Moving to Tents of Shem

My url is Cocceius, named after the Dutch federal theologian.  I’m now critical of federal theology and it just doesn’t seem right to write under the title.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

James K A Smith: Speech and Theology (Review)

Image result for james k a smith speech and theology

This is the old Jamie Smith, before he went full-blown NPR.  This book is quite brilliant, actually.  I fully endorse it.

Phenomenology:  I am no longer concerned with the thing, but how the thing appears to me.  We are concerned with experience. Three things arise: 1) consciousness is characterized by intentionality–every experience of consciousness has an intended object.  It aims at something. 2) constitutionality–whenever I experience data–raw data–it has to be “put together” to make sense (Van Til’s no brute facts?); 3) This constitution happens within the horizons of perceptions; I put together the “raw data” relative to my own horizons of experience.  Basically committed to immanence–the subjective horizons of the ego.

immanence:  finite horizon of the constituting ego.

violence:  making the Other play roles in which he no longer recognizes himself.  

How to avoid not speaking

The violence of concepts and the possibility of theology

In modernity the concept becomes a means of dominating and seizure (5).  Absolute knowledge erases differance.

“If the object of theoretical articulation is in some way radically exterior to language (God, differance, pretheoretical experience), then every unveiling of it in language will fail to produce the object” (6).

“concepts” make claims to totalization.  In modernity one who has the concept of “a thing” has the thing.  Concept is domination.  Knowledge is knowledge only insofar as it “seizes” the thing and has complete certainty.  

Phenomenology’s Other: the French challenge to phenomenology

Phenom. denies alterity, reduces all to the constituting ego.

The concept, though, can never fully grasp “the other.”  

the tools of phenom. description are always at a loss with “the other” (Gxd, differance, etc).  

Is mysticism a form of idolatry, in that it closes the space of separation and difference in its quest for union (identity)?

Phenomenology and Transcendence: Genealogy of a Challenge

Could there be a reverse reduction towards the transcendent, instead of reducing the transcendent to the ego?  Reduction of givenness? Instead of a phenomenology’s ego-constituting experience, it would rather constitute the ego.  

First Reduction:  The Possibility of Transcendent Knowledge in Husserl

Does not deny existence; only brackets it (21).  

Violence of Immanence: The French Critique

Husserl and Heidegger had privileged immanence over transcendence.  If the phenomenon has to appear within these horizons of knowing, it can never give itself from itself.  Marion suggests, rather, reducing it to pure givenness and opening the space for revelation.

The Same and the Other: Levinas

In modernity the phenomena is conditioned by the finitude of the knower. For Kant this was the formal conditions of knowing.  For Leibniz it was the principle of Sufficient Reason.

The violence of the concept: revisited

problem:  how can transcendence appear and how can we speak of that which defies description?  “Factical lived experience, the Other’s consciousness, and God all point to sites where description is at a loss” (43). Factical lived experience is always pretheoretical.

The only way for the transcendent to appear is for it to take the properties of phenomena.

Part Two: Retrieval

Heidegger’s New Phenomenology

“Natural attitude”

Facticity: texture of everyday life; incommensurate with theoretical description; certain immediacy in which the subject is not yet distinguished from the object.

We can’t bracket away life experiences from theoretical.

Can phenomenology deal with the pre-theoretical?

Heidegger’s Factical World

“The very question of being proceeds from a prior, average everyday understanding of being” (75) as its presupposition without ever examining that presupposition.  When we ask “What is being”” we are already presupposing some understanding of being by the word is.  This understanding is more primordial than cognitive.

Facticity (again): the subject is “embedded” in its world rather than sharply distinct from object.

Problem:  does it make sense to speak of pre-theoretical experience, since the experience can’t be put in conceptual terms? How do you express subjectivity without becoming “objective?”  Perhaps one can make a distinction b/t concepts that objectify entities and those that indicate.

Praise and Confession: How (not) to speak in Augustine

signs and things

Signs are words; things are other than words

Smith and Augustine say words are not things (114), but in Hebrew debar also means thing

Aug. does allow that words can become things when understood iconically (123).

interior transcendence: self (also unbridgeable to the Other); metaphor is of depth, not height

Praise bridges the verbal gap. Does not reduce god to concept, but maintains his alterity (128).  

Incommensurability of signa et res

2 kinds of signs

signs which point to other signs

signs which indicate rei which themselves are not signs

Those which are self-exhibiting (like “walking”)

Those which point to things (instrumentals)

Spoken words are not the only signs (gestures, written words)

Augustine has come to two apparently contradictory conclusions:  a) nothing is taught w/o signs; b) nothing is learned through signs (a sign is not perceived as a sign until the thing it signifies is known).  The sign is structurally inadequate and the thing is transcendent to it (and thus the incommensurability).

The word “points” to something but it does not “present” it.  

Signs are dialectical: they both appear and point beyond the appearance

Language as sign is not violent; it does not grasp concept, but opens access to it.

Augustine does move away from estrangement ontology–God descends to us, not our rising to God

Platonism can’t see a descent of transcendence to us.

Forms do not condescend to particulars.

Praise and Critique

If praise says something about God, is it not still predicative?

Incarnational Logic

Can truth be learned?  No, per Plato, it can only be recollected.  Truth on this account is timeless and cannot enter the particularities of history.

Platonism and RO?

Platonism as a theologia gloria.

Writing as image of speech (cf Derrida on mediation and signs)

But even speech is mediated at the origin

Scale of being

images are appearances; “fall from being”

Participation (ascent) and Incarnation (descent) are antithetical

Salvation as achieving dis-embodiment (Laws 12.959a-d)

Logic of Incarnation is a logic of don-nation, of giving (receiving from the outside).

Contrast with Platonic recollection (Republic 518b-c)

Observations:  Jean-Luc Marion seems to remain within the ontology of estrangement

Grace perfects/completes nature = revealed theology (eucharist?) completes phenomenology. This might correlate with jlm’s emphasis on the icon (points beyond).

Criticism: Smith’s solution to the problem is simple enough: God must condescend to us and in order to maintain the bounds of phenomenology, must meet us as phenomenon.  Easy enough and no argument here.  Something bugs me, though, in that he seems to think that God needs a mediating concept.  Not saying that is wrong, but..

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Book Review, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Boersma on Hospitality, 1


Notes on chapter one from Boersma’s Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition.

Hans Boersma uses concepts like violence and hospitality, particularly in their recent philosophical venues, as a set of ciphers to explore the atonement.  He succeeds brilliantly. I wish I read this book in seminary. It might, just might, have staved off a number of bad decisions later on.

Asking “Is the Atonement violent” sounds funny, and it is, but feminist and postmodern theologians think it is an important question.  Unfortunately, they answer it.

Hospitality:  It is God’s work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ (Boersma 15). God comes to us in Christ to invite us into his eternal fellowship.  Hospitality is a metaphor for the love of God (17).

Violence, then, is any exclusionary practice.  Theologically, it could be something legitimate like church discipline, but raised to doctrine of God levels, it could be something more problematic:  the decree of election which excludes others from God’s presence. Boersma will deal with this later.

Problem: Does “violence” negate God’s hospitality in Jesus Christ?

Chapter 1: The Possibility of Hospitality

Levinas: Western metaphysics focused on essences, analysis, etc., which had the effect of dismissing alterity (Otherness).  It reduced everything to the One (28). It seems that Levinas is saying that our first response to the Other shouldn’t be questioning or analysis, but invitation and hospitality.  Perhaps. This makes sense when people knock on my door, but I don’t know what it looks like in theology.

Derrida: sees “messianicity as an absolute openness to the future” (30).  “Pure hospitality means I forego all judging, analyzing, and classification of the other.”

Is the Derridean model coherent?  Not really. Boersma points out that hospitality always takes place within the finite limits of space and time.  By definition it will be limited in character (31). There is always this fear in postmodern literature that the limits of temporality are negative.  Boersma wonders why. I think it goes back to the old Origenist problematic: the Fall and Finitude are linked.

Postmodernism isn’t on any firmer ground when it challenges violence.  What is violence? It is something like “anything that contravenes the rights of another, or causes injury to the life, well-being, etc., of another” (quoted in Boersma 44).  The problem is that this definition rules out all forms of corrective punishment. It also rules out self-defense, but perhaps worst of all, it is self-defeating when postmodernists try to “protest” systemic injustices. Boersma lists a number of defeaters:

  1. If I physically restrain my wife from crossing the road when a car is coming, am I offering violence?
  2. When the govt forces my kids to go to school, is that an act of violence?
  3. If I engage in economic boycotts, knowing that such boycotts will jeopardize the well-being of the average worker, how is that not violence?

Postmodernism cannot give a coherent reason why their good acts of physical resistance aren’t violent, yet “the other side” (Alterity!) is violent.  The takeaway is that there can be good acts of violence. “Hospitality does not exclude all violence” (48).

Nonetheless, hospitality bespeaks the very essence of God.  Violence is one of the ways he safeguards it.

Posted in American Theology, Philosophy, theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb

Image result for sergius bulgakov

Bulgakov, Sergius.  Bride of the Lamb.  Eerdmans.

This isn’t a normal review.  It’s mostly a collection and analysis of his most important points.  This is the best thing ever written on eschatology in the sense of final judgment, life-after-death, etc.

Bulgakov says he rejects pantheism and monism.  He makes several incisive criticisms against cosmic dualisms (the two creating entities annul one another).

Creation Out of Nothing

What do we mean by the word “nothing?”  Are we reifying “nothing?” Bulgakov says there is “no extra-divine ground of creation” (Bulgakov 6).   We must distinguish two different types of “nothing:”

  1. pre-creaturely nothing, ontological zero. The negation of all being
  2. Ontic, creaturely nothing, me on. It is a mode of creaturely being.  

More on nothing (116ff)

    • nothing is no-thing, not just something.
    • Its existence can only be posited by extreme abstraction.  
    • All creation has a non-creaturely, creaturely character.  


  • The positive force of its being is the creaturely Sophia, which is the image of the divine Sophia (117).


Aquinas has a difficulty with calling creation “good.”  Rather, it is imperfect. It is only one type of many possible worlds.  There is a non-correspondence between ideas and things, as the former is always larger than the latter.  The divine ideas are suspended in mid-air. They aren’t entirely accidents, because God doesn’t have accidents, but to the degree that they actualize creation, they can’t be fully God, either.  

Creatio and God as Cause

Motion cannot be explained on the basis of the motion itself (???).  

“The strength of the causal series lies in its continuity” (35) and if a gap were introduced, it would fail.  And there is a gap between God and creation. Both causality and mover belong to the world of unitary being. “It is not possible to transcend the world.”  

But the Christian faith does not need any of this.  It has the doctrine of creation, which is personal and presupposes a personal God (37).  

Divine Sophia is the en-hypostatic life of the Trinity.  

  • It is the Divine World.
  • Not a hypostasis, but a hypostasizedness

Creation of the World

  • a self-positing of God (46).
    • But the world is not a piece of God.
    • Rather, Divine Sophia has a creaturely Sophianic mode of existence in which the world exists.
  • Divine Sophia exists in a dual mode
    • eternal (proper mode)
    • creaturely
      • contains multiplicity
      • relative nothingness
  • There can be no divine principle of existence which exists in the “nothing” (ouk on).  
    • “Nothing” is a modus of reality.  It cannot exist by itself and for itself.

Divine Prototypes

  • These are the plan of creation (55).
  • The problem Patristics faced with this was how to relate these prototypes, which were divine, to creation.  Bulgakov suggests Sophia is the relation.
  • Ideas are the “seeds” of being.
  • Creation

Temporality of Creation

What do we mean when we say that the world is created “in time?”  How do eternity and temporality interact without the former subsuming the latter?  Is the latter merely an illusion?

  • Temporality is not yet time; time is the mode of its existence (70).
  • Time is the abstract measure of temporality, but it is not the unique measure.
  • With respect to creation, we must not speak of the beginning of time (which is contradictory), but of the emergence of temporality.
  • Time is a relation within becoming.

Therefore, we say that creation is beginningless, but not eternal.    It can’t have a beginning in time since time, too, is created. Therefore, we say that creation and time emerge from temporality.

The World Soul and its Hypostases

world soul: the creaturely Sophia (79).  It is here that Bulgakov’s project shines in all its brilliance but also threatens to come undone.  He admits that the existence of the world-soul marks a “loss of clarity” and one wonders if he is reverting back to Aristotle’s chain of being.  But it is a lively chain, for he assures us: “There is no place for dead matter in the world.”

  • We are speaking of the world soul, not the world spirit.  The difference between soul and spirit is that the soul is not hypostatic, whereas the Spirit is.  
  • The soul corresponds to the spirit’s nature.  It is the spirit’s hypostatizedness.
  • This is not Neo-Platonism, for he does not see the World Soul as a hypostasis.  
  • The World-Soul is a connected, multi-organic unity
  • It is the world’s inner entelechy which unifies.
  • Therefore, there is an “inner life principle” in the world.  If this were not so, then why would we enjoin creation to praise God if creation is merely dead matter?
  • It is the actualization of creaturely being (197).  The world-soul actualizes creation’s instincts for power.
    • In its proper being it is divided into heaven and earth
  • Creaturely sophia experiences aeviternitas.  Divine Sophia aeternitas.


Angels are how God usually relates nature (199).  They are the bearers of the sophicanic prototypes of creation and the earth’s reality.  Creation arises through the elemental forces of the world soul but its formation presupposes angelic activity and participation (Rev. 7:1, 14:18; 16:5; and fight battles).

Angels are the sophicanic heaven of the world, the creaturely bridge between Divine Sophia and Creaturely sophia, metaxu.  Angels contain the assurance that creation is a ladder of life.

Main Point

The connection of God and the world is grounded in Sophianicity.  “The divine Sophia is one, though she has two forms of being” (223).  Bulgakov argues that the Western insistence on speaking of God as First Cause and creation as Second Cause has the effect of subsuming the latter under the former.  Rather, God is not the cause of the world but the Creator.

  • In the creation of the world God repeats or doubles his own Being.  This is the Divine Sophia positing the Creaturely Sophia’s mode of existence (222).
  • It is the self-repetition of the Divine Sophia.

Bulgakov thinks he solves the main aporia–that of divine and human freedom–in placing this interaction within the realm of creaturely Sophia (231).

The Church

Holds to a highly qualified apostolic succession (280-282).

The Eucharist

  • He suggests that Ignatius’s stringent appeal to the bishop suggests that his position is new and far from indisputable (284).
  • The initial emphasis was not on the Bishop, but on the koinonia.

History and Knowledge

  • mankind finds its unity in Adam and is the gnoseological subject, The Universal-I.  It is realized in the particular cognitive acts of individuals. This is what Hegel was getting at when he said knowledge is social.  If knowledge is atomized, it can’t be transmitted.
  • If there is a transcendental subject, then there is a transcendental object.  This is the world in its integral unity, creaturely Sophia.

Expanding Being in History

We know from revelation that spiritual hierarchies participate together with man in the world.  “They act within the limits of the world.”

Suggests each ethnos has its own “spirit,” though he is vague on what he means by “spirit.”  It is the source of man’s creativity (which is why different cultures are different in their own ways).

The human world is not closed off but is permeated by spiritual powers (328). The battle between the angelic and demonic takes place both in the spiritual and the physical world.

Interpretation of Revelation

  • The beast from the sea stands for the animal, elemental principle in man.  It is the absolute State, the ideology of force.
  • false prophet: this is not the bestialization of mankind, but the satanization (329).  
  • However, Bulgakov does not merely opt for a stale, spectral hermeneutical idealism.  The Apocalypse is moving forward. These are *real* forces which *really* act in history.
  • The beast is a collective symbol, like the whore of Babylon (330).  Bulgakov rejects the idea of a personal antichrist.
  • Conclusion:  Christianity is always accompanied by its black shadow, Anti-Christianity. Thus, there are two forms of humanity (Godmanhood and mangodhood).  
  • While Bulgakov rejects premillennialism, he also warns that “spiritualizing” or allegorizing Rev. 20 annuls it of any real power (337).
    • Rev 20 happens within a sequence of events.
    • first resurrection: it is not the universal resurrection of the dead.  It is spiritual.  The souls have communicated to them a spiritual energy that allows them to participate from “their side” of the dead.   The barrier dividing our world and theirs is so thin that as history expands, they also participate in it.

Conversion of Israel:

  • It is a spiritual axis traversing the whole good news (Lev. 26.42-45; cf texts on p. 337).
  • Its resurrection will inwardly conclude the triumphant procession of Christianity in the world (Rm. 11.25).

Death and the State After Death

Death has substantial, not accidental being (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13, 14).

Donum superadditum: basically says that the original creation was a failure that requires God’s express action (350).  

Back to Sophianicity

  • creaturely sophia is hypostasized by the human spirit.
  • This spirituality has the potency of immortality
  • Nature awaits the fulness of this potency.

Metaphysics of death

  • not the annihilation of life but of a particular state of life.  If death equals complete nonbeing, then God has failed.
  • man is susceptible to death because of his ontological complexity.
  • Man is ultimately (originally) God-earth, an incarnate Godlike spirit.
  • Body and Soul and Spirit
    • Death’s dividing sickle passes between the spirit and the soul on one hand and the spirit and the body on the other.
    • The soul is an intermediate principle connecting the spirit with the creaturely world.  It is creaturely, like blood (but not blood).
    • The supraphysical energy of life (which finds it substratum in the blood) abides.
  • Death is a temporary cessation of the action of the soul upon the body.  The soul does not die but is relatively potentialized.
  • In death, an individual is separated only from his body, not his soul.
    • after death the soul abides in a supracorporeal shell, preserving some tenuous connection with spirit.
    • man was originally meant to see the spiritual world; the fall veiled that.  Flesh is separated from spirit by a wall of sensuality.
    • By tearing away man from his flesh, death opens for him the “gates of the spiritual world” (359).  This is why the dying can often see angels, demons, and appearances of departed loved ones.
    • Death divides human life into two halves
      • psychic-corporeal being (what we call “alive”)
      • spiritual-psychic body.
  • Since death is not complete nonbeing/cessation, it is necessarily a continuing of life.
  • What about the “judgment?”
    • first of all, self-consciousness and self-judgment.
    • it is not yet perfect self-knowledge, which can only happen at the final judgment with the totality of humanity (social knowing).
    • An existential self-determination follows this judgment.
  • He has an interesting take on the salvation of infants and the like:
    • First, he has already established that death is a new mode of existence.
    • Secondly, the afterlife is not a merely passive state (otherwise man is a mere object and not a knowing subject).
    • Therefore, he will live in this world with other spiritual, incorporeal beings.
    • Even the “Rich Man” in the Lazarus parable felt something new:  love towards his brothers. Thus, there are degrees of change.
    • Acting in relation to others is an acting upon ourselves (365).
    • Thus, it seems beyond argument that the human spirit can undergo change in the afterlife.
  • The spirit is not a mere object which receives actions without inwardly transforming them.
  • Concerning the pangs of hell, the state of disincarnation after death does not admit corporeal pains.  
  • Further, since we are spirit, and spirit is freedom, it seems we would have a sort of freedom in the afterlife.

The Sophianic Descent

Glory in the Trinity corresponds to the revelation of the third hypostasis in the dyad of the Father’s self-revelation.  The Holy Spirit as glory rests upon the Son.

Kenosis: removal of glory from the world, not from the Trinity.  However, his earthly ministry includes a movement towards Glory (Tabor, the Cross).

The dyad of Son-Spirit underwent a sort of kenosis as well.  The Spirit reduced the degree of glory in his repose on Christ.  The two kenoses are parallel, but they occasoinally coincide and diverge.

In the Ascension the kenosis of the Son is overcome.  The descent of the Spirit is a kenotic act as such, “for its action in the world remains limited by the measure of creaturely reception” (398).

The third hypostasis does not have a personal revelation as such.  It looks like it is submerged into “Glory,” but this is not the case.  Glory is not a property. It is divinity as such.

  • Divinity is the revelation of the father in the bihypostatic Dyad of the Son and the Holy Spirit (407).
  • In relation to the Son, Divinity is Wisdom.
  • In relation to the Holy Spirit, Divinity is Glory
  • Therefore, if Christ is the hypostatic Wisdom of God, then the Holy Spirit is hypostatic glory, albeit hidden since the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a hypostatic manifestation.
    • Pentecost is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Tongues of Fire, which isn’t hypostatic.

The Transfiguration of the World

The world will be illumined with the lightning of the Parousia.

The heavenly fire–the sophianic descent of the Holy Spirit–will set the world on fire and melt it.  “That is the first action of the Holy Spirit in the world in its parousia” (421).

How was the first Pentecost possible since the world cannot withstand such glory without being burned up?  First it was possible because of the Incarnation.

Relation between matter and spirit: the world receives its materiality from the Holy Spirit, so spirit is the basis of matter.  Therefore, it is open to spirit.

  • spiritual causality.  This causality enters the natural world through the spiritual world (which is guarded by holy angels).
  • This is commonly called “miracle.”  Miracle is not a violation of the laws of nature since nature’s very being is already reducible to Spirit, and thus open-ended.  
  • This glory (Taboric) enters the world through Sophia.  This state of reducible-to-spirit is the state of creaturely Sophia.  

On the Resurrected Body

  • Gregory of Nyssa: the soul puts its imprint on the body.

Judgment and Separation

judgment is first of all a judgment that exposes every falsehood (456).

  • Bulgakov rejects annihilationism (461).
  • He equates the passages about “outer darkness” as “metaphysical nonbeing” (463).
  • “The very separation of heaven and hell…is internal and relative” (465), since every soul will face the divine light.

The Eternal in the Temporal

Given aeviternitas, the creaturely experience of the afterlife is still in the realm of temporality. With regard to time, eternity is a qualitative determination.  Aeternitas is revealed in aeviternitas.

Hell cannot be an original creation of God.  Hell has no being but is only a state. Therefore, “eternal life” and “eternal torments” are not parallel terms.  They are not abtractly identified as two kinds of eternity. When we define eternity as duration, we are engaging in what Hegel called “bad infinity.”

Judgment as separation expresses the relation between image and likeness (474).  The torments are torments of unrealized and unrealizable love (475).

Bulgakov clearly rejects universalism.  He calls it pusillanimous and sentimental (bottom of p. 475).  


What does Bulgakov mean by alluding to an “ontological hierarchy” in creation (53)? Elsewhere, he rightly rejects the Aristotelian chain of being.  I think he means something along the lines that creation is not a nominalistic bundle of atoms (a string of pearls without the string).


Posted in Book Review, Church History, Eschatology, Fathers, theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Eclectic Thoughts on Holy Trinity: Person, Essence, Energy, and Stuff Like That

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by Robert F. Fortuin

There is an observation by David Hart in the essay ‘The Hidden and the Manifest’ worthy of further consideration. The comment occurs in his critique of Thomist and Neo-Palamite readings of patristic distinctions within God:

There is no such ‘thing’ as the divine essence; there is no such object, whether of knowledge or of ignorance … God is essentially Father, Son, and Spirit, and … there is no other reality prior to, apart from, or more original than the paternal arche. (The Hidden and the Manifest, p. 153)

To be sure ‘essence’ is a notoriously slippery term. It comes to Anglophones from the Latin root ‘esse‘, to be, as a 14th century philosophical and theological approximation to translate the ancient Greek ‘ousia‘. Ousia is theologically problematic because its primary meaning is distinctly materialistic: wealth, possession, substance. During the Nicene…

View original post 2,833 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Review: The Gulag Archipelago

Image result for solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago: A Literary Investigation I-II. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974 [1973].

Few books are written with raw, electric energy. Solzhenitsyn’s work can only be labeled as a testimony to the 20th century and its postmodern politics. His work is a triumph of the human spirit. As is commonly noted of classics, this book is quoted yet rarely read. You will see blue-pilled virtue cons quote it about “human dignity” (and liberals ignore it altogether), but few will follow his reasoning out (and definitely shy away from what he says about Churchill).

I don’t think even Solzhenitsyn anticipated how accurate his words would describe 21st century social science, particularly “social engineering.” Social engineering is when a scientific and/or ruling elite engage in various practices to “shock” a people, thus manipulating them towards a pre-planned goal. He gives numerous examples

  • [people not accused of anything were arrested] simply to terrorize or wreak vengeance on a military enemy or population (Solzhenitsyn, I:29).
  • In the rear the first wartime wave was for spreading rumors and panic…”This was just a trial of bloodletting in order to maintain a general state of panic and tension” (78).
  • “All that was required in order to heighten the general consciousness was to arrest a certain percentage” (82).

I should probably clarify one point. You might see well-meaning authors describe the above as “The Hegelian Dialectic.” It is nothing of the sort. Hegel didn’t believe in such a dialectic. For him every thesis contains its own antithesis. Hegel wasn’t saying that we should create a problem in order to deliver our pre-planned solution. That’s what the Deep State does, but that’s not what Hegel said.

We might be tempted to say that the Soviets elites are simply stupid. There is some plausibility to that. Most Communists are stupid. But I think it is deeper. They are engaged in social alchemy. They are “changing” a population from leaden kulak into golden proletariat. They aren’t stupid. They are quite shrewd.


On How to Survive the GULAG

“From the moment you go to prison you must put your past firmly behind you…”From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me” (130).

In other words, a strong doctrine of man’s soul.

AS neatly interweaves doctrines of man’s soul combined with what Gulag does to you. Although he likely doesn’t intend this, it is a good illustration of the mind-body problem.

The Bluecaps

The Soviet elite also adopted the motto of the criminal underworld, in which they would say to one another, “You today; [perhaps] me tomorrow” (145).

One danger, perhaps the main danger AS warned about in all of his works was ideology. Ideology is what separates the common criminal from the diabolical evil-doer. The criminal knows he is wrong. The Deep State agent has convinced himself that he is doing the Good. As he notes, “The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology” (176). As concludes with a chilling observation: “Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life….But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains” (177).

That Spring

AS rightly notes Winston Churchill’s post-WWII actions: “He turned over to the Soviet command the Cossack corps of 90,000 men. Along with them, he also handed over wagonloads of old people, women, and children who did not want to return to their native Cossack rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their deaths” (259-260). In a moving, heart-breaking footnote, AS comments,

“This surrender was an act of double-dealing consistent with the spirit of traditional English diplomacy. The heart of the matter was that the Cossacks were determined to fight to the death, or to cross the ocean, all the way to Paraguay or Indochina if they had to . . . anything rather than surrender alive. Therefore, the English proposed, first, that the Cossacks give up their arms on the pretext of replacing them with standardized weapons. Then the officers —without the enlisted men—were summoned to a supposed conference on the future of the army in the city of Judenburg in the English occupation zone. But the English had secretly turned the city over to the Soviet armies the night before. Forty busloads of officers, all the way from commanders of companies on up to General Krasnov himself, crossed a high viaduct and drove straight down into a semicircle of Black Marias, next to which stood convoy guards with lists in their hands. The road back was blocked by Soviet tanks. The officers didn’t even have anything with which to shoot themselves or to stab themselves to death, since their weapons had been taken away. They jumped from the viaduct onto the paving stones below. Immediately afterward, and just as treacherously, the English turned over the rank-and-file soldiers by the train- load—pretending that they were on their way to receive new weapons from their commanders. In their own countries Roosevelt and Churchill are honored as embodiments of statesmanlike wisdom.

To us, in our Russian prison conversations, their consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly obvious. How could they, in their decline from 1941 to 1945, fail to secure any guarantees whatever of the independence of Eastern Europe? How could they give away broad regions of Saxony and Thuringia in exchange for the preposterous toy of a four-zone Berlin, their own future Achilles’ heel? And what was the military or political sense in their surrendering to destruction at Stalin’s hands hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender? They say it was the price they paid for Stalin’s agreeing to enter the war against Japan. With the atom bomb already in their hands, they paid Stalin for not refusing to occupy Manchuria, for strengthening Mao Tse-tung in China, and for giving Kim II Sung control of half Korea! What bankruptcy of political thought! And when, subsequently, the Russians pushed out Mikolajczyk, when Benes and Masaryk came to their ends, when Berlin was blockaded, and Budapest flamed and fell silent, and Korea went up in smoke, and Britain’s Conservatives fled from Suez, could one really believe that those among them with the most accurate memories did not at least recall that episode of the Cossacks?

The Law as a Child

AS notes that a dialectic functioned on the people during this time: “And in the end, the members of the intelligentsia accepted it, too, cursing their eternal thoughtlessness, their eternal duality, their eternal spinelessness” (328).

The Law Becomes a Man

AS surveys a number of key trials between church and Soviet, and notes a number of tactical blunders by the former.

The Law Matures

In these chapters on the Law “growing,” AS notes since there isn’t a stable Law, then there isn’t stable justice. Soviet Justice is quite consistent in this regard, as seen here: “For a thousand years prosecutors and accusers had never even imagined that the fact of arrest might in itself be a proof of guilt. If the defendants were innocent, then why had they been arrested” (394)?

When one is done reading this work, you really can’t say too much more. Perhaps something like what Wittgenstein said,

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

Posted in Book Review, Economics, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Providence of God (Paul Helm)

Image result for paul helm providence

Helm, Paul.  The Providence of God.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 1993.

Thesis: “In summary, the essential elements of divine providence are these.  God preserves his creation and all that it sustains” (Helm 22). Helm adopts the “no-risk” view of providence.  God’s perfect knowledge and will aren’t threatened by the actions of human beings.  Against this view is the “risky” view of providence: God can’t know the future because the future free decisions aren’t knowable.

Helm quickly lists several problems with the “risky” view: If the “risky” view obtains, then it appears that God has a number of beliefs which are false (given the free actions of humans).  There is even a problem with God’s goodness:  given that God wishes to be good to people, how intense can this goodness be, given the free actions of humans?  I don’t think this objection is particularly strong. Part of the battle in our spiritual life is that we often resist God’s blessings.

Solution of divine accommodation.  Per Calvin, the movement of direction is from God to mankind, and not vice-versa (52ff).  It’s not simply that we are choosing the “sovereignty” passages at the expense of the risky ones.  Rather, it “is a logically necessary condition of dialogue between people that those people should act and react in time” (53).  However, omnipotence and omniscience are essential properties in God; therefore, they have priority.

One option that avoids these two is Middle Knowledge

Necessary truths: logic, mathematics, stuff related to God’s essence.  

Free knowledge: things as a result of God’s freely willing them.

Middle knowledge: among the conditional propositions that God knows “are those which indicate what would happen if an individual performed a free (ie. non-deterministic) action (57).  God only actualizes the outcomes necessary to his plan. The rest are human possibilities (which God knows).

Difficulties:  it looks like on the MK account that the universe has a “shadow picture.”  Another problem is that God seems to only have knowledge of a mirror account of the universe, and never an actualized account (59). I don’t know.  I think modern defenses of MK are much stronger than Helm accounts for.  I don’t hold to MK myself but I don’t see why God’s having knowledge of possible worlds threatens his perfect knowledge. I can think of a number of theologically plausible worlds, and presumably so can God.

His argument against MK seems to be that on MK’s own admission, people have indeterminist freedom.  Therefore, God can’t know what they would do because what they would do is precisely what isn’t known.  There seems to be something to that charge.

God-World Relationship

When we say God existed “before” the universe, we are using “before” in a hierarchical, not temporal sense.

Pantheism:  if the universe is God, and an individual performed a certain action, then logically God performed that action.

Deism: few today would hold to Deist temptations, and it is a diabolical worldview, but it is a much tougher opponent than pantheism.   If the universe was created good, then why does it need miracles?  Indeed, in a nice phrase, miracles are “a metaphysical first aid kit.”  There are some obvious problems with Deism.  Helm lists a few:

a) it is an obvious dogmatism (76).  Why don’t miracles exist?  Because they don’t.
b) it is not obvious why the Spirit-filled believer must define miracles as “violations” or “interventions” of nature.  Indeed, in an open-universe why wouldn’t we expect miracles?

Prayer and Providence

This is the familiar problem if God knows all things, then why pray? Helm doesn’t really solve it, but he does provide a number of clarifying insights that allow us to better approach the issue. Our praying to God exists within a personal matrix within which are a number of smaller issues.  If I take out one of those issues, then the matrix changes.

Further, there can be legitimate inter-personal interaction yet there be pressures, limitations, and givens, even in human-human relationships.  Why not so in God-man relationships?  Therefore, I can pray, and it be real prayer, and God answereth it, yet it still be ordained.


This is more of a philosophical than a theological text.  As such, there isn’t much exegesis of key passages.  To be fair, though, that would have made the text unwieldy.  Nonetheless, Helm nicely covers the issues and provides a number of clarifications.

Posted in Book Review, Philosophy, theology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atonement and Election, some theses


With utmost fear and trembling,

  1. Models of Atonement and Election (A/E) that posit some sort of epistemological gap between election and assurance can only lead to spiritual death.  In other words, can I really know I am elect?
  2. Simply saying “Look to Jesus as the Mirror of My Election” only begs the question.  We all know people who appeared to fall away after years of faithful living.
  3. Nonetheless, Arminian accounts of election are unsatisfactory.  If predestination means God foresaw that I would believe, how does that really solve the problem?  God’s knowledge is eternal, and presumably unchanging.  If he saw I would believe, and he doesn’t have any false beliefs himself, then it’s hard to see how I could have done otherwise.
  4. If we are going to stay on the federalism route, some model like hypothetical universalism is necessary.
  5. There can be no absolute decree independent and behind the back of Jesus.
  6. If per Athanasius that Jesus is the willing of God, then any talk of God’s will to elect must always be in Christ.  Our knowledge of this cannot be anything other than that found in Jesus Christ. 
  7. Jesus is the Eternal Decree.
  8. Any form of supralapsarianism that is anchored in the decretum absolutum is borderline Origenism:  God needs to create the world (in this case, to damn those he decreed to damn).
  9. Instead of a decretum absolutum, we have knowledge of the elect man Jesus Christ.
  10. If we don’t have Jesus as God’s decree, then we ultimately cannot know whether we are elect. “The beginning of all things God’s eternal plan and decree was identical with what is disclosed to us in time as the revelation of God and the truth about all things” (Barth CD II/2, 156).
  11. The will of God is Jesus Christ, “and this will is known to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ.  If we acknowledge this, if we seriously accept Jesus Christ as the content of this will, then we cannot seek any other will of God” (157).  God gives Himself as a Person (“God sent forth his Son).  God ultimately wills himself.
  12. Per atonement: traditional reformed theology spoke of the two-fold will. It placed all of the “universal” passages in the revealed will. It placed all of the “particularist” passages in the hidden will. Hans Boersma asked the following question: “Is God like the hidden will or the revealed will?”
  13. Therefore, when I look into election, I don’t see a decretum absolutum, I see Jesus.

I also think we need to tie in St Athanasius’s remarks (Against the Arians, II: 75-77) on Jesus as the subject of election with Torrance’s claim that Jesus is God’s Being-in-Act.  The Word must be the living Will of the Father, and an essential energy (enousion energia), and a real Word” (II.14.2).

Posted in Autobiography, theology | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ed. McGuckin)


John McGuckin gives us an outstanding, yea even world-class compendium of Patristic Christology. It nicely succeeds the first volume in the series.  McGuckin notes a set of “ciphers” that explain the theology behind the Nicene Creed:

  • “‘Christ’ becomes a cipher by which the Fathers consider the corpus of Scripture as a proleptic description of the Incarnation” (McGuckin 10).
  • “The image of Light from Light inspired whole generations of patristic theologians across many centuries, who saw it as a vivid cipher of the divine unity and harmony of action” (49).
  • The ‘coming down’ (katabasis) was a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Old Testament, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize his presence in the desert” (96). It is God’s self-revelation and his compassionate stooping down to mankind.

“The Logos is not merely ultimate Truth but also the perfect beauty of God” (xxi).

We Believe in One Lord

Gregory of Nazianzus: “…the Father who experiences through the Son nothing corporeal, since he is Mind” (Poema Arcana 1.25-34).

Gregory of Nyssa: “that while we confess the invariable character of the [divine] nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause (to aition) and that which is caused (aitiaton), by which alone we apprehend that one person is distinguished from another” (On Not Three Gods).

Jesus Christ

Ephrem the Syrian: “The letter yodh of Jesus, our King, is queen of all the numbers” (Hymns on the Nativity 27.13-16).

The Only Son of God

A key element in this treatment is St Basil’s Letter 236, where he outlines how to gloss ousia and hypostasis. Thus, Basil:

The distinction between οὐσία and ὑ πόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear….Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons.

Gregory of Nazianzus: The Son is related to the Father as Word is to Mind….This follows from his passionless generation  and from the union, and is part of his revelatory function” (Oration 30.20).

Eternally Begotten of the Father

Gregory of Nyssa: [as] the existence of the Son is not marked by intervals of time and the infinitude of his life flows back from before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, he is properly addressed with the title of eternal” (Against Eunomius 1.42).

Origen: [The Son is generated from the Father] as an act of will proceeds from the mind without cutting off a part of the mind” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

Gregory of Nyssa: “The idea of cause differentiates the persons of the Holy Trinity, declaring that one exists without cause and another is of the Cause….but in speaking of cause and of the cause, we do not by these words denote nature….but we indicate difference in the manner of existence” (On Not Three Gods).

Gregory of Nyssa: The Characteristics of the Father’s person (hypostasis) cannot be transferred to the Son or the Spirit, no, on the other hand, can that of the Son be accommodated to one of the others” (On The Lord’s Prayer 3).

True God from True God

Clement of Alexandria alludes to “Cthonic daimons” against whom the Christian faith wars (58 n. 40).

Begotten not Made

Athanasius: He is the proper Word of the Father, and we cannot, therefore, suppose any will existing before him, since he is the Father’s living counsel and power….By the act of will by which the Son is willed by the Father, the Son himself loves and wills and honors the Father” (Against the Arians 3.63, 66).

Of One Being With the Father

Basil: community of ousia is taken to mean an identical principle of being (Against Eunomius 1.19).

For Us

Gregory of Nazianzus: “….in order that I too might be made God so far as he is made man” (Oration 29.19).

And for our salvation

Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a living, human being” (Adv. Haer. 4.20.6).

He came down

Ephrem the Syrian: “The scattered symbols you have gathered from the Torah towards your beauty, and you set forth the prototypes in your gospel as well as powers and signs from nature….The types have come to an end, but the allusions persist.  The flash of the symbols has been swallowed up by your rays” (Hymns on Virginity 28.2-5).

By the Power of the Holy Spirit

Cyril of Alexandria: For though the Holy Spirit has a personal existence (hypostasis) of his own and is conceived of by himself, he he is not therefore alien from the Son.  For he is called the Spirit of Truth, and Christ is the truth, and he is poured forth from him just as he is also from God the father” (3rd Letter to Nestorius).

Cyril of Alexandria: “For the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father but also belongs to the Son” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 11).

He Became Incarnate

Cyril of Jerusalem: “Let us never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ.  Others may want to hide it, but you should mark it on your forehead, so that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away” (Catechetical Lectures 4.14)

From the Virgin Mary

Gregory of Nazianzus: “Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the mother of God is out of touch with the Godhead” (Letter 101.5)

And was made man

Athanasius: “He became man, and did not come into a man” (Against the Arians 3.30; here Athanasius rebuts the Aristotelian container notion of space).

Theodoret of Cyr: “For even though souls are immortal, they are not immutable but constantly undergo many changes” (Letter 146).

Key terminology

Ousia: nature or being

Cause: the proprium of being the uncaused Cause is the unique attribute of the Father (3 n7).

Idiomata: personal characteristics (25 n7).

Posted in Church History, Fathers, theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Saving Calvinism (Oliver Crisp)

Image result for saving calvinism crisp

Crisp, Oliver.  Saving Calvinism: Expanding the Reformed Tradition.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2016.

The Reformed theological tradition is like inheriting a large, albeit old house.  It has many rooms and in these rooms are old treasures. The Young, Restless, and Reformed movement, however, decided that only a few rooms are worth inhabiting.  So begins Oliver Crisp in a short read that explores other dimensions of Reformed theology.

This book is quite light.  It won’t convince any Arminians, and most Reformed readers will be disappointed that some arguments aren’t pursued further. However, Crisp cogently and succinctly outlines a number of options and provides bibliographies at the end of each chapter.


Before we think about election, whether we believe in it or not, Crisp warns us not to impose temporal concepts back into eternity.  There was no literal “moment” where God decided to elect, since a moment connotes time, and time hadn’t yet been created. Maybe “intentions” is a better word (though probably still inadequate). It seems we are thrust back onto something like Boethius’s model.

Perhaps there is another way.  Athanasius spoke of Christ as the subject of election (Discourse against Arians, Book 2.75-77), and one could link that with Athanasius’s speaking of Christ as the Father’s willing, and then link that back to the decree to elect.  It bears reflection, though Crisp doesn’t point out that option.

In any case, the point of Jesus isn’t the decretum absolutum, or the hidden God, but the fullness of God dwelling in him and reconciling all things to himself (Col. 1:19-20)

Free Will

In his section on Free Will Crisp explores the different ways Jonathan Edwards and John Girardeau developed free will.  Edwards’ view is fairly well-known, so we will focus on Girardeau’s. Crisp notes, “There are situations in which fallen human beings have the power of contrary choice” (Crisp 77). Crisp criticizes Edwards’ view because it seems to make God the direct author of sin.  While Girardeau’s view is more palatable, it is conceptual ambiguous. It is quite possible that God ordains some actions but they aren’t determined by him (79). That’s very interesting, though Crisp doesn’t give any examples.


It seems odd that there should be a chapter on universalism in a book on Calvinism.  Fear not. Crisp doesn’t affirm it. He uses it as a foil for a “hopeful Christian particularism.”  This position affirms the doctrine of hell and that God-in-Christ saves (or will save) a particular number of humanity.  It just asserts, along with WGT Shedd, that this number is quite large.

The Atonement

He doesn’t actually attack limited atonement.  He summarizes other models and shows problems with all.  I’ll focus on several:

Nonpenal substitution: originally propounded by J. Macleod Campbell and popuarlized by the Torrance clan. According to this view, “Christ offered up a perfect act of penitence on behalf of fallen human beings” (120; see Hebrews 5:7-10).

Hypothetical universalism; draws on the sufficient/efficient distinction of Peter Lombard. The atonement is powerful enough to save all, yet only the elect are saved.  Seems right so far. Crisp gives the example of a medical team going to a village to innoculate them against a terrible disease. The vaccine is powerful enough to save the whole village, yet only some are saved.

Crisp then lists some potential problems with this view.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Book Review, theology | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment