Posts tagged John Calvin
21 May 2012
Jesus gave his followers two signs, or sacraments, to strengthen them in their faith: baptism and communion (the Lord's Supper). Calvin gives a helpful definition of a sacrament:
[I]t is an outward sign by which the Lord seals on our consciences the promises of his good will toward us in order to sustain the weakness of our faith; and we in turn attest our piety toward him in the presence of the Lord and of his angels and before men (Institutes, 4.14.1).
In other words, the Lord makes promises, we receive those promises by faith (piety), and as we perform the outward sign, the Lord says a big "Yes!" to his promises to us.
So what are the promises to which God is saying "Yes!" as we take the Lord's Supper?
[W]hen bread is given as a symbol of Christ's body, we must at once grasp this comparison: as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the life of our body, so Christ's body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul. When we see wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ's blood. These benefits are to nourish, refresh, strengthen, and gladden (Institutes, 4.17.3).
God has promised that the death of his Son is sufficient for us, to sustain us, to give us life and to keep us alive, and to give us strength and joy in following him. So when that promise is proclaimed, and when that promise is believed, then, in the very act of eating and drinking, God says a big "Yes!" to those promises. And what is the effect on us as we eat and drink in this way? Each and every time we take communion and each and every time God says his big "Yes!" to his promises, we are spiritually fed: our faith is strengthened, our hearts rejoice and our inner being is nourished. In other words, the Lord's Supper is one of the ways in which, spiritually, we feed on Christ by faith.
What a privilege to be able to share communion together!
23 Jul 2011
The first part of chapter 10 of Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) covers some previous material in more depth. For example, why do our beliefs about the whole of reality necessarily control our beliefs about any part of reality? The answer is basically that it is impossible even to think about any part of reality in isolation. So when we think about (say) biology, we cannot do so without presupposing some way in which biotic properties relate to other kinds of properties.
But the meat of the chapter is a fascinating discussion about the nature of God.
First, we have the view developed by Augustine, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas (the "AAA view" for short). Under this view, "God's attributes all exist necessarily, and necessarily God has them all" (p.202). This view encourages reductionism in theories: trying to explain things in one aspect of reality in terms of their dependence on some other aspect of reality, for example, explaining psychology in terms of biology and physics. It encourages reductionism
precisely by holding that certain kinds of properties and laws found in the cosmos exist necessarily and are uncreated [in the sense of not being wholly dependent on God] while others are not. For if some properties and/or laws of the cosmos are created [dependent on God] while others are not, then what could make more sense than to theorize about creaturely reality by looking for the ways its contingent properties and laws depend on those that are uncreated? Indeed, how could it be avoided? (p.212)
The problem with the AAA view is how to explain how God's attributes (say, his justice) can exist necessarily without God thereby becoming dependent on them.
For if there is even one abstract property that (on the AAA view) would have to exist independently of God and which God would have to possess to be God, then not only is that property rendered divine per se, but God is thereby debarred from that status (p.210).
Another apparently insurmountable problem is that
according to the AAA position, God's attributes (goodness, justice, or power, e.g.) exist as necessarily and are as uncreated as He is and are shared (in a lesser degree) by humans. The difficulty with this is that humans are thereby made to be (partly) divine because the qualities humans share with God would have to be as uncreated in us as they are in God (p.210).
In contrast, the view of God that Clouser advocates is one which, apparently, "to this day  has no voice whatever in philosophy of religion in western Europe and North America" (p.223), but is one which "was elaborated by the Cappadocian Fathers of the Greek Orthodox tradition, rediscovered in the west by Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century, and championed by Karl Barth in the twentieth century" (p.203), labelled as the Cappadocian and Reformational position (the "C/R view" for short).
Under the C/R view, "everything found in the cosmos [has been] created by God" (p.213). After a survey of relevant biblical passages, Clouser concludes:
So I find the evidence to be that the Bible is not silent on whether anything is uncreated other than God, including numbers, sets, properties, relations, laws, propositions, or any of the other denizens of Plato's barnyard. None can be regarded as uncreated (p.217).
But this goes further than theory-making, because
Bible writers simply do not allow for exceptions, not even for the attributes ascribed to God Himself (p.217).
So while this view affirms that God really has both the relations to creatures and the qualities that scripture ascribes to Him, it insists that He did not have to have them to exist. Rather, they are true of Him because he freely willed them to be, and to subject Himself to laws and norms He also called into being, all so as to accomodate himself to our creaturely limitations (p.218).
Having seen how these different approaches to theory making are tied in to different views of the nature of God, and having seen that the AAA view (and its associated reductionism in theory making) is less coherent and less biblical than the C/R view, the stage is now clear to begin to construct a non-reductionist view of reality, which is the subject of the remaining three chapters.
24 Jun 2011
1. Religious belief controlling theoretical reason
- guides and directs the use of reason in all of life
Theoretical Reason is:
- not neutral because controlled by religious belief
- not final court of appeal
- not able to decide all matters
In Chapter 5 he now labels this as the radically biblical position, saying
The position is this: there is no knowledge or truth that is neutral with respect to belief in God. The [Bible] writers who assert this do not also specify exactly how belief in God impacts "knowledge of all kinds" or "all truth," but they are clear that they regard beliefs in other (putative) divinities as partially falsifying all that is taken to be truth or knowledge, and that knowing God enables us, in principle, to avoid that partial falsehood (p.94).
He then quotes some biblical texts and concludes
that the cumulative effect of these texts is to teach that no sort of knowledge is religiously neutral (p.95).
However, most people throughout the history of thought have taken different views on the relation between religious belief and theoretical reason.
2. Theoretical reason controlling religious belief
First, there is the view that reason is autonomous and "trumps" religious belief. This may be religious rationalism, which "was the dominant influence in ancient Greco-Roman culture" (p.94). In this view, reason can be used either to justify or to refute religious beliefs. In some ways this may be seen as the reverse of the radically biblical position (p.93):
Theoretical Reason is:
- neutral respecting all matters
- final court of appeal in all matters
- able to decide all matters (?)
Religious Belief is:
- a theory or conclusion of reason
(Closely related to this is religious irrationalism, which states that religious belief is completely isolated from theoretical reason.)
3. Religious belief and theoretical reason in harmony
When the radically biblical position clashed with religious rationalism, religious scholasticism emerged, which
devised a compromise between the all-encompassing claim pagan rationalism made for reason, and the equally all-encompassing biblical claim that right faith is a necessary prerequisite for knowledge of every sort. This was done by limiting the scope of each claim (p.99).
This position "had permeated the whole of European thought by the sixth century" (p.104), and "Among thinkers who believe in God, [it] is still by far the most popular position in the world today" (p.105). Diagrammatically, it looks something like this (p.101):
Realm of Supernature or Grace
Faith accepts revelation as supreme authority concerning God and the soul and related matters.
- Reason is neutral and final authority concerning nature;
- Reason harmonizes religion with the theories of science and philosophy;
- Reason proves the existence of the supernatural and systematizes revealed doctrines.
4. Faith and reason post-1500
The change in Western thought came
in the sixteenth century when scholasticism was simultaneously challenged by two movements. One of these, the Renaissance, advocated a return to pagan rationalism by insisting on the autonomy and neutrality of reason in all matters, so that it dispensed with faith imposing any limit to reason. The other was the Reformation, which rejected limiting faith to only supernatural matters and argued that reason is intrinsically guided by faith in all matters (p.105).
Calvin was strongest on the latter point, taking "the view that human reason is not neutral because it is affected by sin, where sin is understood as false divinity belief which produces deleterious effects on reason's attempts to interpret reality" (p.106).
However, the Protestant church soon sank back into scholasticism, having a "general view of the relation of faith and reason [that] was largely the same" as that of the Catholic church.
Their main difference over faith and reason came to be that while Catholic thinkers tended to harmonize their faith with theories about nature derived from Aristotle (due to the influence of Thomas Aquinas), Protestant thinkers felt free to harmonize their faith with whatever theories about nature were currently fashionable (p.107).
So where is the radically biblical position today? It does have its adherents, but generally doesn't have a good press, "owing to the specific interpretation of it which has been advocated by the largest single group of its adherents, the fundamentalists" (pp.108f), to whom (or against whom) the next chapter will be devoted.