Miscellany 10-24-17 (Virtue, Feminism, Industrialization, Marriage, US Birth Rate)

C.S. Lewis, “Men Without Chests

On virtue:

It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman 51 does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism (such as Gaius and Titius would wince at) about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use.

On the heart’s mediation between intellect and appetite:

The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

On society that demands virtue from its “neutered” men:

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering
impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Wendell Berry, “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine

On marriage and the home:

Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate “relationship” involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the “married” couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.

The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.

There are, however, still some married couples who understand themselves as belonging to their marriage, to each other, and to their children. What they have they have in common, and so, to them, helping each other does not seem merely to damage their ability to compete against each other. To them, “mine” is not so powerful or necessary a pronoun as “ours.”

This sort of marriage usually has at its heart a household that is to some extent productive. The couple, that is, makes around itself a household economy that involves the work of both wife and husband, that gives them a measure of economic independence and self-employment, a measure of freedom, as well as a common ground and a common satisfaction. Such a household economy may employ the disciplines and skills of housewifery, of carpentry and other trades of building and maintenance, of gardening and other branches of subsistence agriculture, and even of woodlot management and wood-cutting. It may also involve a “cottage industry” of some kind, such as a small literary enterprise.

It is obvious how much skill and industry either partner may put into such a household and what a good economic result such work may have, and yet it is a kind of work now frequently held in contempt. Men in general were the first to hold it in contempt as they departed from it for the sake of the professional salary or the hourly wage, and now it is held in contempt by such feminists as those who attacked my essay. Thus farm wives who help to run the kind of household economy that I have described are apt to be asked by feminists, and with great condescension, “But what do you do?” By this they invariably mean that there is something better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, and by better they invariably mean “employment outside the home.”

On female “liberation”:

Why would any woman who would refuse, properly, to take the marital vow of obedience (on the ground, presumably, that subservience to a mere human being is beneath human dignity) then regard as “liberating” a job that puts her under the authority of a boss (man or woman) whose authority specifically requires and expects obedience?

On the valuation of help:

They assume—and this is the orthodox assumption of the industrial economy—that the only help worth giving is not given at all, but sold. Love, friendship, neighborliness, compassion, duty—what are they? We are realists. We will be most happy to receive your check.

On our industrialized economy:

But in general, apart from its own highly specialized standards of quantity and efficiency, “technological progress” has produced a social and ecological decline. Industrial war, except by the most fanatically narrow standards, is worse than war used to be. Industrial agriculture, except by the standards of quantity and mechanical efficiency, diminishes everything it affects. Industrial workmanship is certainly worse than traditional workmanship, and is getting shoddier every day. After forty-odd years, the evidence is everywhere that television, far from proving a great tool of education, is a tool of stupefaction and disintegration. Industrial education has abandoned the old duty of passing on the cultural and intellectual inheritance in favor of baby-sitting and career preparation.

The Doom Loop of Modern Liberalism, The Atlantic (Derek Thompson)

American demographers are “freaking out as each year brings a new record low in the number of women giving birth. There are several ways to cut the fertility data—including annual births per population, or total lifetime births per woman. But every statistic tells the same story: Americans are having fewer babies than they were 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago. Japan and many European countries are dealing with their own “perfect demographic storms.”

A baby shortage sounds like an adorable misfortune of middling significance. Actually, it’s a critical problem. To expand their economies, countries need to expand their populations, particularly at a time of low productivity growth. Rich countries also need a larger and richer workforce to pay for government services to the sick, poor, and elderly. In the long term, with automation, these countries may run out of jobs. But in the short term, they are running out of people. In fact, the number of Americans between 25 and 54 years old has not grown in more than a decade.


Miscellany 10-17-17 (Fatherhood, Motherhood, Capital Punishment, Faith and Works, Conservatism, Nationalism)

Reclaiming a Father’s Presence at Home, Institute for Family Studies (John A. Cuddeback)

It is the stock-in-trade of defenders of the traditional household to decry the general movement of women out of the household and into the “workforce.” Most, however, are mute on the issue of the parallel and prior male exodus. And yet the very notion of the “workforce” as something fundamentally outside of the household (significantly, women are said to “leave” the home to “join” it) exemplifies a fundamental shift from both the theory and practice of household life once standard in our civilization.

This change—the demise of the household as a center of production—is one that many defenders of the traditional family either dismiss with a shrug, or even approve with a nod in the direction of “economic progress.” Yet I think it is clear that, regardless of an admixture of genuine advantages, this shift was a blow to the very essence of the household community as, in Aristotle’s words, “constituted by nature for everyday life.”

The Revolutionary Work of Motherhood, Alastair’s Adversaria (Alastair Roberts)

The mother’s labour is inalienable and cannot truly be abstracted, which renders it incomprehensible to a society ordered around alienation and abstraction. Motherhood involves a sort of labour and yields a sort of possession that is simply incommensurable with those forms of labour and possession that our society focuses upon. The ‘labour’ of the mother occurs within her own body and does not lend itself to being sold on the market. Although you can sell your house, you cannot sell your home on the market.

Oliver O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 123

Even if a society formally removes the death penalty from its criminal sanctions, it does not abolish death as its ultimate recourse, for when crime becomes uncontrollable by normal means, society resorts to making war upon it. The armed patrol takes the place of the hangman.

Assessing Piper’s Critics: Love Hopes All Things, Calvinist International (Mark Jones and D. Patrick Ramsey)

Witsius argued contrary to the mere fruit position that believers are to do good works because they live and so that they may live.  Doing good works because they live is equivalent to Clark’s “it is the case believers will do good works.”  However, Witsius is saying more than that by noting that believers obey that they may live.  This is clear by the analogy he uses.  He likens the role of good works to eating food.  No man eats but he lives, but he also eats that he may live.  A man may not eat if he chooses.  But if he wants to keep on living, he must eat.  Clearly, gospel obedience is more that an “is” in salvation, at least for Witsius (and, we would argue, almost everyone else among the Reformed orthodox).

The same is true for Turretin.  He talks about good works being the means and way to possessing salvation.  But “means” cannot be reduced to “it is the case.”  The biblical analogies that Turretin uses make this clear: way to goal, sowing to harvest, labor to the reward, a contest to the crown.

What Is Conservatism?, American Affairs Journal (Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony)

Like later conservative tradition, Fortescue does not believe that either scripture or human reason can provide a universal law suitable for all nations. We do find him drawing frequently on the Mosaic constitution and the biblical “Four Books of Kings” (1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings) to assist in understanding the political order and the English constitution. Nevertheless, Fortescue emphasizes that the laws of each realm reflect the historic experience and character of each nation, just as the English common law is in accord with England’s historic experience. Thus, for example, Fortescue argues that a nation that is self-disciplined and accustomed to obeying the laws voluntarily rather than by coercion is one that can productively participate in the way it is governed. This, Fortescue proposes, was true of the people of England, while the French, who were of undisciplined character, could be governed only by the harsh and arbitrary rule of absolute royal government. On the other hand, Fortescue also insisted, again in keeping with biblical precedent and later conservative tradition, that this kind of national character was not set in stone, and that such traits could be gradually improved or worsened over time.

Dr. Bradley Birzer on nationalism and the definition of a nation

Things I’m Reading 9/23/17

If you haven’t discovered this little online gem yet, allow me introduce you to Alastair Roberts’s “Curious Cat” account (don’t be turned off by the name—or the bizarro anime glamcat icons). For the past few weeks Roberts has been running a clinic on how to engage in online discourse as he answers anonymous questions about, well, anything and everything. While many of the questions have to do with gender and sexuality—a field he’s cultivated quite an expertise in—his engagement across the socio-cultural and theological spectrums reveals a near polymathic genius.

Seriously, go read Roberts.

But here are a few random articles from my weekend online reading (aided not a little by Roberts’s answers):

“Not Scotist: understandings of being, univocity, and analogy in early-modern Reformed thought”, Reformation and Renaissance Review (Richard Muller)

“Self and Leadership: A Summary of and Engagement with Edwin Friedman’s ‘A Failure of Nerve'” by Alastair Roberts

Slouching towards Biloxi: Joan Didion on life in America’s south, The Guardian (Joan Didion)

Public Theology in Retreat, LARB (Brad East)

Statistical Abracadabra: Making Sex Differences Disappear, Psychology Today (David P Schmitt)

Victor Hugo, Waterloo, and the Providence of God

Victor Hugo, Waterloo, and the Providence of God

Excerpted from Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, trans. Charles E. Wilbour (New York: Modern Library, 1992), 288.

“Was it possible that Napoleon should win [the battle of Waterloo]? We answer no. Why? Because of Wellington? Because of Blücher? No. Because of God.

For Bonaparte to be conqueror at Waterloo was not in the law of the nineteenth century. Another series of facts were preparing in which Napoleon had no place. The ill-will of events had long been announced.

It was time that this vast man should fall.

The excessive weight of this man in human destiny disturbed the equilibrium. This individual counted, of himself alone, more than the universe besides. These plethoras of all human vitality concentrated in a single head, the world mounting to the brain of one man, would be fatal to civilisation if they should endure. The moment had come for incorruptible supreme equity to look to it. Probably the principles and elements upon which regular gravitations in the moral order as well as in the material depend, began to murmur. Reeking blood, overcrowded cemeteries, weeping mothers—these are formidable pleaders. When the earth is suffering from a surcharge, there are mysterious moanings from the deeps which the heavens hear.

Napoleon had been impeached before the Infinite, and his fall was decreed.

He vexed God.

Waterloo is not a battle; it is the change of front of the universe.”

The Unraveling of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

The Unraveling of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife

Sometimes when you tug a presenting yarn, it all comes unraveled.

Do you remember the Harvard professor Karen King, who overturned aeons of church teaching and history with one tiny papyrus fragment, the one that “evidenced” early Christian belief that Jesus had a wife? If not, here is the triumphalist announcement from a few years back proclaiming the legitimacy of a papyrus fragment notoriously named “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”:

A wide range of scientific testing indicates that a papyrus fragment containing the words, ‘Jesus said to them, my wife’ is an ancient document, dating between the sixth to ninth centuries CE. Its contents may originally have been composed as early as the second to fourth centuries.

Sounds like a case closed, huh? That’s what everybody thought—until Ariel Saban did some investigative journalism for The Atlantic.

If you haven’t yet, you need to read his hard-hitting, riveting, nearly-unbelievable-but-obviously-not-because-Karen-King-read-it-and-retracted-her-statement-with-her-career-at-stake (more on that later) piece of journalism.

But if you don’t have 30 minutes to read it, here’s a summary: A German man named Walter Fritz—who incidentally moonlights as a pornographer—concocted one of the most elaborate forgeries in history that includes a stint at a prestigious Egyptology program, stolen intellectual rights published in an influential academic journal, forged sales and provenance documents, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and much, much more. The cash-strapped Fritz used his limited know-how to create an ancient-looking papyrus that has many similarities to the Gospel of Thomas. Then, knowing that she was predisposed to believing this kind of thing exists, Fritz targeted Karen King, a tenured Harvard professor, in order to get her to disseminate knowledge of the papyrus, which she did in an article published in the Harvard Theological Review. For all of the Hollywood entrepreneurs currently reading my blog, this would make a great movie.

But in my estimation the fact that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a forgery and that there is a kook behind it isn’t the biggest part of the story. After months of travel and phone calls and research, Saban took his story to Karen King for review. And here’s what happened:

I [Ariel Saban] told her [Karen King] I’d spent months reporting in Germany and the United States. Didn’t she want to know what I’d found?

“Not particularly,” she said. She would read my piece once it was published. What interested her more were the results of new ink tests being done at Columbia.

And read it she did. In fact, when this story went online, it was only a matter of a few hours before The Atlantic published a follow-up to the story with the stunning headline “Karen King Responds to ‘The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife’: The Harvard scholar says papyrus is probably a forgery.

In the follow-up, we find these words:

For four years, Karen L. King, a Harvard historian of Christianity, has defended the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” against scholars who argued it was a forgery. But Thursday, for the first time, King said the papyrus—which she introduced to the world in 2012—is a probable fake.

She reached this conclusion, she said, after reading The Atlantic’s investigation into the papyrus’s origins, which appears in the magazine’s July/August issue and was posted to its website Wednesday night.

“It tips the balance towards forgery,” she said.

Which brings me to the point of my writing. Here, in a nutshell, we see a sordid parable that illustrates the folly of trusting “science” and “scientific consensus” at the expense of history, philosophy, theology, and logic.

Consider the bolded statements below from an article commending the scientific rigor that went into validating the fragment:

After receiving the fragment in December 2011 from the owner, King took the papyrus to New York in 2012 to be examined by Roger Bagnall, director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. After Bagnall’s initial assessment that the fragment was ancient based on handwriting and other features, further analysis began in earnest.

Over the past two years, extensive testing of the papyrus and the carbon ink, as well as analysis of the handwriting and grammar, all indicate that the existing material fragment dates to between the sixth and ninth centuries CE. None of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery.

Two radiocarbon tests were conducted to determine the date of the papyrus. In the first test, the sample size was too small and resulted in an unreliable date. A second test performed by Noreen Tuross at Harvard University in conjunction with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute produced a date of origination for the piece of papyrus from 659 to 859 CE. Other testing with FT-IR microspectroscopy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) confirmed the homogeneous chemical composition of the papyrus and examined patterns of oxidation.

James Yardley, Senior Research Scientist in the Center for Integrated Science and Engineering, Columbia University, and Alexis Hagadorn, Head of Conservation at Columbia University Libraries, used a technique called micro-Raman spectroscopy to determine that the carbon character of the ink matched samples of other papyri that date from the first to eighth centuries CE.

Malcolm Choat from Macquarie University examined the fragment at HDS and offered an independent assessment of the handwriting.

Microscopic and multispectral imaging provided other significant information about the nature and extent of the damage and helped to resolve a variety of questions about possible forgery.  For example, if ink had pooled on the lower fibers of the front, it would have shown the papyrus was written on after it had been damaged. Or if the alpha had overwritten a sigma in line four, it would have shown that someone tampered with an ancient fragment that read “the woman” by changing it into “my wife.” No evidence of this kind is apparent, however.

After all the research was complete, King weighed all the evidence of the age and characteristics of the papyrus and ink, handwriting, language, and historical context to conclude the fragment is almost certainly a product of early Christians, not a modern forger.

That’s a lot of science in one place: peer-review, technical know-how, expert opinion, state-of-the-art methods.

But now, because someone decided to use their noggin—even when that went against the overwhelming “scientific” evidence and consensus—we know the truth. The papyrus is a fake, a forgery, fool’s gold sold for 24-carat market value.

So what’s the lesson here? We need to be willing to challenge the scientific “consensus,” even when (especially when?) it claims to have the best science with the most authoritative scientists in its corner.

There is a more sure foundation than science for true knowledge, namely the divinely inspired Word of God.

Debating the Trinity

Debating the Trinity

As you have probably noticed, a spirited trinitarian debate is currently taking place on the interwebs. Contributions have come ab intra and ab extra the Reformed complementarian camp (see what I did there?), and they mainly revolve around the question of the Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) of the Son.

Here’s a quick summary of the issues, and what follows is my attempt at a bibliographical summary for my own records. If you see anything missing and/or unclear, please let me know.

Theologians speak of the Trinity in two ways: (1) the economic Trinity, which refers to trinitarian operations ad extra—toward the outside—in creation, providence, and redemption; and (2) the ontological, or immanent, Trinity, which refers to the Trinity in operations ad intra—toward the inside—within the inner life of the Trinity.

The nature and extent of the analogical relationship between the economic Trinity—how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to creation, providence, and redemption—and the immanent Trinity—how God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another—is where this debate is centered. That is, if the Son is subordinate and submissive to the Father in redemption—something virtually everyone agrees on—what reality is this analogous to (if any) in the immanent Trinity?

EFS proponents argue that Christ is subordinate to the Father in redemption because the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father in the immanent Trinity. Those against EFS disagree that the Son can be subordinate or submissive in the immanent Trinity in any way.

From what I can tell, this debate so far has boiled down to the nature of the will of God. If the will of God cannot be conceptually untethered from the essence of God (as Mark Jones argues below), then we have to say there is only one will in God (because the three persons in the Godhead have the same essence). If this is true, it would be difficult to maintain the Son’s submission to the Father in the immanent Trinity, while in the economic Trinity the submission would be explained in terms of the Son’s human nature that he took on at the incarnation. However, if the will can be conceptually explained in terms of personality (as Mark Ovey argues below), then the Son can be said to submit to the Father without compromising divine simplicity or ontological equality.

I pray this discussion will lead to God receiving more glory as we behold the wonders of the Trinity.

Against Eternal Functional Subordination:

For Eternal Functional Subordination:

Willing to affirm Eternal Obedience of the Son

Third Party Participants:

For Further Reading:

Definitional Primer: 

  • Economic Trinity: refers to the Trinity in relation in creation, providence, and redemption
  • Ontological Trinity: refers God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relation to one another from eternity past
  • Immanent Trinity: another name for the ontological Trinity
  • Ad Intra/Extra: refers to the inward (ad intra) and outward (ad extra) operations of the Trinity. Ad Intra correlates to the ontological/immanent Trinity and ad extra to the economic Trinity.
  • Taxis: Greek for “order.” Often refers to the eternal generation of the Son from the Father and the eternal procession of the Spirit from both the Father and Son
  • Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS): God the Son submits to the Father from eternity past and in eternity future both ad extra, in creation, providence, and redemption, and ad intra, in the inner life of the Trinity. Everyone who espouses EFS affirms homoousis, the Father, Son, and Spirit having the same essence and nature.
  • Eternal Generation: a way to describe the taxis of the Trinity in terms of order of subsistence—the Son shares in the essence of the Father through generation, while the Spirit share in the essence of the Father and the Son through procession
  • Arianism: A heresy named after the 4th century heretic Arius that says the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, is a created being.
  • Subordinationism: to be distinguished from functional subordination. A heresy that holds the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father, having an inferior essence (related to Homoiousian below)
  • Homoiousian: Related to Subordinationism, Homoiousian describes the essence of the Son as compared to the Father as similar (homoi-) but not the same (homo-).

Biblical Theology and Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Biblical Theology and Theological Interpretation of Scripture

NB: This is an essay I wrote for one of my PhD comprehensive exams, which I had to complete within a time limit and without any sources—hence the missing footnotes. If ever I have time in the future, I’d like to revisit it and shore up my assertions with beefy citations. Until then, I hope you can benefit from the essay as is.

The relationship between Biblical Theology (BT) and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) is complicated. For starters, meaningful comparison can only be done between two entities that are properly defined. But both BT and TIS seem to have almost as many definitions as practitioners.

What follows is my attempt to map the general contours of the BT and TIS streams, cataloguing the various historical tributaries and contemporary branches of each discipline. From there, I will compare BT and TIS, noting both similarities and differences. Finally, I will evaluate the prospects that both BT and TIS hold for evangelical interpreters.

History of Biblical Theology

In many ways, the practice of BT can be traced back to the authors of Scripture. In both the Old Testament (Psalm 78) and the New Testament (Acts 7), we find the biblical authors summarizing and synthesizing the history of God’s dealings with man. In fact, the argument could be made that much of the New Testament, for example the book of Hebrews, was a divinely inspired project of biblical theology, as the authors of the NT set about explaining the theological significance of the historical facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the reality of the church using terms and concepts rooted in the Old Testament text.

Brevard Childs, in his introduction to his Biblical Theology, argues against James Barr that biblical theology did not spring up in a vacuum, but can be traced back to the early church fathers down through the reformation to today. We can identify Irenaeus, specifically in his treatise Against Heresy, as one the first non-canonical examples of biblical theology. Irenaeus, facing the claims of the heretic Marcion that the OT text should be discarded and replaced by the NT, argued for a unity of the testaments along the lines of God’s unfolding plan in salvation history. As I will argue below, I believe this to be one of the sin qua non tenets of biblical theology, namely an historical organizing principle in approaching the biblical text.

From Irenaeus to Chysostom to Nicholas of Lyra to Thomas Aquinas, the presence of a recognizable biblical theology could be traced by a careful reader, although to apply this term to them might be seen as anachronistic. For the most part, pre-Reformation interpreters did not perceive a conceptual distance between the theology of the Bible and the theology of the church, a point made by Kevin Vanhoozer in his essay on exegesis and hermeneutics in the New Dictionary for Biblical Theology. But with Luther, Calvin, and the Reformers, it was necessary to make the distinction between the Bible’s theology and theology that is [purportedly] based on the Bible.

Due to the rise of humanism, access to and appreciation of the original languages that comprised the biblical text was growing, and with that came the ability to read the text on its own terms. Luther’s project, it could be persuasively argued, was a project in a recovery of biblical theology, or the Bible’s theology. Chief among the theological and hermeneutical presuppositions that aided Luther in his reformation project were his commitments to the principle sola scriptura and his almost wholesale rejection of the medieval fourfold senses of scripture. He rejected this in favor of the primacy of the literal meaning of the text —what Hans Frei identifies in Eclipse of Biblical Narrative as the narratival or historical meaning. Calvin likewise largely rejected the multiple senses of scripture, and operated out of the assumption that reading the Bible involved understanding the sensus literalis, the literal sense, of Scripture.

Ironically, students of the development of post-reformational hermeneutics recognized that this distance made apparent between church teaching and the bible’s theology, led to the separation and fragmentation of biblical studies, biblical theology, and dogmatic or systematic theology, as we will see below.

After the Reformation, we can trace the rise of historical-critical exegesis in the academy and the rise of various opposing dogmatic systems in protestant scholasticism and German pietism. It is in this milieu that J. P. Gabler, who is almost everywhere identified as the father of biblical theology, made his proposal for the formal separation of biblical theology and dogmatic theology.

Gabler was not the first to make this distinction, but in his 1787 address at the University of Altdorf, he called for a new era in theology. Looking out at all of the various protestant dogmas and systems that sprung up after the Reformation and the infighting that followed, Gabler suggested a way forward that could attain objective unity among scholars.

Biblical Theology, for Gabler, was to be the unifying and even “scientific” discipline on which everyone could agree, a discipline that was to be rooted in the text in an attempt to describe what the biblical authors believed, what he referred to as the wahre, or truth. By this time, however, philosophical naturalism was in vogue and skepticism reigned in the academy with regard to the events the Bible recorded. Therefore, Gabler proposed that the task of the biblical theologian was to run the beliefs of the authors through the discipline of historical criticism in order to determine what “actually happened,” what he called biblical theology. From here, Gabler argued, the dogmaticians could formulate their doctrines, what he called the reine, or pure, in accordance with what comported with Reason (philosophical rationalism) and the dogmaticians’ particular traditions.

It is one of the ironies of history that the father of biblical theology, attempting to unify the academy and Protestantism in general, opened the gates to the greatest fragmentation of theology, which led to the siloed status of the 19th century biblical studies department. The New Testament was separated from the Old Testament, gospel studies and Pauline studies were set at odds, and form-, source- and redaction-criticism were scholar’s tools to get at the “meaning” of the text, a meaning which had less and less regard for the “literal” sense of Scripture (I’m using that term here in Frei’s sense) and the plain historical referents and more regard for what “actually” happened “behind” the text.

Quickly after Gabler, historical critics such as Schleiermacher argued that the canonical unity of the scriptures—and the historical reality witnessed to therein—was inconsistence with the academy’s commitment to philosophical naturalism and thus disregard for the plain (historical/literal) meaning of scripture. “Theologies” of the Bible were replaced by the “history of religions” school, and only conservative scholars committed to the authority of the Scripture attempted “biblical theology.”

It is this context that makes Geerhardus Vos so important. At the turn of the century, Vos planted his flag in the discipline of biblical theology, taking a newly created chair of biblical theology at Princeton in the early 20th century. Arguably, it was Vos’ (evangelical) commitment to the authority and verbal-plenary inspiration of the Bible that led to his recovery of a rich tradition.

This was the context in which the Biblical Theology Movement (BTM) of the 20th century, as exemplified in the work of G. E. Wright, sprung up. The BTM insisted on a return to the unity of the canon, but, unlike Vos, it imported the historical-critical assumptions and conclusions of the previous generation. One scholar has noted that BTM shared the presuppositions of the historical critics while using the language of orthodoxy, rendering their project nearly incomprehensible. It was BTM that led to the crisis of biblical theology identified by Brevard Childs in the middle of the 20th century, illustrating the importance of theological presuppositions. While Vos’s successors are writing biblical theologies today, BTM has no heirs.

In the 21st century, biblical theology is alive and well, with both evangelical and non-evangelical scholars participating in the discipline. The what’s, why’s, and how’s of biblical theology, however, are being answered in a variety of different ways. Instead of outlining the various approaches that go by the name “biblical theology” (for an attempt at this project, see Klink and Lockett’s recent taxonomy), I will below attempt to identify some distinctives of biblical theology that most in the discipline share:

  • Historical Organizing Principle. Geerhardus Vos, in his Biblical Theology, argued that the difference between biblical theology and systematic theology can be found in their organizing principals: BT has an historical organizing principal, while ST has a logical organizing principal. What Vos means by this is that biblical theology is necessarily grounded in the history of the text—that is, the historical realities the text points to and the historical situatedness of the text itself. Biblical theologians recognize the progressive revelation of the canon, and they read the books of the Bible in light of their historical provenance—including author, date, etc. While there are several “horizons” on which the text should read, including the literary and canonical, the historical horizon is never neglected in a true biblical theology. I will speak more of this below when comparing BT to TIS, as this is one of the main divergences I see between these two disciplines.
  • Relationship between the Old and New Testaments. For the most part, biblical theology is a synthesizing discipline. Biblical theology recognizes the canonical form of the Scriptures. I will argue that evangelicals are able to do this best, as they have the only sound warrant for holding the canon together—namely the divine inspiration of the scriptures. But biblical theologians read the constituent parts in light of the whole. This is one reason why I think Klink and Lockett’s taxonomy fails, as James Barr is included among the list of biblical theologians. Barr’s project is set squarely in the history of religions school, which puts the canon on the same level as extra-canonical documents for determining “meaning” and reconstructing “history.”

While there are other distinctives of BT that could be mentioned, we will now move on to the history of TIS.

History of Theological Interpretation of Scripture

The history of TIS is much shorter than the history of BT. In fact, the phrase “theological interpretation of scripture” is only around two decades old. It was first used by Stephen Fowl, a theologian who remains a spokesperson for the movement that is as diverse as it is hard to define. The TIS movement, like the BT movement, includes evangelical interpreters such as Kevin Vanhoozer and Scott Swain, and also many non-evangelical interpreters such as Christopher Seitz and Stephen Fowl. Instead of rehearsing its extremely short history, I will attempt to list some TIS distinctives:

  • Theological Interpretation. Inherent in the name, theological interpretation is an attempt to interpret the biblical text In many ways, this is a direct repudiation of the vision set forth by J. P. Gabler for biblical theology. Instead of seeking to separate biblical studies from systematic theology, TIS practitioners purport to read the text through the lens of their theological commitments, and to do so unashamedly. That is, the TIS movement tends to want to erase the distinction between biblical theology and systematic theology.
  • Rule of Faith. Although the theological commitments of TIS interpreters are multiform and thus produce multiple readings, the one “governing” theological criteria seems to be the Rule of Faith (regula fidei). By Rule of Faith, TIS interpreters often mean the 7 ecumenical councils, and most often they mean the Nicene Creed. If one’s interpretation cannot be refuted by the creeds—the argument tends to go—then one’s interpretation cannot be refuted.
  • Pre-critical Exegesis. A common theme among TIS practitioners is an attempt to recover and deploy pre-critical modes of interpretation that are beyond the grammatical-historical or historical-critical modes, which they label as “modernistic.” This method includes, if not prefers, the fourfold sense of meaning: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. This commitment is stated in the preface to the new Brazos TIS commentaries edited by Daniel Trier, where Trier outlines the unique attributes of the series: Each contributor is committed to exploring the allegorical, moral, and anagogical readings of scripture.
  • Ressourcement. A final distinctive of TIS, which is part and parcel with pre-critical exegesis, is giving ear to earlier “readings” of Scripture. The TIS movement has set about rejuvenating lost and forgotten interpretations of scriptures. Interestingly, this is done most often from the patristic and medieval period, and less often are readings revived from the Reformation onward, such as the project undertaken by Swain and Allen in their book Reformed Catholicity.

Theological Interpretation of Scripture vs. Biblical Theology


TIS and BT, as separate disciplines, share several broad similarities. In practice, however, the similarities between TIS and BT have more to do with the presuppositions and theologies of the interpreter than the discipline they are consciously operating in. Evangelical TIS and BT practitioners both share a commitment to: (1) The verbal, plenary, inspiration of the Bible, (2) the primacy and authority of the canonical books, and (3) a rejection of the historical-critical conclusions that stem from a naturalistic worldview. Below, I will list more broad agreement between the TIS and BT disciplines.

1) Canonical Interpretation. Both TIS and BT are committed to canonical interpretation. That is, both BT and TIS reject the notion that the Old Testament should be sequestered off from the New Testament, and vice versa. Even when biblical theologians are operating at the level of a singular book, or author, or testament, they are aware of the canonical context.

2) Textually Oriented. Both TIS and BT are textual enterprises. While the how of interpretation is often different, what is being interpreted is the same. It is the Bible’s theology that BT is after, and the interpretation of Scripture that TIS is concerned with. Whether or not this comes with an evangelical warrant—namely the inspiration of the canonical writings—both BT and TIS recognize the object of study to be the canonical text.


If we are not limiting the investigation to evangelical practitioners of BT and TIS, it is clear that there are far more differences than similarities between BT and TIS.

1) Geschichte vs. Historie. At the end of the 19th century, a German scholar by the name of Martin Kähler used the terms Geschichte and Historie to describe an undercurrent that had been present in biblical studies since Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant is famous for his distinction between the noumena and phenomena, a distinction that he found necessary after he was “awakened” by the philosophy of David Hume. For Kant, the visible, experiential realm is accessible through the senses alone and is determined by natural cause and effect. This realm he called the phenomena. The noumena, while it may or may not exist (for Kant it did exist), is the realm that is not “provable” by experience or observation—in other words, by science. The noumena is not governed by naturalistic cause and effect and is only accessible by “faith.” Many scholars recognize Platonic undertones to this Kantian system.

Thus when Kähler used the term Geschichte to describe the biblical text, he was talking about “salvation-history” that was not verifiable nor explainable in naturalistic terms (noumena). Only Historie is verifiable and explainable and is bound by naturalistic cause and effect (phenomena). In Kähler’s system, Historie and Geschichte, while they both may really exist, were closed off from one another. This Historie/Geschichte distinction made a profound impact on the theologies of two of most important theologians in the 20th century: Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth.

For both Bultmann and Barth, Historie is rooted in chronos, or natural time, and Geschichte in kairos, or heavenly time(lessness). Bultmann applied the concept of Geschichte to the realm of faith—the personal experience of the believer with the “Christ of Faith” as opposed to the “Jesus of History”—in order to make the message of the Bible palatable to modern, naturalistic hearers who did not believe in miracles, let alone the resurrection from the dead. But Barth, on the other hand, applied the concept of Geschichte to salvation-history, much in the same way as Kähler. Barth believed that miracles took place and Jesus rose actually from the dead, he was just unwilling—even unable—to say that these things happened in Historie. This is what makes Barth so difficult for evangelicals.

I rehearse this history and bring up this distinction between Geshichte and Historie to make this point: TIS seems to be happy to operate in the realm of Geschichte while being agnostic on Historie. BT, however, does not remain agnostic to Historie. In fact, I would argue that any BT worth its salt operates at the intersection of Geschichte and Historie (here I’m following loosely the argument laid for by Michael Horton in Covenant and Eschatology). This has been referred to occasionally as Heilsgeschichte, but this term can be confused by a more liberal use of Heilsgeschichte to refer just to Geschichte. Instead, I propose the term Historischgeschichte, by which I mean the intersection of the material with the immaterial—or better, the unification of Historie and Geschichte under God’s unfolding plan for his creation in relationship to himself.

It the above account is accepted, we see two progenitors of two different disciplines at the beginning of the 20th century: Geerhardus Vos and Karl Barth. Vos described his brand of biblical theology as the “History of Special Revelation,” a biblical theology that studies the intersection of special revelation and history, which is seen ultimately in the incarnation of the eternal Word, Jesus. Barth, on the other hand, was to contented to be agnostic to Historie—the material, organic, development of revelation in this space and time—and instead focused on the presence of the Word with the believer in interpretation, reading the miraculous in the context of Geschichte, not Historie. In this way, I would submit that TIS operates downstream of Barth, and BT downstream of Vos (and the Reformers and the biblical authors).

2) Antioch vs. Alexandria. As noted above, one of the tenets of TIS is a recovery of pre-critical exegesis. In practice, this often means the preference of allegorical, moral, and anagogical readings of Scripture over against the grammatical-historical (or literal). For most BT interpreters, though, because of the historical component of the discipline, the grammatical-historical (or literal) reading is preferred, with occasional recourse to typological (what some call typological-allegorical) readings. Here is another noted difference between BT and TIS—in the issue of hermeneutics.

In many ways, this dispute can be traced back to Alexandria and Antioch. Although any sharp distinction between these schools is challenged by some, many historians conclude that the Alexandrian School, as exemplified by Origen, produced more allegorical readings of Scripture, while the Antioch School, as exemplified by Chrysostom, more “historical/literal” readings. Regardless of whether or not two “schools” existed in Antioch and Alexandria, any honest reader of these two figures will notice a difference in their interpretations. When reading Origen, one begins to wonder if his reading could ever be duplicated by another looking at the same text. But when reading Chrysostom, one can easily follow his exegetical moves. Interestingly, Origen is often held up as the poster-boy for TIS exegesis, while Irenaeus and Chrysostom are more often cited by BT proponents.

Looking at the fourfold sense of the medieval (and sometimes Patristic) hermeneutic, we can categorize the TIS and BT methods. For the most part, TIS tends to use the entire fourfold scheme: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical, but TIS often favors the latter three over the first. BT, on the other hand, tends to use only the first two: literal and typological-allegorical, and even then the scheme is modified. By using the term typological-allegorical, often termed merely typological, BT practitioners are referring to historical correspondence (and some would argue typological escalation) between figures and events in an earlier and later text. The difference between BT’s typology and TIS’s allegory is textual warrant. Allegory, by definition, uses an external grid for interpretation, while typology uses textual cues to establish textual connections.

This major difference can be explained by looking at predominant influences in the TIS camp. As mentioned above, Karl Barth can be described as a forerunner to TIS. For Barth, the “literal” sense of Scripture has less to do with “history” and everything to do with “the Spirit,” which can be equated to the moral and anagogical senses of reading. In addition to Barth, you will more readily find the bibliographies of the TIS movement referencing postmodern hermeneutical theorists like Gadamer, Eco, Riceour, and even Fish and Derrida.

Gadamer’s Wirkungsgeschichte—whereby the meaning of a text is mediated through its reception history—can also explain the ressourcement tenet of TIS. Riceour and Eco, both postmodern literary theorists, emphasize the contexts of the interpreter and the interpretation when examining a text’s meaning, which aligns with TIS’s affinity for the allegorical sense reading. It is interesting, then, to see the Yale School (Lindebeck, Frei, Childs) and its emphasis on literary readings—which align more with the “literal” reading of the fourfold sense of Scripture—in TIS bibliographies as well. The Yale School and their literary emphases just as often shows up in BT bibliographies. Perhaps this is one of the reasons TIS is so difficult to define—there are many tributaries.

3) Authorial Intent. These two differences above explain the diverging approaches of BT and TIS to authorial intent. TIS methods, especially in the hands of a non-evangelical interpreter, can come to textual meaning regardless of whether or not the attributed author existed. That is, the majority of the “readings” of the TIS movement would be no different if the entire Bible was written in the 2nd century by one man. This is strikingly different from BT, which takes into consideration at which point along Scripture’s progressive unfolding each particular book was written. Because of this, many in the TIS movement have rejected the search for authorial intent, opting instead for a more postmodern hermeneutical approach, such as Gadamer’s Wirkungsgeschichte or Eco’s reader-response hermeneutic. Instead, in the BT camp, while the term “authorial intent” might not always be used, what the author meant and how the text was understood at the time it was written is always of prime importance. Because of this, one is more likely to find E. D. Hirsch in the bibliography of a BT project than Stanley Fish.

Evangelical Prospects 

Evangelical interpreters can and do operate in both TIS and BT circles. But here are a few cautions:

The Chicago Statement of Inerrancy affirms biblical authorial attribution as part of what is divinely inspired when it occurs in the text. That is, when the Bible says Moses wrote a book, the evangelical interpreter believes Moses wrote that book, and it should make a difference in one’s interpretation.

TIS’s agnosticism toward authors and the history the text bears witness to must concern and be addressed by evangelicals. In his inaugural address at Princeton, Geerhardus Vos, referring to the text of Scripture and the events recorded therein, said: “without God’s acts the words would be empty, without His words the acts would be blind.” I think the TIS movement, with its ahistorical approach, is in danger of interpreting empty words.

On the flip side, evangelical practitioners of BT need to be willing to hear the critique from TIS that our interpretations must and always will be theological. That is, the Enlightenment project of the pure, unadorned, tabula rasa of a mind is impossible. We must be honest about our presuppositions. But this should be encouraging to the evangelical, for our presuppositions are these: the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the Reformers got it right in their commitment to Sola Scriptura. Just as important, though, evangelical TIS practitioners need to be careful not to assign their “theologies” a status above the Scripture.

Along with this, evangelicals need to recognize that there was a reason why Luther and Calvin rejected the fourfold sense. Apart from a grammatical-historical reading that is sensitive to it literary context—the canon—whereby the authorial intentions of the author are quested for and respected, there is no guard against relativity, and thus no guard against subjectivity and the loss of truth. Douglas J. Moo makes this point when he notes that for Paul, there was a right way and a wrong way to read the prophets, otherwise there would have been no debate in the synagogues. Likewise, the Reformers realized that there was a right way and a wrong way to read Paul, and this important point led to the recovery of the gospel for the Church. If our methods do not allow us to say why a reading is right and why a reading is wrong, then we can no longer do what Paul commanded Timothy when he told him to guard against wolves who distort the Word.

Let the evangelical interpreter plunder the Egyptians, as it were, and take the best that is offered from TIS and BT—even from non-evangelical interpreters. But let us at the end of the day be found faithful to the Lord Jesus and his Word.

Bruce Jenner, Biological Sex, and Science Deniers

Bruce Jenner, Biological Sex, and Science Deniers

What is the biological sex of Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner? No, this isn’t a question about the gender that Jenner was “assigned at birth” (as if a gender announcement in the delivery room has any material effect on the sex of a baby), or the gender that appears on Jenner’s birth certificate, or the gender Jenner currently identifies as.

What I am after is the science behind the reality. Or better, the science that is the reality.

If Jenner walked into a clinic where individuals can have genetics tests done, what would Jenner’s results indicate? What are the chromosomal realities behind the person that is Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner?

Is there anyone who would doubt, were such a test to be done, that the results would return sex chromosomes XY?

So what is Jenner’s biological sex? Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, President Obama—what is Jenner’s biological sex?

If you say anything other than male, are you not a science denier?


Surrogacy and Personhood

Surrogacy and Personhood

“My body, my choice.” So goes the slogan of the pro-abortion movement. Unless, of course, you are a surrogate—or is that the case?

The Atlantic ran a fascinating article recently entitled “When Parents and Surrogates Disagree on Abortion.” In it, the author wrestles with the difficult questions surrounding the meaning of fatherhood, motherhood, and personhood—even if sometimes unintentionally.

In her article, Katie O’Reilly details the story of a 47-year-old California woman, Melissa Cook, who has contracted with a 50-year-old single man in Georgia to be a surrogate for his children. After an in vitro fertilization procedure, doctors implanted three embryos that were created from eggs donated by an anonymous 20-year-old and the single man’s sperm. All three babies are healthy and viable, but the man is now insisting the woman abort one, citing “limited finances and the health of the babies.” Cook is refusing to abort and is demanding the right to adopt the third even as she gives the other two to the man she contracted with. Needless to say, the situation is complicated.

Commenting on the situation in a profound understatement, O’Reilly writes,

As long as people have been using third-party reproduction, they’ve been grappling with novel legal and social questions about the meaning of parenthood.

She goes on to ask what she terms are the legal, bioethical, and political questions involved in these cases:

Who are the parents of the fetuses, and who gets to make such decisions? What are the implications for women’s reproductive autonomy?

Before there is the legal, the bioethical, and the political, though, there is the moral and theological. These questions involve definitions of fatherhood, motherhood, and personhood, which can only be answered from a properly theological foundation—a foundation that O’Reilly seems unwilling to acknowledge.

O’Reilly goes on to reveal that she once was an egg donor herself and in the process, she had to grapple with the emotional complications inevitable in the new, Wild Wild West of reproductive technology.

In 2009, I went through an agency in California to donate my eggs to anonymous parents. At 25, I donated out of financial desperation, so I found myself surprised by how overjoyed I was when the birth mother became pregnant with triplets. I was also devastated a few months later, when I learned via our agency liaison that she had lost two of the fetuses in utero. And when I learned much later that egg-donation recipients who become pregnant with multiples are often advised to “selectively reduce”—which very well could have been a factor in my recipients’ case—I found the idea unsettling, despite the fact that I’m fervently pro-choice [emphasis added].

O’Reilly is “unsettled” about the selective abortion of one of the infants she contributed genetic material to create because she recognizes—hard as she might try to suppress it—the personhood and inherent worth of the child who lost its life.

Later in the article, O’Reilly quotes Elizabeth Reis, a professor of gender and bioethics at City University of New York.

“There’s so much interaction between a mother’s body and a developing fetus,” says Reis. “Nowadays, we understand that with surrogacy, you’re not just putting something in a toaster and having it come out, with no give and take. Now that egg donation is all over the place, we don’t want to think that because someone gave an egg, they’re a mother. But should these women—donors and surrogates—have some kind of relationship with the child? [emphasis added].

And this gets to my central concern. In this article, which so desperately tries to paint surrogacy and abortion and reproductive freedom in neutral colors, there appears a third party that is not being considered in these contractual relationships: the unborn child. The tacit, unstated reality of the infant’s personhood is made clear when a man demands—and a contract reflects—legal control over the life of a little one who is growing inside of a surrogate’s womb. Her body, her choice? If her body were the only meaningful entity, then these surrogacy contracts would be meaningless.

Then is it her body, the baby’s body, and their choice? If so, then it is a choice that involves nothing short of life and death.

There are a whole host of moral and theological concerns with surrogacy. But we should be thankful for articles like this that shine a bright light on the persons that this culture of death so desperately wants to ignore. How ironically backwards is it when a business whose whole purpose is to bring persons into this world does not even recognize these persons as persons? Lord, have mercy.

New York Magazine and a Vision of the Good Life

New York Magazine and a Vision of the Good Life

New York Magazine has a cover story written by Rebecca Traister that details the rise of the American single woman, both praising her influence and lamenting the wider culture’s failure to embrace her in all her liberated glory. It’s a must-read article if for no other reason than that it gives a fascinating glimpse into the motivations of the machination that is the feminist project. Consider this zinger:

The most radical of feminist ideas–the disestablishment of marriage–has been so widely embraced as to have become habit, drained of its political intent but ever-more potent insofar as it has refashioned the course of average female life.

In case you missed it, Traister (a married woman herself) admits that one of the radical–here perhaps she means most fundamental–of feminist ideas is the disestablishment of marriage. And that is exactly what we are seeing unfold before our eyes in today’s wider American cultural climate.

But more interesting from my perspective is Traister’s underlying vision of the good life. What, according to Traister, is necessary in order to have a fulfilling, well-lived life? From what I can tell, her picture of the good life is summed up in this: relational independence.

The way Traister begins her article is telling, with a boast of how long she “made it” in the world independently before she married.

By the time I walked down the aisle–or rather, into a judge’s chamber–in 2010, at the age of 35, I had lived 14 independent, early-adult years that my mother had spend married. I had made friends and fallen out with friends, had moved in and out of apartments, had been hired, fired, promoted, and quit. I had had roommates and I had lived on my own; I’d been on several forms of birth control and navigated a few serious medical questions; I’d paid my own bills and failed to pay my own bills; I’d fallen in love and fallen out of love and spent five consecutive years with nary a fling. I’d learned my way around new neighborhoods, felt scared and felt completely at home; I’d been heartbroken, afraid, jubilant, and bored.

I was a grown-up: a reasonably complicated person. I’d become that person not in the company of any one man, but alongside my friends, my family, my city, my work, and, simply, by myself.

Later in her article, Traister summarizes her research into the lives of other single women and she concludes that, again, what these women are after is independence.

Academic drive, the urge to capitalize on educational opportunity, a plan to put off distracting romantic entanglement, all with the conscious desire to make later independence possible: These motivations were mentioned by nearly every one of the college students or recent graduates I interviewed.

A quote from a young woman interviewed by Traister, who is a senior at Northwestern University, puts a fine point on this desire fundamental for relational independence.

I know it sounds hyperbolic, but I mean it when I say that getting married right now would ruin my life. I want freedom. I want the chance to pick up and move to a new city for a new job or for adventure, without having to worry about a spouse of a family. I need to be able to stay at the office until three in the morning if I have to and not care about putting dinner on the table.

Don’t miss this. Here is this young woman’s picture of the good life, and by extension, Traister’s picture of the good life. This is what relational independence looks like: staying at the office until 3am instead of coming home and eating dinner with your family.

If this is the good life, count me out.

We were created for relationship. We are relational beings, so much so that some theologians define the imago dei in purely relational terms, meaning that man is created in the image of God insofar as he is a creature with capacity for relationship. Our relationship with God and humanity, the first and second greatest commandments, is the sum of our purpose for existence.

The Christian worldview is clear as to what constitutes the good life. It is to be in right, even dependent, relationship with our Creator and fellow creatures

Given the choice between being in the office until 3am or coming home to my family for dinner, well, I’m choosing cooking and praying and eating and laughing and singing and cleaning every single time.