Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Twenty-Minute Bike Ride Away

Having recently relocated, not long after that I had the opportunity to attend for the first time the morning service at the Anglican church in the nearest village, a twenty-minute bike ride away. I knew nothing about either the church or the service beforehand, except that there was to be a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and that it was Easter Sunday.

The minister was serious, clear and direct, his affirmation of the Resurrection, in a sermon of not more than ten minutes, also clear, with the call to faith in Christ and an affirmation of the need for the new birth. The congregation, forty or so, was attentive. Two passages of Scripture were read clearly and intelligibly, good hymns were sung, prayer was offered. We received the elements in what was largely a Protestant and Reformed manner, word and sign, dignified and restrained, richly Trinitarian. The whole was over in a little under an hour.

At present, it is not a difficult task to critique the very existence of the Church of England, at least the Church of England in England, its present stance, the tendency of its ethics, the weakness of its leadership. And there is much that, were one to set about doing so, one could criticize about that particular service. Without encountering much difficulty, we can all describe the church we want - the ‘perfect church’ - as easily as we can depict the God we want. Often enough, on both counts we have to manage with not getting our own way. Yet despite the temptation to criticize what was going on around me gnawing away at me, I both believed and felt it to be a privilege to attend that service and to have the opportunity to engage in public worship that affirmed the historic faith in words that were scriptural and credal in the best sense. This was my overriding reaction, and its presence rather surprised me.

For someone who, like me, is baptistic in outlook, it is not difficult to see the drawbacks of a connexional church, as well as the dangers of a church that is by law established. But such a church has this distinct advantage, that at present, in hundreds of places up and down England, in villages and in towns, it is possible to hear the elements of the faith, even when not delivered in quite the way that one would choose. Perhaps the majority of the English population (if only they knew it, or cared), is only a twenty-minute bike ride away from hearing the gospel and learning the rudiments of the Christian faith. Where else on earth is that true? Certainly not in France, or in many other parts of Europe. The US? Canada? I rather doubt that. But I am of course willing to be put right.

This Sunday morning reaction has led me to reflect a little bit more generally on church, and fellowship, and community. For some, fellowship suggests sharing, which is a particular form of one important element in fellowship, the idea of parity, and transparency. Fellows are those who are in some important senses equal. Those who, though different from each other, have the same standing which together they acknowledge or recognize, and who open themselves to each other. In many places in evangelicalism, fellowship is construed exclusively as this call to openness, to the development of intensity.

But there’s another emphasis that I wish to note here. The idea that church, and fellowship, has other dimensions to it, than the one that comes to be emphasized in modern evangelicalism, the intensity of the ‘small group’, or the crowd-psychology of the mega-church. I was unexpectedly reminded of this other emphasis on Easter Sunday morning, reminded of that aspect of fellowship that consists in being there, in that place, with those people, having the same corporate objective, the worship of Almighty God through Jesus Christ by his Spirit. The fellowship of a place, and a people, and a common purpose. There is also parity here, of course, and solidarity, but of a different kind than that of the ‘small group’ kind. The New Testament emphasizes both. But such solidarity extends beyond being physically present at the same place at the same time. We weep with those who weep, not only those who weep in our presence. And we remember those in the bonds of imprisonment, as though we were imprisoned with them. No physical presence there either. There used to be regular references to fellowship and unity with both the church 'militant' and the church 'triumphant' but this language, and the thought that it expresses, seems to have gone out of use.

When John in opening verses of his first letter writes of fellowship – he uses the word several times - it is this more objective note that is sounded. For John says that he proclaims what he had seen and touched, the Word of God made manifest, who is eternal life. The purpose of his proclamation is ‘that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.’ That is, 'our fellowship' that transcends the apostolic band and is a common features of all Christians. After all, John had never seen most of those with whom he affirms his fellowship.

This transcendence of particular times and places, the times and places where we happen to be present, reminds us of a different dimension to Christian fellowship. There is the parity element. Whether Jew or Greek, bond or free, we are all one in Christ Jesus. He is our brother and friend. But there is the ‘otherness’ aspect. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. It is from these Trinitarian persons, engaged together in the redemption of the church, that light and goodness are brought to us to make possible and to foster and to enrich the parities of Christian fellowship.

It may seem at first that there is a principle of transparency about parity fellowship that one finds in some non-Christian groups. In the pub we might say, anyone who is a friend of my friend Joe is my friend too. But it is not quite like that in the church. For John says that if you have fellowship with us who have fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, then this is because you also have fellowship with the Father and the Son. So for people to have fellowship (in this Christian sense) with each other they are also to have fellowship with Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Son and the Spirit. Christian fellowship is not first and foremost a horizontal affair. It is a horizontal affair founded on a vertical affair, acceptance of what John calls ‘the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.’ To use Pauline language, we are members of one another because we first have the same head, Jesus Christ.

I think that it is this vertical, solidarity that I recognised in the village church. Years ago I was in Czechoslovakia when it was a part of the Soviet empire, and I sought out a church on Sunday morning. Of course when I attended the service I could not understand many words. Those words that I caught referred to our common head, our Saviour and Lord. I also noticed a row of books at the side of the church, one of which has the word ‘Spurgeon’ unmistakably printed on the spine. Spurgeon in Czech translation! I remember thinking, these people are my people. I had Christian solidarity with them even though we could do little more than smile at each other and shake hands.

You may think that my attitude here is excessively individualistic. For what seems to matter is being there, rather than giving and receiving, than ‘sharing’. To which I respond ‘Yes and No’. I am emphasizing 'being there’ and extolling the importance of being physically present, shoulder to shoulder with the people of God confessing the same Christ. I am most certainly not arguing that a virtual church, consisting only of electronic images available on the web, would do equally well.

Just as John says that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and Peter writes of the apostles being ‘eyewitnesses of his majesty’, so it is important that the body of Christ expresses itself in physically visible and tangible ways , a body of real human beings that we can join ourselves to and enjoy solidarity and fellowship with, simply because we confess the same God and Lord.

Based on a Chapel talk at Regent College, May 23rd 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Of Faith and Reason: Locke and Edwards

In the last post on Edwards I attempted to show that he depended on Locke’s unitary account of the human self and of passion in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding for his account of the nature of passions/affections and their connection with the will. This is a fact which, if it has been noticed before, hasn’t been stressed. In this second post on Lockean influences on the Affections I shall brieflylook at the influence of Locke’s chapter ‘Of Faith and Reason, and their Distinct Provinces’ on Edwards’s discussion of the affections. Then, next time, there's a discussion of the relation between Locke’s chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’ and theReligious Affections, particularly Part II, ‘Shewing What Are No Certain Signs That Religious Affections Are Truly Gracious, or That They Are Not’. In all these matters we shall find Edwards to be a respectful and faithful, though not a slavish, follower of Locke

The two chapters which now concern us, are towards the end of Book IV, where Locke is discussing reason: a chapter (XVIII) ‘Of Reason’, followed by the chapters on faith and reason, (XIX) and then one on enthusiasm (XX), added in later editions of the work. We shall discuss the provenance of the last of these chapters next time.

Locke’s aim in the chapter on faith and reason is to subordinate faith, and particularly any appeal to divine revelation, to the judgment of reason. The guidance of reason, and the guidance of faith, form ‘two distinct provinces’. Reason has to do with establishing the certainty or probability of propositions deduced from our ideas. Faith, that is, true religious faith, is reliance upon propositions upon testimony to such and such as the word of God, coming to us in some extraordinary way.

What I shall try to do, briefly, is this. First, to identify Locke’s main arguments in the chapter. And then to argue that, by and large, Edwards accepted these arguments and organized hisAffections within their parameters, even though the surface appearance may be the exact opposite of this. Whether or not he was successful in carrying out this part of his project is not our main concern. Obviously, he thought that he was successful.

In his two chapters, on faith and reason, and then on enthusiasm, Locke was principally arguing against the left-wing sects of the commonwealth and post-commonwealth period who claimed immediate revelation and inspiration. [For shorthand, I shall use the terms ‘quaker’ and ‘quakerish’ to cover these sects, though the Quakers then had a rather different character from the Quakers now.] In earlier posts we have seen that Edwards had a political motive in writing on revival, particularly writing the Religious Affections: to capture the centre ground, stressing affection, and so denying those who denied its importance in religion, but also arguing forcefully against undue prominence being given to the ‘phenonema’ of the revivials.

In arguing against quakerish religion Locke also had a (much grander) political ambition, to draw the boundaries of religious toleration in post-Commonwealth England against the unpredictability of the enthusaists on the one hand, and Roman Catholics whose prime loyalty was to Rome and who would like nothing better than the overthrow of the English protestant establishment. Locke’s chief point against quakerish enthusaism is that reason has a place in the Christian religion and that an account of religion operates discursively, that is, by the consideration of the arguments and the evidence that people offer in making religious claims. The trouble with the sectaries was, in a nutshell, that they claimed to hear the voice of God, but they had no arguments, whereas there are arguments for accepting a divine revelation from God, as mainstream Christians do. To use Thomas Hobbes’s example, it was impossible for the quakers to distinguish ‘I met God in a dream’ from ‘I dreamed that I met God.’

Naturally enough, Locke starts his discussion of faith and reason from the conclusions of the previous chapter, ‘Of Reason’. There he established that it is the task of reason to provide certainties (where possible), and probabilities where not, arising from our ideas, that is, from the evidence of our five senses, our generalisation from them, together with the testimony of others. So any candidate for a revelation must be considered by reason in this sense, and any revelation cannot be more certain than the probabilities. Though we might suppose that a revelation could include evidence of what we can discover by our deductive or inductive reasoning, its testimony to these things will not be more certain than our independent evidence for them. So we might conclude from the New Testament that there is a Sea of Galilee, but we shall be more certain that there was by the direct evidence of our senses and those of others than by consulting the Bible. (This is my example. Locke uses the example of Euclidian geometry: he says ‘whatsoever truth we come to the clear discovery of, from the knowledge and contemplation of our own ideas, will always be certainer to us than those which are conveyed to us by traditional revelation’. (282) He also discusses the Flood.) ‘Probability’ here includes very great probability. This calls to mind what B.B. Warfield has to say in his paper ‘The Real Problem of Inspiration’, writing about the trustworthiness of Christ and his apostles as teachers of doctrine.

Of course, this evidence is not in the strict logical sense “demonstrative;” it is “probable” evidence. It therefore leaves open the metaphysical possibility of its being mistaken. But it may be contended that it is about as great in amount and weight as “probable’ evidence can be made, and that the strength of conviction which it is adapted to produce may be and should be practically equal to that produced by demonstration itself. (Revelation and Inspiration, 218)

Locke is not a sceptic about revelation. He sets out the distinction between faith and reason not to disparage the possibility of divine revelation.

But…there being many things wherein we have very imperfect notions, or none at all; and other things, of shoe past, present, or future existence, by the natural use of our faculties, we can have no knowledge at all: these, as being beyond the discovery of our natural faculties and above reason, are, when revealed, the proper matter of faith. Thus, that part of the angels rebelled against GOD and thereby lost their first happy state, and that the dead shall rise and live again; these and the like, being beyond the discovery of reason, are purely matters of faith, with which reason has, directly, nothing to do. (287)

Reason must judge that there is a revelation, and that revelation may deliver to us matters which are above reason. However, whatever God immediately reveals in of the highest certainty. (283)

Though faith be founded on the testimony of God (who cannot lie) revealing any proposition to us: yet we cannot have an assurance of the truth of its being a divine revelation greater than our own knowledge: since the whole strength of the certainty depends upon our knowledge that GOD revealed it; which, in this case, where the proposition supposed revealed contradict our knowledge or reason, will always have this objection handing to it (viz.) that we cannot tell how it conceive that to come from GOD, the bountiful Author of our being, which, if received for true, must overturn all the principles of knowledge he has given us; render all our faculties useless; wholly destroy the most excellent part of his workmanship, our understandings; and put a man in a condition wherein he will have less light, less conduct than the beast that perisheth. (284) [Locke is not overly fond of full stops. Still, his meaning is clear.]

The substance of faith/revelation reveals what falls outside the normal boundaries of human knowledge, but a necessary condition of receiving it is that we have good reason to do so.

In the main, Edwards is in agreement with this approach. [He lived before the days when some people who adher to the Reformed faith were captivated by ‘presuppositionalism’ in one or another of its varieties]. This can be seen at length in his Miscellanies (e.g. Misc. 1340). For an exposition of this aspect of Edwards’s theology see John Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, (Berea Publications, 1991) Vol. I. Chs. 5 and 7.

The same approach is present in the text of Religious Affections. There are a number of appeals to reason. He claims that neither reason nor revelation rule out the idea that when God manifests his power in the soul, a power different from all natural powers, he makes in evident that this is his work. (139) He appeals to ‘philosophers’ in giving his account of judgment or taste, of which spiritual judgment is a species.(283) A person may, by a judgment of this kind, be assured ‘of the divinity of the things of the gospel’. This is a ‘reasonable conviction’. In the case of such intuitive knowledge, ‘the argument is but one; [that is, it involves one inference] and the evidence direct; the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory’. ‘We can’t rationally doubt, but that things that are divine, that appertain to the supreme Being, are vastly different from things that are humane….it would therefore be very unreasonable to deny that it is possible for God….’ (298-9) He appeals to the ‘nature and reason of things’. (323) Reason teaches what Scripture teaches. (409 f.) ‘Reason plainly shews’ that what a person prefers ‘when left to follow their own choice and inclinations, are the proper trial what they do really refer in their hearts’. (426-7) A distinction between experience and practice ‘is not only an unreasonable, but an unscriptural distinction’. (450-1)

What do these appeals to reason and what is reasonable establish? We shall try to answer that question next time, when we look at Locke on enthusiasm and the Affections reveals itself as a project that sits within Lockean parameters.

Does Justification Cause Sanctification?

More particularly, is it the view of Calvin and of Reformed Orthodoxy that justification causes sanctification, or not? There seems to be some difference of opinion about this. Some detect the presence of causal language in the discussion of these questions by these theologians. And this seems to be sufficient to answer the question in the affirmative. Others stress the pivotal factor of union with Christ and of Christ’s double gift of justification and sanctification, and believe that this justifies answering the question in the negative, presumably on the grounds that there is no causal language visible at this point, and that there is symmetry between the two gifts.

What I have seen of the presentation of such opposing viewpoints suggests a certain amount of confusion, or at least a lack of exactness, among the parties. So though I do not want here to engage directly in attempting to answer the question, I think it may help to make some general remarks about causation. (For those who are curious about sources I refer to writers such as Mark A Garcia, Life in Christ (Paternoster, 2008) and John V. Fesko ‘Metaphysics and Justification in 16th and 17th Century Reformed Theology’, (Calvin Theological Journal, April 2011); and 'Peter Martyr Vermigli on Union With Christ and Justification', (Reformed Theological Review, April 2011). But as I say it is not my intention to engage directly with these chaps.) Instead we shall look particularly at Aristotelian four-fold causation to which Calvin and the RO were indebted (to one degree or another) in their endeavours to make justification and its relation to sanctification plain, as well as in other areas of theology.

Three or so points

1. In the Aristotelian four-fold causation schema – material, formal, efficient, and final – ‘cause’ is not used univocally. Calvin writes of these being different ‘kinds’ of causation, and so they are. (Inst. III.14.17) This ought to be kept in mind. It is best to think of these four ‘kinds’ of causation as providing different but compatible answers to the question ‘Why?’ Why is this a statue? Answer, because a sculptor made the sculpture (efficient cause); or because it is composed of sculptable material such as gold or clay or stone, and not of frogspawn or tissue paper (material cause); because it has the form of a statue and not of a bar of gold (formal cause); because it was the intention of its maker to create a statue (final cause) and not a gold chain. Each these answers the ‘Why?’ question differently, each answer complements the other answers. Which answer is offered or discussed would depend upon the interests of one asking the question. Additionally, the sculptor’s tools may be thought of as the ‘instrumental’ cause, a term made famous in Reformed theology by Calvin and others (including the Westminster Confession) who refer to faith as the instrumental cause of justification. So the four causes refer to different features of a complex situation, not to a case in which X causes Y which in turn causes z, three efficient causes, like the falling of a line of dominoes or the shunting of wagons in an (old fashioned?) railway yard. Even if justification may not be the efficient cause of sanctification, perhaps it is its cause in some of the sense? (There's the additional factual question of whether this four-fold scheme is ever applied to the justification-sanctification distinction.)

2. This schema, according to Aristotle, when we see it operate in the physical world, does not do so infallibly, but only ‘for the most part’; acorns produce oaks, but occasionally there is a sport, or a mutation; lions beget lion cubs, but occasionally such cubs are born de-formed; there are Siamese twins, and so on. And in the case of our sculptor, his skill may not be very great and though intending a masterpiece the result of his efforts may be a botch. Clearly when the language of Aristotelian causality is used of divine activity, recognition must be given to divine power and wisdom. No sports or deformities or failures in intention here. So whereas in the physical world there is a contingent relation between an efficient cause and its effect, even if we were to suppose that sanctification is an effect of justification that effect may be necessarily, or certainly unfailingly connected.

But is justification the efficient cause of sanctification? It is hard to see that it is or could be, at least in the Pauline-Augustinian outlook of the Reformers, according to which every step of salvation is due to the unmerited, efficaciously powerful grace and mercy of God. The associated question, Could there be justification without sanctification? seems to be unnecessarily speculative. They are held together at least by the divine decree that this be so, and so are connected by at least a hypothetical or conditional necessity, and may even be intrinsically connected. So the fear that if causal categories are applied to justification and sanctification they may come apart, that justification may fail to bring about sanctification, would appear to be groundless.

3. The question, Could justification be the cause of sanctification? is also ambiguous regarding the sense in which justification and sanctification are being taken. For each word may refer either to an effect; the event of coming to be justified, which is instrumentally caused by faith; or it could refer to the state of being justified. Most likely, in the claim that justification is the cause of sanctification, justification is being referred to as a state, the state of being justified. But can a state be a cause in the sense of any of the four Aristotelian ways? If the question raised in this area is, does justification cause good works? then this presumably refers to the act or acts of reliance on Jesus. Can the state of being justified bring about sanctification? Sounds weird. But ‘sanctification’ has a similar ambiguity: it also may mean the event of becoming sanctified, or the state of being sanctified. Which?

Faith along with hope and love form a small constellation of Spirit-given virtues. So that faith, even considered as the instrumental cause of justification, is a subjective grace of the Spirit, and so a sanctifying fruit, and inseparable from other Christian virtues. If we are not to get into a further tangle at this point we need some further distinctions. (I have discussed the point briefly, with the expert assistance of Francis Turretin, in ‘Word and Spirit in Conversion’ inSpirit of Truth and Love, Studies in Christian Doctrine and Experience, ed. David F. Wright (Edinburgh, Rutherford House, 2007, 129-31)).

It is hard to see where the Reformed theologians cited earlier teach that justifying faith gives rise (even instrumentally) to hope and love. Certainly, faith works by love: it is the combining of the graces of saving faith, relying on the promises of God, and love to God and neighbour, shed abroad in our hearts, as Paul puts it, that lead to good works. So if we are going to see some light in this area, a bit more sorting out needs to be done.

And why, in any case, is there an opposition made between ‘causal language’ and Calvin’s language about union with Christ and the two distinct but inseparable gifts of justification and sanctification? As does the Johannine language of the vine and its fruit. Does all this not look like causal language as well? [We must be careful not to fall into the mistaken of thinking that it’s a condition of language being causal that the term ‘causal’ or its family members are used.] If union with Christ is the source of good works, does this not mean that the union is the cause of the good works? I suspect once the necessary sorting out has been done, there won’t be a hairsbreadth between the language of union with Christ and ‘causal language’.

But there is a weaker sense of ‘cause’ in which we find the Reformed theologians in the 16th and 17th centuries writing of the connection between faith and works in which ‘cause’ simply and loosely means ‘condition’. If we refer again briefly to the four-fold causation schema, then any of these may be said to be a cause in the sense that each is a necessary condition for the achieving of causation in its full, four-fold sense. So in this sense faith may be said to be a necessary condition of good works. Without faith, no good works. So there is a close connection between faith and good works, an indispensable connection, but this does not entail that the saving faith, the faith which justifies, is an efficient cause of sanctification. Though of course it does not rule it out either.


My thought is that if due regard is paid to the peculiarities of the Aristotelian schema and its transposition to the arena of divine activity, there are perfectly good senses in which one might say both that justification and sanctification are the twin fruits [causal effects?] of the duplex gratia which flows from union with Christ, and that justification is the cause of sanctification, its necessary precondition. But not, merely for this reason, an efficient cause of sanctification.