be sure, otherwise it would be a mirror image of our mind, but certainly some texts are so poor as to come close.

The important point that this all leads up to, which a wonderful professor I studied under kept re-enforcing because it is so tempting to forget, is that Reader Response is not about how much I enjoy the text. While we can formulate that certain characteristics that will lead to people enjoying the text, such is totally irrelevant to the school's goal. This school is about applying systematic models of readers to the text, not about becoming a newspaper book reviewer who must give new books so many stars and suggest whether her readers will enjoy the book. To pull this whole series back into its starting point at exegesis, note that higher criticism is about interpretation, not reviewing.

With that said, I think we can now move on to Mimeticism with a fuller understanding about why I will argue shortly that one should reject Reader Response and argue that Mimeticism follows similar themes much more fruitfully.

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