Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Silence by Shusaku Endo

My suspicion is that the majority of Christians in the west, much like myself, have never heard about the earliest Catholic missions to Japan in the 17th Century. The Jesuits came to Japan in 1549, and while I should not (and cannot) here give a history of Christianity in Japan, it is worth admitting that the 1630s and 40s were a time of unbearable persecution. The tortures exacted on the Christians of Japan during this time are horrifying to consider.

Shusaku Endo’s book Silence, a fictionalized account of true events, was written in the 1960s by a Roman Catholic.  I speak of this book as neither a Catholic, nor as someone with any special or unique knowledge of the history of Christianity in Japan. One of Endo’s enduring themes is the incompatibility of Christianity (or any other religion) with the Japanese culture. One of Endo’s repeating themes in this book is that Japan is a “swamp” which takes, changes, and transforms ideologies until they no longer resemble their former selves. From reading the translator’s preface, one can see that there are autobiographical aspects to this argument. Endo sees a struggle within his own heart away from his Catholicism, and in one interview said that in spite of his own religious upbringing, “there was always that feeling in my heart that it was something borrowed, and I began to wonder what my real self was like. This I think is the ‘mud swamp’ Japanese in me.” So for Endo, Christianity can never really take root in Japan unless it changes, transforms, or adapts. Of course, this is a popular modern theme, this idea that Christianity will wither and die if it does not change with the times. It seems harder to believe here in the West where most people still preserve some nominally religious veneer. It’s a bit more persuasive when one considers that less than 1% of people in Japan are Christian. I do not agree with Endo that Christianity must change in order to be received, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this book review. So while I am not sympathetic with Endo’s larger project, I found myself utterly captivated by Silence. Reading this book was a remarkable experience for me. I will try to make the case here that Christians need to be made more aware of this book. It belongs on our bookshelves next to Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer and the writings of Flannery O’Connor in the sense that it asks the hard questions, pushes the reader in painful ways, and does not offer preachy or simple answers.

[I warn that from here on out my review contains spoilers. If you want to read the book, I recommend that you get it and read it right away, but do stop reading this review!] The novel takes place in the 1630s after a Jesuit priest in Japan named Ferreira is reported to have apostatized from the faith. Finding this impossible to believe, the Priests Rodrigues and Garpe make the dangerous journey from Portugal to Japan in order to live as missionaries among the Japanese and also to find out what the truth is of Ferreira’s fate. Half of the book is the written journal of Rodrigues, while the other half of the book is either written in a third person format, or contains the letters of others associated with the narrative. Rodriguez and Garpe are eventually captured by the authorities and witness horrific circumstances as they watch the Japanese Christians laying down their lives for the faith. There is no glory in these martyrdoms, as Rodriguez had always imagined. Rather, there is a brutality and cruelty which he had never imagined. Prior to the arrival of Rodriguez, the Japanese forced the priests to renounce the faith and tortured them until they did so, with none of them recanting. However, we soon discover that the Japanese chose a different method altogether, beginning with Ferreira. They use this same technique to great effect on Rodriguez, as well. Rather than torturing the priests, they torture the Christians, telling Rodriguez that all he must do is renounce the faith in order to end their sufferings.

Some of the greatest struggle in the book takes place as Rodriguez recounts his own psychological struggles. There are hard questions. It is one thing to suffer for your own faith – to endure pain and suffering for the sake of one’s love for Christ. But is it self-centered to refuse to recant in order to end another’s suffering? At one climactic moment in the book, Rodriguez can hear the moaning of the Christians as they hang in the pit, their cries going up and reaching his ears. These Christians have all recanted, but they will not be released until Rodriguez tramples the image of Christ. Suddenly, the image of Christ speaks: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.” Rodriguez obeys, and the Christians are released.

The title of the book, Silence refers to Rodriguez’ constant lament that God is silent as his people suffer. “Why is God continually silent while those groaning voices go on?” At one point Rodriguez is praying and he says, “'Lord, I resented your silence.” He receives a reply: “I was not silent. I suffered beside you.” The book is Job-like in its unwillingness to offer straight answers.

And so the novel forces us to ask if what Rodriguez did is right or wrong. The book implies that he never really gives up believing, but that he spends the remainder of his days as a secret Christian of sorts, outwardly obeying the magistrate. As long as the priests stay away and Rodriguez continues as he is, the authorities promised to leave the Christians alone.

Later in the book, Inoue speaks to Rodriguez and he says, “I’ve told you. This country of Japan is not suited to the teaching of Christianity. Christianity simply cannot put down roots here…you were not defeated by me…You were defeated by this swamp of Japan.”

Another character in the novel who matters a great deal is the weakling Kichijiro, who is a pathetic figure, folding under persecution every time, terrified of the authorities, turning in Father Rodriguez at one point, but always returning, always repenting. At one point Rodriguez is thinking of Kichijiro and he wonders to himself: “How many of our Christians, if only they had been born in another age from this persecution would never have been confronted with the problem of apostasy or martyrdom but would have lived blessed lives of faith until the very hour of death.” What stinging words! To Christians who live in the West, free of persecution, free of tortures and pain it is so easy for us to judge one such as Kichijiro, and yet constantly throughout the novel we are confronted repeatedly by his tragic and pathetic figure. I think that we as readers would be wise to see ourselves in Kichijiro.

There is so much to be said. In spite of the fact that there is a some speculation on all sides of the question, I do not know if Father Rodriguez ever really believed. Endo is more concerned with the experience, struggle, and choices made by Rodriguez than delving into his own eternal election (I use this for the lack of a better word). The fact is, we all experience our lives as a linear succession, just as Rodriguez, and so in a real sense he leaves us as epistemologically unsure of Rodriguez’ eternal fate as we each can be of our own. In the face of persecution, what sort of eternal assurance can a person have who has folded under the pressures of persecution, and especially the kind that Rodriguez faced? Is there a place with Christ for those who outwardly apostatize themselves? Endo certainly appears to believe so.

Endo has complained in the past that part of the reason this book was so controversial in Japan upon its release was that people read the book as theology and not as literature. I’ll resist the urge to follow Endo’s critics into the murky theological waters that one could surely enter after reading this book. Endo’s novel is a masterpiece, plain and simple. Christians need to meditate upon the nature of suffering, the pains of martyrdom, and the difficult questions that confront us in this novel. I have lamented before that Protestant writers seem to be incapable of facing painful and hard existential questions like those in this book without resorting to preachy narrative devices. Silence is the exemplification of how to do a novel tackling the subject of faith and suffering head-on while avoiding the dreadfully tacky literary pitfalls we see all around us.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: God Is Impassible and Impassioned by Rob Lister

Rob Lister’s book God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion was easily the biggest surprise from Crossway of this last year. On top of that, it was (dare I say it!) my favorite book of 2012. I had thought that I would never again see a robust defense of the old-school, mainstream Christian view of divine impassibility in a non-academic form. Even among those who ought to be defending the historical Reformed doctrines, many have adopted modified versions of divine impassibility that seem to back away from traditional teachings on the subject.

Given the apparent contemporary retreat of classic doctrines such as simplicity and impassibility, each page was read by me with some trepidation. I kept reading it, expecting some sort of backpedaling or compromise on the doctrine of immutability. In the end, I have to hand it to Rob Lister – he pleasantly surprised me and has written one of the finest defenses of the orthodox doctrine of divine impassibility that I’ve seen. Perhaps even more to his credit, this is a book that curious church members can read – you don’t need a PhD in Philosophy to understand the book, thankfully. That isn't to say that you could give it to your grandma, either. There's meat here that takes a lot of chewing - especially the last two chapters.

It is the conventional wisdom of critics of divine impassibility that impassibility is a philosophical hold-over from the Hellenistic thought that was imbibed by the early church fathers. Recognizing this, Lister begins the book by surveying the Hellenistic views of impassibility, arguing that the similarities that contemporary critics of impassibility point out are merely superficial. He then goes on to show that when the Pastristics wrote in defense of impassibility, they did so with Scriptural foundations and that their doctrine of impassibility was not the strictly philosophical construct those modern critics of the doctrine would have people believe.

(He does throw Justin Martyr under the bus in his discussion of the Fathers, but judging by the quotes in his section of Martyr, this action may be justified. Speaking as a non-expert on Justin, he does seem to emphasize impassibility in a way more in keeping with Platonism than Biblical Christianity.)

These chapters also serve to offer representative formulations of the doctrine. This helps the book in the sense that the book is not simply about a nebulous doctrine that is never explicitly defined, but that it is a specific doctrine taught by a specific people, grounded in a common Christian approach to interpreting God’s emotions as demonstrated and taught in Scripture.

One of the important themes for Lister is that orthodox theology has long recognized a dual reality with regard to impassibility. The first theme regards impassibility proper. Essentially, says Lister, “God is…invulnerable to involuntarily precipitated emotional vicissitude” (175). The second theme that Lister is developing is one which modern criticisms of traditional impassibility seem to disregard, and that is the idea that God has long been regarded by orthodox theologians and church fathers to be impassioned. By this, he means that God is “supremely passionate about his creatures’ practice of obedience and rebellion, as well as their experience of joy and affliction” (175). He spends time developing this idea a bit, but he essentially argues that “God has always purposed to respond volitionally and emotively in just this or that way in the face of given actions by his creatures.”

The second half of the book is Lister’s attempt to “develop this historically precedented and biblically required model, here entitled ‘Impassible and Impassioned’” (171). He begins this part of the book by facing down the hermeneutical realities of a defense of impassibility. The Bible does not oppose the idea of drawing metaphysical conclusions from it, for starters. He quotes Paul Helm, who says that “the Bible does not repudiated developed metaphysics; rather, for the most part it obliquely sidesteps it.” Passiblists, however, argue as if Scripture precludes such thinking. In this, however, there is a manifest inconsistency on their part. Lister points out: "In the case of contemporary passibilism, it is interesting to observe the following inconsistency: On the one hand, as we have pointed out, passibilists often suggest that they are suspicious of metaphysical reflection. On the other hand, they are very quick to appeal to Scripture's many narrative depictions of God's emotional involvement with creation as grounds for the metaphysical doctrine of divine passibility” (173 n7).

He then gives a redemptive-historical outline of God’s interaction with others, beginning prior to creation in the intra-Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. He moves out from there through the creation, fall, and redemption. Through it all, Lister argues, we ought not to see God as reacting to humanity so much as expressing his unchanging self analogically in the context of a changing and increasingly sinful environment. To be a bit more technical, Lister suggests that we think of God’s self-revelation as “anthropomorphic in the order of knowing and theomorphic in the order of being” (185). The subject of accommodation is vital here, because the passibilist hermeneutic seems to discount accommodation in many ways. “If the Bible seems to say that God changes,” argues the passibilist theologian, “then there is no room for this to be said, in the way it is said as a way of accommodating our language. It must reflect a real and fundamental change in God.” Such thinking is a disregard of the fact that, as Calvin put it, “God lisps to us.”

In Chapter 9 Lister sets forth a more nuanced version of the model he has spent most of the book assuming. Lister begins with the Creator/creature distinction. From the get-go, according to Lister, this distinction implies that “as God’s image bearers, we are God’s analogues and not his ontological peers. Thus, it will not do to assert a set of univocal conclusions about God, based on our experience as image bearers” (219). He elaborates by pointing to the ontological and ethical distance between the Creator and his creatures. This is important because, if true, it keeps us “from extrapolating from our creaturely and sinful experience to a univocal assertion of what God’s emotional experience must be like” (221). This Creator/creature distinction (“and not reckless metaphysical speculation”) grounds the Christian’s right understanding of transcendence and immanence.

Although Lister finds much agreement with Paul Helm with regard to impassibility, it is worth noting, as an aside, that he does have one fundamental disagreement with him. Helm argues that “God can never experience emotion as an affect” (231). Lister responds: “I would say that God can never experience emotion as an involuntary affect, rather than saying that he can never experience emotion as an affect in any sense. With regard to God’s temporal interactions, then, says Lister, “in view of his freely self-willed condescension, he may also be responsive within the time continuum that in himself he stands over as Lord” (231). Although I consider myself more of a black coffee impassiblist and tend to sympathize with Helm’s formulation, I do think that Lister is right here. Helm’s construction is too reductive in that it forces one to choose between God as either eternal or relational.

For Lister, God’s emotional interactions with temporal creatures are founded upon his unchanging nature. “God’s relational passions accord completely with his will, but his passion is no less passionate for being perfectly voluntary” (243). Put another way, “Though God’s covenantal affections toward a fallen creation are new affective manifestations of God’s immutable self-commitment, they are not random, disconnected, and ex nihilo emotional experiences. Rather, they are the suited emotional manifestations of divine love in the face of a fallen and rebellious order” (243).

Lister’s concludes the chapter laying out his theological formulation of impassibility by stating that God’s ontologically transcendent passion is his impassibility. Consequently, God’s ethically transcendent passion is what he terms his impassionedness (251-252). There is something symmetrically appealing about this conclusion. I absolutely give it my stamp of approval. Lister’s conclusion, of course, means that “suffering does not pertain to God in the way that modern passibilists would have us believe” (260).

Lister concludes the book with a reflection on the incarnation and its relationship to this doctrine of impassibility. This concluding chapter was surprisingly my favorite chapter. Lister’s argument in this chapter is important, because modern passibilist arguments most certainly hinge on the incarnation. “The passibilist argument from the incarnation usually hinges on Jesus’ experience of suffering and death, believing that if the experience of divine suffering and death can be extrapolated from the incarnational union, then the broader conclusion of divine emotional passibility necessarily follows as well” (261). Lister dissents from this thinking by relying on solid and Chalcedonian Christology. “Jesus’ experience of human suffering and death does not invalidate the impassibility of his divine nature, and neither does his experience of human emotions” (262).

First, says Lister, it is not the nature of Christ which suffered, but the person of Christ. The nature merely exposes him to the experience of suffering, which he endures in and divine/human person. “The person of the Son experienced suffering and death humanly” (274). But, to borrow Bruce Marshall’s words, “As much suffers as can: the whole person, on account of his human, not his divine, nature” (quoted on 274). According to Lister, this way of thinking of the natures “avoids the problem of abstractly hypostasizing one of Christ’s natures and making that the seat of experience” (274).

Secondly, Lister utilizes the orthodox model of the divine and human minds of Christ, arguing that the two minds in Christ were not symmetrical. Jesus Christ thought with a human mind and depended upon the Spirit for his access to divine knowledge. “Jesus’ anguish was humanly experienced and completely real, since throughout his passion the Spirit was restricting access to his divine mind.” This means that Jesus took upon himself a human nature, which enabled to do something which he was naturally incapable of doing – suffering. It also means that his divine mind did not suffer. This is a barrier against the passiblist insistence that the incarnation subjected the divine nature to suffering.

Thirdly, Lister appeals to the extra Calvinisticum, which according to Muller, “argued that the Word is fully united to but never totally contained within the human nature” (quoted on 277). Lister’s appeal to the extra Calvinisticum means that, contra Moltmann, “despite the reality of all the self-conscious distress of Jesus’ passion, the ontological Trinity was not so rent…the Son…did not ontologically cease to be the Son for the duration of the crucifixion” (278).

Lister’s argument in the closing chapter is essentially that an orthodox Christology is protection against the arguments of passibilists. In fact, he doesn’t quite go as far as to accuse passibilists of being heretics, but it seems to be inescapably implied that some forms of the passibilist arguments imply a borderline Apollinarian Christology. The fact is, errors regarding the nature of God and his interaction with creation do not occur in isolation. An argument for divine passibility that hinges on the incarnation exposes itself to Christological errors if it does not tread carefully.

Most readers can already see that I adored God is Impassible and Impassioned. It is easily my favorite book of 2012, and I am filled with joy knowing that there are still solid works of theology being produced which do not shy away from the historic doctrines of the Christian faith. Although there are philosophers out there who will not care for this book and will probably snobbishly turn their noses up at its conclusions and its none-to-complex arguments, this is a book that has been needed, and I will gladly turn those who struggle with impassibility towards it for many years to come.

[Although I was sent this book free of charge by the publisher, I was not required to give a positive review.]

Friday, January 11, 2013

Comparing Turretin and Kruger on the Canon (Part 3)


As we develop some concluding thoughts, it is important to note from the beginning that there are foundational similarities between Kruger and Turretin. As an example, the following quote from Turretin deserves some attention: “[The Church] declares the already existing authority by arguments drawn from the books themselves.”  Compare that to Kruger’s insistence that “the canon guides, controls, and determines how it is authenticated.”  Both statements reflect an effort to give Scripture foundational authority even in its own construction.

The strongest similarities between Kruger and Turretin are rooted in their recognition of a threefold epistemic cause of faith in Scripture. The following chart is an attempt to point out the substantive similarities between Kruger and Turretin in relation to their understanding of the threefold epistemic environment for belief in the Bible’s divinity.

From this chart, it must be admitted that for Turretin, external considerations do play some factor in answering challenges to the canon. It is important to emphasize that this is also the case for Kruger. Kruger is not saying that the sole consideration of a book’s canonicity is determined by external matters. Rather, borrowing from Ridderbos, he says: “Historical judgment cannot be the final and sole ground for the church’s accepting the New Testament as canonical.”   As Kruger says elsewhere: “If one of the attributes of canonicity is a book’s apostolic origins, then this entails an appeal to some external historical evidences to establish whether a book is apostolic…the key difference is that in the self-authenticating model the external evidence does not stand alone as an independent standard to which Scripture must measure up.” 

It would be very difficult, given these statements from Turretin, to fit him into an evidentialist mold or into a historically determined model for the canon as exemplified by Warfield. Those who disagree with this conclusion might be tempted to refer to places in Turretin’s writings where he points to historical realities to reinforce his arguments, therefore demonstrating that Turretin is not averse to historical methods. They would be mistaken, in assuming that historical arguments are disallowed, given the self-authenticating model. The self-authenticating model admittedly makes historical arguments part of its approach. It is, however, opposed to making historical considerations the sole determiner of what books are canonical and what books are not.

On the other hand, while someone such as Warfield would not in the least denigrate or reject the importance of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the canon and while they would not reject the divine qualities of Scripture, they would be averse to making these two traits foundational criteria for determining what is Scripture and what is not. As quoted earlier, “If the historical authenticity of our Canon is to be denied, it must be done at the expense of all our historical sources; at the expense of the falsification of history herself; at the expense of the destruction of the grounds of all historic inquiry.” When the authenticity of the canon is rejected, it is not fundamentally the Scriptures themselves which are being rejected and it is not the Holy Spirit who is being spurned, but it is the historical material that is being rejected. In that sense, the Warfieldian who claims Turretin as an ally in this discussion has an uphill climb. For Warfield, apostolicity is fundamentally a historical search.

As Kruger said earlier, the self-determining model of canon utilizes a three-dimensional approach, taking into account Scripture itself, the church’s role in receiving the canon, and the Holy Spirit’s role in caring for the canon while ensuring that the Church trust and hold to it. All three dimensions of this approach are indispensable in Turretin, and just as in Kruger, none of the three features take higher priority over the others in his Institutes.  While it is not being argued that Turretin and Kruger are identical in their views, and while they were writing in different contexts, for different audiences, and at somewhat different purposes, the similar trajectories between them are worth appreciating.

Archibald Alexander, Thomas Chalmers, and William Cunningham  have all acknowledged that historically the Reformed camp has generally become divided between two approaches to the canon.   In the one tradition, and emphasis is placed on the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (it has been argued that Kruger and Turretin both easily fit into this mold).  In the other tradition belong those emphasizing external evidences for the canon (obviously Warfield and many others belong in this category).  This is an intramural debate within the Reformed world, and there is much overlap between the historical approach and the self-authenticating approach.  At the end of the day, there are differences in approach to this issue, but all parties within the Reformed tradition have a common affirmation: this is the infallible and inerrant word of God.  Such an affirmation is rare in the world today and is a beautiful display of unity within the body of Christ and of the truthfulness of Christ’s statement, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

[You can download the complete PDF of this series, which includes the complete footnotes (not included in the blog version) by following this link.]

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Comparing Turretin and Kruger on the Canon (Part 2)

Turretin's View of the Canon

Francis Turretin stands as one of the strongest representative examples of Reformed Scholasticism.  William van Asselt says that although he was very influential during the time of High Orthodoxy, his Institutes’ influence “was not limited to that time, but reached far into the nineteenth century, wherever they remained in use in the Netherlands, Scotland, and North America.”  Admittedly, his influence had waned in recent years until the translation of his three volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology into English by George M. Geiger in the 1990s. Before that, however, he was well regarded by Jonathan Edwards who called his Institutes “excellent,” and also commented that between Turretin and Peter Van Mastricht, it was Turretin who was by far the best polemicist.  John Gerstner said of Turretin that he was “the most precise theologian in the Calvinistic tradition.”  Considering the importance, influence, and high regard with which Turretin has been held, it is of some importance to ask whether it is a right or fair representation of Turretin’s views for Kruger to cite him in his defense of the self-authenticating model. Having already briefly explored Kruger’s view, an understanding of Turretin on the subject is now in order.

The Institutes are organized following a traditional scholastic method of Loci subdivided by Quaestiones. These questions highlight the polemical context of Turretin’s book and a brief read through the Institutes reveals a theologian who is engaging—not on a practical or pastoral level as Calvin was doing—but on an academic level against Roman Catholics, arminians, and socinians. In the Institutes, Turretin does not directly answer the question as to where the canon came from in as comprehensive a way as Kruger does. Turretin does, however, face several difficult Roman Catholic objections regarding the canon, and it is there that some important inferences can be drawn from him on the subject of the canon of Scripture.

The first relevant question that Turretin sets forth is, “Why, or on account of what, do we believe that the Bible is the word of God; or what argument does the Holy Spirit principally use to convince us of the inspiration of the Scriptures?”  He then narrows the options to two, which he then considers in turn.  For Turretin, either “the testimony and voice of the church” or “the marks impressed upon Scripture itself” are that on account of which we believe the Bible to be the word of God. He denies the former and affirms the latter.

It is of some contextual concern what Turretin’s reasons are making these affirmations and denials. Turretin argues against “the testimony of the church” by giving five reasons. First, he says “the testimony of the church” is unacceptable because the church is built upon the Scripture and borrows all authority from it, not the other way around. Second, if “the testimony of the church,” as an answer, were true, then the authority of the church would be prior to Scripture, which even the Roman Catholics deny. Third, he says the argument is circular.  Fourth, he argues that “church” does not have an agreed upon definition.  Finally, he says that “a fallible and human testimony cannot form the foundation of divine faith.”

The real substance of Turretin’s thought on the canon begins to emerge when he offers his defense of the proposition that “the marks impressed upon Scripture itself” is the epistemological ground of our faith in Scripture as the word of God. He substantiates this with four lines of reasoning.  First, he points to the nature of Scripture itself, by arguing that the Bible is an innately perfect and “inflexible rule of faith” and therefore “cannot have authority even as to us from the church, but only from itself.”

Second, Scripture is a thing “known by itself” and therefore cannot be subjected to proofs that cannot be themselves proven. “Thus Scripture, which is the first principle in the supernatural order, is known by itself and has no need of arguments derived from without to prove and make itself known to us.”  Turretin follows the standard scholastic treatment of principia. A principium is by definition a properly basic belief that by its fundamental nature cannot be justified by other basic beliefs. This becomes even clearer in a later section where Turretin elaborates:

It is not always necessary that a thing should be proved by something else. For there are some things which are self-evident according to the philosophers…which are not susceptible to demonstration, but are evident by their own light and are taken for granted as certain and indubitable. 
He then places the Bible into this category of principia: “Therefore since the Bible is the first principle and primary and infallible truth, is it strange to say that it can be proved by itself?”  This point alone places Turretin outside of the majority of Evidentialist apologetic methodologies and ought to be considered as highly relevant to this discussion. Further consideration of Turretin’s view of canon must take into account the way he grounds knowledge of the canon in Scripture. If the Scriptures themselves are self-evident and self-proved, it would be entirely inconsistent for Turretin to argue based upon external evidences that the canon is able to be known. It would, however, still be possible for him to remain consistent while arguing that external evidences confirm what is already known reliably from the Scriptures themselves.

It is also helpful to keep in mind that Turretin is not saying that Scripture is the only principle by which men may gain knowledge. Rather, he is placing Scripture in the same category as other things that can be “known in themselves,” and yet themselves cannot be subjected to proofs, such as the laws of logic.  He leaves open the possibility that other things may be known outside of Scripture.

Third, Turretin argues that the Scriptures are not known or recognized through an inductive chain of reasoning, but are “immediately distinguished.” The word “immediately” is carefully chosen by Turretin to reflect the lack of a chain of argument in ascertaining the Scripture’s divine qualities. He uses metaphors from Scripture such as taste, sight, and smell to argue that the divine qualities of Scripture can be appreciated just as immediately as one can see something lovely or smell something delicious.  Just as “there is no need to seek elsewhere for proof that this is light,” so it is with the Scriptures.

Finally, Turretin argues against “the testimony of the church” by stating that his own opponents make arguments that demonstrate the divine marks of Scripture. He then quotes Bellarmine who says that the Scriptures are to be highly regarded by all.

In this same section, as part of his argument Turretin favorably quotes the French Confession, Article 4: “We know that the books of Scripture are canonical, not so much from the common consent of the church, as from the internal testimony and persuasion of the Holy Spirit.”  He follows this up by commenting: “the same Spirit who acts objectively in the word by presenting the truth, operates efficiently in the heart also by impressing that truth upon our minds.”

With reference to the canon specifically, Turretin says that the church does not make the canon, but only distinguishes canonical books from apocryphal books as
the goldsmith who separates the dross from the gold…distinguishes the pure from the unadulterated, but does not make it pure…Nor can the judgment of the church give authority to the books which they do not possess of themselves; rather she declares the already existing authority by arguments drawn from the books themselves. 
He then further clarifies his position: “[The Church] declares the already existing authority by arguments drawn from the books themselves.”

In question seven, he inquires, “Has any canonical book perished?” He denies this.  What is helpful is his method for substantiating this answer. In it he uses a mixed approach. He offers six arguments for the notion that “no canonical book has perished.”

First, he points to Christ’s testimony in Luke 16:17, “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” Turretin argues that though Christ is here referring to the law, “it can also be applied analogically to [the Scriptures], so as to imply their preservation and so much the more.”

Second, he appeals to the declarations of Luke and of Paul to substantiate the completeness of the Scriptures. He points to Luke 24:27, “all the prophets and all of the Scriptures” and to Romans 15:4, “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” arguing that Paul and Luke could not have made such references “unless they supposed that all the writings of the Old Testament existed.”  In this point, it is clear that Turretin is specifically defending the notion of a complete Old Testament canon.

Third, he argues “From the providence of God perpetually keeping watch for the safety of the church.”

Fourth, Turretin argues that of all the crimes Christ and the apostles charged the Jews with, they never charged them with being careless in the caring of or the transmission of the Scriptures.

Fifth, he argues that there is a teleological purpose to Scripture, which could not be fulfilled “if (by loss of some canonical books) a mutilated and defective canon…has been left to the church.”

Finally, he argues that the Jews historically never acknowledged as canonical any other books than the Protestants acknowledge. Nor did they copy “in their Targums, nor” do we find any others “translated by the Septuagint.”

Of these arguments, the first five are undoubtedly theological in nature and even presuppose the truth of the Scriptures for their force. The sixth argument is the most obviously historical in its methodology.

Turretin is also careful to explain that there is a threefold distinction between the “efficient cause” of one’s belief, the “argument on account of which” one believes, and the “means and instrument” through which one believed.  He argues that the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of belief, the church is the means and instrument through which the belief comes, and that the Scripture itself is “the argument on account of which” one believes (the Papists put the Church in this place). Though it will be discussed more in the next section, it is worth noting that this threefold causation of belief in Scripture strongly parallels Kruger’s three-dimensional epistemic environment for the self-authenticating model.

Concluding this brief exploration of Turretin’s understanding of the canon, it can be summarized that Turretin bases his argument for the soundness of the canon on theological considerations founded in Scripture, supported and confirmed by historical methods, recognizing the Holy Spirit being the “efficient cause and principle from which” belief comes.

[The final post in this series, which will be posted Friday, offers some concluding thoughts of comparison between Kruger and Turretin.]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Amazing Book and eBook Deals Abound: The Highlights

Crossway is selling all of their eBooks for $5.99. Some of the eBooks equate to better savings than others.

Among the best deals to be had in this sale is Wellum and Gentry's book Kingdom Through Covenant.  I have the book on Kindle, and it makes a good transition to the device. I like having such a large, heavy book in the palm of my hand. Theologically, while there is much to benefit from in this book, there are other serious problems with it. The fact is, if you want the book, the hardcover cannot be had for less than $30, and even the eBook version is normally quite pricey (they had a hard time making it and getting the Hebrew characters to appear on the Kindle). If you buy it, you'll be getting a good deal.

As someone who is preparing to enter the Gospel ministry, I have been planning for some time to read Paul Tripp's book Dangerous Calling. Now, we have almost no excuse, since this book, which normally sells for $20 can be purchased for $5.99. The hardcover is on sale for 50% off at Westminster Books, as well.

Kevin DeYoung's book The Hole in Our Holiness can be bought for the Kindle for $5.99. For those who want a physical copy, Westminster Books is having their own sale, offering the same book at 50% off.

Finally, I will mention a book that is turning out to be one of my favorites of last year. I'm almost finished reading it and will be giving a glowing review in the next week or two. It is Rob Lister's PhD dissertation, entitled God Is Impassible and Impassioned. $5.99 is a steal for a book this important. I recommend it to all. The paperback copy is also available at Westminster Books.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Comparing Turretin and Kruger on the Canon (Part 1)


Michael Kruger’s newest book, Canon Revisited, presents a model for understanding the formation of the canon that is meant to avoid reliance upon external authentication. As Kruger explains: “What is needed… is a canonical model that does not ground the New Testament canon in an external authority, but seeks to ground the canon in the only place it could be grounded, its own authority.”  In the Reformed world, canonical models have fallen neatly between those advocating a form of the self-authenticating model and those advancing a historically determined model. Amongst those advocating the historically determined model are such Reformed luminaries as B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge.  Warfield actually roots his understanding of the origin of canon in apostolicity, but the determination of a book’s apostolicity is rooted by Warfield in historical methodology. “It is a most assured result of biblical criticism that every one of the twenty-seven books which now constitute our New Testament is assuredly genuine and authentic.”  Elsewhere, Warfield summarizes, “If the historical authenticity of our Canon is to be denied, it must be done at the expense of all our historical sources; at the expense of the falsification of history herself; at the expense of the destruction of the grounds of all historic inquiry.”

In Canon Revisited, Kruger argues that this Princetonian model of canon is too reliant upon external criteria.  While the full breadth of Kruger’s disagreement cannot be explored here, it is worth noting a complaint that Kruger uniformly applies across all of the historically determined models, in all of their various flavors, is that, “All of these, in the end, subject the canon’s authority to some standard outside itself.”  In response, Kruger presents a model of canon that is meant to avoid this criticism. Kruger does insist that his view has a historical pedigree, and he briefly points to Reformed elder statesmen such as Francis Turretin (1623-1687), John Calvin (1509-1564), and Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) to reinforce the idea that his proposal is not novel.  In some ways it is anachronistic to try to squeeze Turretin into a view of the canon that may have developed after his time. In spite of this chronological challenge, it will be argued, that Turretin’s trajectory is the same as that of the self-authenticating model of the canon as expressed in Canon Revisited. To prove this thesis, it will be necessary to have an understanding of Kruger’s model and then compare that with Turretin’s underlying methodology in responding to related questions about the canon from his Institutes of Elenctic Theology.

Kruger's Self-Authenticating Model

When Kruger says that the canon “must be self-authenticating,” he means that “the canon guides, controls, and determines how it is authenticated.”  As he says elsewhere: “A self-authenticating canon is not just a canon that claims to have authority, nor is it simply a canon that bears internal evidence of authority, but one that guides and determines how that authority is to be established.”  Kruger’s model for self-authentication, then, does point to apostolic authority as grounding the Scriptures, as Warfield does, but he avoids the trap that the historically determined models fall into by explaining that his criteria for canonicity are drawn from the canon itself and not exclusively from history. “The method by which the canon is authenticated is correlative with the nature of the canon being authenticated. The two must be consistent with one another.”  Put another way, “where else would we turn to acquire this information but to the very scriptural books in question?”

Kruger argues that God has provided a “proper epistemic environment in which belief in the canon could be reliably formed.”  This epistemic environment involves three components: (1) providential exposure, which means God in his providence ensures that the church is exposed to and receives the canonical books; (2) attributes of canonicity, reflecting the fact that all canonical books have three features, which are (2a) divine qualities, (2b) Corporate reception by the church, and (2c) Apostolic origins; (3) the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit to counteract the noetic effects of sin.

Kruger belabors the interrelatedness of the three attributes of canonicity.  These attributes are all connected and the one cannot stand without the others. If one were to be removed (or considered apart from the other two) then the whole thing would become distorted.

In examining Turretin’s view of the formation of canon, it is important to keep in mind that Kruger’s model does not exclude historical discussion. The self-authenticating model, in a sense, takes all that is good in the other models and combines them into one. “While the self-authenticating model should be clearly distinguished from these other canonical models, it has also served to unite them by combining their greatest strengths into one system.”  The self-authenticating model recognizes the personal aspects of recognizing Scripture without falling into the individualism of the neo-orthodox subjectivism. It recognizes the historical nature of the canon without becoming a prisoner of this or that new historical trend or development.

[In the interest of making this series readable in the blog format, footnotes have been left out. Once the last part of the series is posted, I will make available a PDF of this article in its entirety, complete with footnotes.  In Part 2, we will look specifically at Turretin's discussion of the self-authenticating nature of the canon.]

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Eleven Theses Actually on Natural Law

Adam Parker and I have composed this humble attempt at a response/critique/polemic to this post.

1. Natural Law is not to be equated with what people have said about natural law. The writings of John Rawls, for example, are not natural law. However, just because people differ about what is contained in natural law does not mean that natural law is deficient; the problem is with its interpreters.

2. Affirming natural law does not require a nature/grace dualism, simply because some who hold to natural law affirm this dualism. Luther and Calvin believed in natural law, and they were not friends of such a dualistic conception.

3. If someone accepts the reality of natural revelation, they would also need some doctrine of natural law. Natural revelation is a clear enough source, in and of itself, for what it is intended to reveal, and although it can be supplemented by other revelation, it does not have to be in order to be properly understood. Natural law is perspicuous, otherwise it would be unjust to condemn someone on the basis of it.

4. The God who speaks through nature speaks in Scripture, and the God who speaks in Scripture was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, but do not forget, God still speaks clearly through nature.

5. Those who accept natural law in this sense do believe that natural law can operate independently of special revelation because special revelation is consistent with natural law. The God who speaks in natural law, who was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, is the same God who spoke through Moses, the prophets, and the Apostles and thus speaks with one voice.

6. Every Christian who affirms natural law, by definition, must also hold to the exhaustive authority of Jesus over every last molecule.

7. If a person rejects natural law in all its formulations, but insists that special revelation is authoritative over the public square, this is a serious error.

8. The most serious dualism to avoid is not a nature/grace dualism, but rather the dualism that tries to pretend that God speaks with a forked tongue in special and natural revelation, as though one trumps the other.

9. The list given in Romans 1:29-32 confirms that natural law provides a rather extensive amount of detail when it comes to what God will judge. Natural law contains considerable detail that can be known on the basis of natural revelation alone. Natural law communicates these things, regardless of what special revelation says about it.

10. The Reformers held to a robust form of natural law theory.

11. It can be demonstrated that natural law prohibits homosexual marriage.