Thursday, August 23, 2012

Understanding TULIP from Outside

I have a friend with an interesting relationship with blogging at the moment. Most relevant to this post, you can read him at his once and possibly future blog, "The Evangelical Calvinist." Bobby's also got a book on the same theme that I can link to, edited together with the prolific and capable Myk Habets, and authored together with a cast of other quite intelligent folk. Now, while I know and like a goodly number of Reformed folk (one of the "hazards" of studying Barth), I'm not part of the tradition. Which makes me a bit oblivious to certain distinctions in the field, coming at them from outside. And so this post is meant to cover one set of those distinctions in particular, from where I sit. Hopefully my gloss will be helpful to others who, like me, find themselves on the sidelines of Reformed games.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Duty of Culture

"The duty of culture" is not the usual translation of Romans 8:4, τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου. Usually we get something like "the just decree of the law." Which follows naturally from the notion that νόμος is properly translated as "law" in the first place, which I've already disavowed. Law makes decrees, which may be judged just, dictating the context of δίκαιος and δικαίωμα. But if νόμος is not law, but custom, and a means of describing the normative way of life of a culture, it has nothing necessarily to do with decrees and judgment.

As an OT friend of mine is arguing with respect to Amos and the oracle against Israel, when we realize that the juridical context is far from the only possible one, and pay attention to the real context of this piece of text itself, suddenly the picture of justice changes. In point of fact, the juridical context is only a very small subset of the demands of justice in a culture. Law is never the basis of culture. It is instead the systematic codification of general ethics. It is the bureaucratic institution to which a culture delegates the majority burden of its consideration of moral duties and their conflicts. In other words, law is merely an artifact of culture. (Corollary: there is no "natural" law, only laws based on cultured understandings of the world.) And so, if we wish to think properly about justice in terms of the nature of decrees of the law, we have to be able to descend to the foundations, and speak first of justice in terms of the duties of a culture.

What happens if we read Paul talking about culture rather than law?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul and Genesis 2ff.

So anyone who's recognized the Christ and Adam theme in Romans knows that Paul knows Genesis from at least chapter 2. And we know he knows the Abraham stories, and Jacob and Esau. I'm not sure about the Joseph novel, but even without it, a good deal of Genesis plays its part in Paul's thought.

And the spot I hadn't thought about until today was Romans 8. We know Adam is in Romans 5, and he's a popular guess for what's going on in Romans 7, but Romans 8 we tend to miss as the full-circle return to Romans 5 that ends the section. It took the suggestion that "the will of the one who subjected it" was human will to make me realize the parallel, though.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What is a Science?

I did an ill-advised thing yesterday, a thing I try not to do. I released some of my frustration at an ongoing dilemma, on people. Friends, never burn down any structure, because people, many of whom you cannot see and do not know, live in and around it. In religion and science, as frequently hotter than some areas of dialogue, this is an especially necessary caution.

But among the corrections is a legitimate requirement that I do define science more clearly. (And in a manner more measured and less rash, to be sure.) Because what ought to be self-evident is that there are things that participate in scientific pursuits of knowledge which will never, in the university, deserve a science budget. This is, after all, modernity. We call many things "Liberal Arts" and "Humanities" which are in fact social sciences, but which were not such things classically. At the brass-tack level, no theologian or Biblical scholar will manage to get themselves appointed as a teacher or researcher in the sciences unless they have credentials in some other, genuine scientific field of the academy. We are Humanities and Liberal Arts, and not Sciences—in spite of the fact that we must also don the lab coat to legitimate our pursuits of knowledge. And, in fact, we do so—and I mean to say that we have every right to do so, without deserving the claim of pretense, or the objection that scientific pursuit in some way contaminates our natures as disciplines.

So: what is a science, even if it will never be billed as one?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What Kind of Science?

Daniel Kirk has a post up over at Storied Theology about what Biblical Studies is. For which I have great sympathy, and yet with which I'm going to quibble while trying to stay on the same side of the point. In part, his post is a response to complaints that Biblical Studies "masquerades as a science." That, essentially, it has put on a lab coat in order to justify its continued presence in the university. The same could be (and has been) said of Theology as a discipline. And, in fact, we've tried harder at it, and with more success! Which is among the reasons that more universities have Religious Studies programs than Bible and Theology programs. Certainly not the major reason—the universities are simply adapting to a world in which Christianity is resuming its place among others. But it is certainly also true that Christian intellectual pursuits have been sublimated into the Religious Studies context in order to keep their lab coats as something other than pretense. Unnecessary, but true.

Now, Christianity has no naturally superior claim in the university, or in the world. And it is right that the intellectual pursuits of Christianity should take their places in parallel with the intellectual pursuits of other religions. Or, perhaps better, that the intellectual pursuits of other religions should take their places alongside specifically Christian theology and sacred text study. I have every interest in seeing Muslim studies (which is not identical with "Islamic Studies" in the West) take their place alongside Jewish studies and Christian studies, along with Buddhist studies, and Hindu studies, and as many other faculties as can be assembled, in the university setting. And in solid distinction from "Religious Studies" as social anthropology of religion, just as we commonly distinguish between the disciplines of theology and philosophy of religion. And there is no reason that these disciplines in their particularities should not or cannot become properly resident and contributing members of the university pursuit of human knowledge in their own rights. No reason, in other words, that the intellectual pursuits proper to specific religions and their cultures are in any way inferior as pursuits of knowledge in contribution to the human project that the university is.

And, of course, it goes without saying that there's a definite place in the university for social anthropology applied to the phenomena of religion, just as there is for philosophy applied to the phenomena of religion. And the scholar in a religious tradition has as much use for these as they do for scholarship within the religious traditions. Closer to home, I can't do my work properly in a world without them. But I'm not going to pretend that these sciences are what I do, or what any practitioner of the intellectual pursuits of a religion does. Theology is not properly either social anthropology or philosophy, nor is Biblical Studies. This does not make these pursuits not sciences, any more than does the fact that they are not properly physics or biology.

But if we're not going to renounce the claim so quickly as utter pretense—and as a Barthian I refuse to renounce it on anyone else's terms but my own—what kind of sciences are they, then?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Problem with Divine Command Theories

Just a snippet this time.

Moral archetypes of humanity are inevitably arbitrary. They tend to be based on some combination of observation and abstraction, and therefore to be partly empirical and partly ideological. And they tend to disagree in both trivial and non-trivial ways. Moreover, the differences between them cannot be judged on the basis of any standard that is not subject to the same problem. Culture and religion—a non-essential distinction that is made on the basis of the history of the West—produce purely local claims to normativity. Such a locality may become territorially vast by way of hegemonic influence, but it does not therefore become less local. It is simply local in more places. The sciences, strictly to the extent to which they can escape local normativity and report objectively, can speak to both local and universal phenomena, but cannot do better than to describe local meanings. None of the three can resolve conflicts between differing arbitrary archetypes of humanity and human moral agency in any ultimate sense.

And yet Christian moral systems frequently make claims to divine sanction for an arbitrary standard, which along with the claim to having the only universal deity, makes for a claim to universal morality. Moreover, it is technically an adjudicable claim, as the assertion is based on the decision of a non-local real authority with the arguable right to make universal claims. God could be consulted. Of course, Christianity isn't alone in this game, any more than the Abrahamic religions are as a set of nominal claimants concerning this same authority. It's a very old game. The problem is that so many implementations of theological voluntarisms come down to the “baptism” of purely local claims to normativity. Even if we restrict ourselves to just the Abrahamic claimants, and even if we restrict ourselves to just the Christian claimants, we are left with multiple conflicting claims about the will of this deity. Either some or all of us are wrong, or this god likes the idea of preserving an irreducible plurality of local normativities. Possibly both. In any case, direct adjudication does not seem to be forthcoming.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bits of Trinity

Between the last post on divine fatherhood, the Facebook musings of people who demonstrate that we're not doing a good enough job teaching the Trinity, and my own ongoing musings on how not to be an anti-Trinitarian heretic, I've been wanting to write something new on how properly to disagree with the creeds and councils. (I.e. resepctfully: in their own terms, according to their own project, and by way of response in today's terms to the problem understood in its own terms. Wrestling as Barth did with Schleiermacher, rather than as Brunner did.)

But I haven't the time, since I have a prospectus draft due Wednesday.

So: two things for your consumption. The first is mine: An Account of the Divine Logos, in which I engage in an attempt to get several commonly-missed aspects of the Trinity right, inclusing some the Fathers missed. And the second is that Bobby Grow has a new series starting, "Who is the Christian God?", and I look forward to following it, and think you should, too.

(Yes, I've reached the point where I can reply to theological problems by self-citation.)

(And yes, mine is a decidedly long piece, forewarned is forearmed—but I wasn't about to repost the whole thing here, for exactly that reason. In my defense, I hadn't learned to write series yet. Bobby's is much easier on the eyes.)

(But seriously, if you do find me a heretic, go ahead and argue with me. Maybe I will write that piece next week.)

Thanks for your time!