theology

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Peter Enns on Definitions and Inerrancy

5vbi-counterpointNot long ago, I finished reading Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, a book in the Zondervan Counterpoints series which focused on the plausibility and meaning of inerrancy. Peter Enns was by far the most critical of the doctrine of inerrancy, and his essay largely put forward the position that we should not merely modify but simply get rid of the notion of biblical inerrancy. Here, I want to focus upon Enns’ methodology throughout the work.

We’ll look at Enns’ contributions to Five Views… a bit backwards, by focusing first upon his responses to the other authors. What I found was that time and time again, Enns demanded definitions for individual words from the authors he was responding to. Sometimes, these demands were warranted, but overall it seemed Enns would just call on the others to define their terms and say he didn’t know what they meant otherwise. Moreover, even where he did not demand definitions, he often put scare quotes around seemingly random words in his responses. This latter point is more a complaint about writing style than substance, but it was extremely distracting! On p. 61, for example, Enns put quotes around three words–”many,” “history,” and “accurate”–the latter two for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

However, what I want to focus on is Enns emphasis on the importance of definitions. Here are just some examples of Enns’ method in application:

“…’true,’ ‘error,’ ‘erroneously,’ and ‘falsehood’ are all left floating. I am not sure what Bird means by them–at least at this point” (Enns’ response to Bird, p. 182).

“For one thing, we have the perennial problem of what ‘affirm’ actually means, and Vanhoozer’s subsequent thoughts did not clear this up for me. Further, ‘eventually’ raises flags…” (Enns’ response to Vanhoozer, p. 245).

Now, as I noted, surely some of this is fair. It is true that it is important to wonder at the meaning of “truth,” as we know from the oft-quoted words of Pontius Pilate “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Thus, I am not saying that Enns has no point when he called for definitions throughout his critical engagement with his co-authors. Surely, definitions are extremely important. And it is because of the importance of definitions that I wonder why on earth Enns failed to even allow for different definitions of inerrancy in his own contribution to the book.

Think about this for a second: despite spending significant [what is meant by significant?] portions of his responses calling upon definitions from his co-authors, Enns himself titled his contribution: “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.”

Yes, that’s right, the man who called for definitions of individual words like truth, falsehood, error, affirm, and more himself eschews the hassle of defining inerrancy, the central topic of not just his chapter but the subject of the book! I’m astonished by this. How can someone who has demonstrated such concern for details himself just lump all inerrantists together and say that “well, however they define it, it doesn’t work”? Well, what does Enns mean by “inerrancy”? Enns does interact with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (hereafter CSBI) and apparently takes this for his norm regarding the meaning of inerrancy, but without any explicit definition of inerrancy, readers are left wondering whether Enns really is so concerned with definitions after all.

Enns, of course, brings up a number of interesting points and several challenges to inerrancy with which those who hold to the doctrine must interact. However, without any distinction between inerrantists, Enns is left doing that which he accuses others of: making statements which are hard to understand because he hasn’t defined terms. One obvious difficulty with Enns’ approach comes to the forefront when he assumes that inerrancy is necessarily committed to a literalistic hermeneutic: “The implication [of the CSBI on historical matters] is self-evident: inerrancy means, first of all, that literalism is the default hermeneutic of the CSBI… Taken at face value, this means that any comparison of Genesis with other ancient Near Eastern origins stories… is ruled out of bounds” (88). Enns qualified the last statement by noting that only those comparisons outside of CSBI conclusions are ruled out.

But of course the CSBI itself does allow for the comparison of genre, cultural contexts, and more in regards to interpretation of the text. Moreover, the CSBI allows for not just young earth creationism, but for other approaches to the text as well.

Thus, it seems to me that Enns’ lack of concern for possible nuance to definitions of inerrancy–his rejection of defining terms despite his insistence that others must do so–leads to great difficulties with his own critique. I have not here engaged in the core of Enns’ argument. As I said, many of his points are thoughtful and engaging. However, I think that his method seems a bit disingenuous: he demands that others define terms, but when it comes to the central topic of the entire book, refuses to acknowledge that any distinctions within the doctrine of inerrancy can combat his conclusion that the Bible is not inerrant.

Links

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“Theological Colonialism”? On theological issues which are ‘only popular in America’- Here, I evaluate the claims made by Michael Bird in his essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. More particularly, I consider the notion that doctrines which are allegedly only popular in one place of the world are somehow restricted in importance.

Source

Peter Enns, Responses and “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does not Describe What the Bible Does” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- a Christian reflection on the most recently completed Star Wars series

sw-fotjStar Wars is not normally where I go to begin discussions about worldview. The most recently completed mini-series, however, “The Fate of the Jedi,” was full of material for discussing worldview perspectives. Here, I will only touch on a few of the many themes the series brought up. Some of these include world religions, objective morality, and theism. Of course, there will be HUGE SPOILERS for the Star Wars universe prior and up to this point. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM POSTING COMMENTS FROM OTHER STAR WARS STORYLINES.

I’ll not be summarizing the plot of the Fate of the Jedi series, which you may find by following the links for the individual books here.

World Religions and the Force

A huge part of the early stages of Fate of the Jedi involved Luke Skywalker and his son, Ben, traveling around the galaxy and visiting other various Force-using schools. These different Force-using schools paralleled, in many ways, various world religions. For example, the Baran Do Sages held onto a kind of gnostic way of knowing, where secret knowledge was preserved by a select group of masters to pass on from generation to generation. Another example is found in the Mind Walkers, who try to separate body from soul in order to walk in a completely different reality. Not only does this also seem gnostic in its bent, but it also reflects the notion of the extinction of the self found in some Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. There are a few other schools that the Skywalkers visit throughout their travels, and each has aspects of at least one world religion reflected therein.

Of interest is that the way the series approached the various parallels to world religions is that many of them appeared to be fairly obviously wrong. That is, they had a feel of wrongness to them, but they also seemed to get aspects of reality wrong. The Mind Walkers, for example, allowed their bodies to waste away while they experienced their own way of entering into the Force. One cannot help but sense a kind of aversion to this belief system, in which the body is so totally denigrated. Some of their comments also reflected a lack of concern for distinctions between good and evil. Yet again, this is a distinctive of some Eastern religions, and it is a way in which they are factually mistaken. Those who fail to make distinctions between good and evil, between reality and the mental life; they are operating under a mistaken view of reality.

The Fate of the Jedi, then, does not teach a kind of religious pluralism. Instead, it eschews pluralism for showing that some belief systems do not work. They simply do not line up with reality.

Redemption and Betrayal

The character of Vestara Khai is an extremely interesting figure. She may be the most complex character since Mara Jade. A Sith, she is captured by the Skywalkers, who initially do not trust her whatsoever (and for good reason). Yet, in a kind of typical story of conversion in the Star Wars universe, they begin to turn her to the Light Side of the Force. She realizes that her own life has not been based upon good, and she also acknowledges a distinction between good and evil. Her realization is centered around her relationship with her family and friends (such as they are). For a little while, it seems that Vestara is a true convert.

Yet the reader knows throughout that although Vestara has changed her whole way of viewing the universe, she is not entirely a convert. She still puts herself first. In fairness to her, she does so thinking that she is putting others first, and she often does seem to prioritize the needs of Ben–whom she’s come to love–over herself. But when push comes to shove, she betrays the trust of the Skywalkers in the most dire possible way, by giving away the secret identity of a loved one and dooming her to a life of dodging the Lost Tribe of the Sith. A commentary on the darker side of human nature, Khai’s life in the books also begs the question of where one goes from there: what redemption may be in store for someone who seems to have ruined all chances at salvation?

Prophecy and the Celestials

The notion of prophecy is found throughout the Star Wars universe. There was the prophecy of the “Chosen One”; later, prophecies revolved around the Sword of the Jedi and the Unification of the Force. Each of these prophecies were expected to be fulfilled. In the Star Wars universe, prophecy is the product of the Force. One wonders, however, how this plays out with what is an essentially impersonal force. It seems that in order to give revelation, there must be some kind of personal reality; for prophecy relates to the actions of persons.

Ultimately, readers encounter the Celestials–a group of beings (Father, Son, and Daughter… and later Mother) of extreme power. These beings are tied into the whole plot of the expanded universe books of Star Wars in some ingenious (and sometimes a bit questionable) ways. Although these beings may appear to parallel a kind of pantheon, it becomes clear that they are not. They may be seemingly eternal, but they are also contingent: it was entirely possible for them to be destroyed. Again, it is not these beings who drive reality; it is the Force. The Force is the power in the universe, the ‘all in all’ of the Star Wars universe. Yet, as I’ve argued above, it is hard to envision the force as entirely impersonal. It delivers prophecies and sometimes even answers the call of those in need. The “Trinity” created and driven by the Force ultimately drive the Force themselves in many ways.

Conclusion

The Fate of the Jedi series explores a huge number of issues related to worldview. I didn’t get to nearly all the major issues, let alone the minor ones, which come out throughout the series. Of interest is how the series clearly brought up world religions in such a way as to avoid pluralism, but rather provided ways to distinguish between truth and falsehood in religion. Prophecy begs for a personal being, yet the allegedly impersonal Force provides it. It was great to experience the Star Wars universe in such a way as to have it bring up so many issues of worldview in often thoughtful and, frankly, thought-provoking ways.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale- I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Troy Denning, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi- Apocalypse (New York: Del Rey, 2012).

Disclaimer: The images in this post are copyright of the Star Wars universe and I use them under fair use. I make no claims to ownership of the images.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

No Instruments in Church?

organ“Churches of Christ” have one primary distinctive belief: the NT does not authorize the use of musical instruments in worship services (thus they are committed to a capella worship). (Castelein, 130)

I was reading through the Zondevan Counterpoints series book, Understanding Four Views on Baptism recently and encountered the above quote. I admit that it caused me much confusion (I wrote on the margin: “Uh?”). First, I’ll admit I didn’t go looking through the New Testament to see if the claim was true. I’m just going to give John Castelein the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s right. Second, Castelein noted that “Churches of Christ” is not a denomination in the strictest sense and so there is diversity; but it seemed that his point was that they unified around this point. I also don’t know if this is true and will assume Castelein is correct (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

Okay, now to my point: even were I to grant that the NT does not authorize the use of musical instruments in worship, what does this mean? Think about it for a second. What else does the NT not authorize? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in there about offering plates, displaying crosses in a sanctuary (or really anything at all about what a church may look like considering it was written during the time of house churches), playing Frisbee, or going on family vacations either.  Does this mean all of these things may not be practiced? Certainly not. On the face of it, this appears to be an argument from silence: the NT doesn’t say we can, so we cannot. But of course that doesn’t follow.

Moreover, what of the multiple places in the Old Testament where the use of instruments in worship is clearly condoned and even encouraged? One may consider Psalm 33:2-3:

Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

It seems to me that in order to argue that there may be no instruments in church, one must explicitly state that the Psalms may not apply to worship in Christian churches. For me, that’s a tough sell.

I’m curious to see whether there are positive arguments for this doctrinal distinctive. Let me know if you have encountered any and also let me know your own thoughts on the issue.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

John D. Castelein, “Christian Churches/Churches of Christ View: Believers’ Baptism as the Biblical Occasion of Salvation” in Understanding Four Views on Baptism edited by Paul Engle and John Armstrong (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?

ibg-wcIt is amazing, even before Freud’s psychoanalyticial theories were discredited as such, that this idea was ever accepted as anything but an utterly groundless fabrication. (134, cited below)

Oddly, a challenge I still sometimes see to Christianity (and indeed religion in general), is the notion that somehow it is merely cosmic project of some strange psychological phenomena. Although the idea didn’t originate with Freud, his theories seem to be the most popular. Freud’s idea for how religion came to be was essentially a wish-fulfillment of his own: he turned humanity’s religion into a kind of Oedipus complex.

For Freud, religion clearly often involved a father figure. Thus, he reasoned, religion must have come about over some conflict with a father figure which later caused guilt and the lifting up of a kind of father in the sky- God. The conflict, he proposed, came about due to the notion that the dominant male was the only one allowed sexual access to the women in the primitive family (I’m not making this up!). Winfried Corduan’s latest book, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, analyzed a number of aspects of origin of religion theories which are relevant to this thesis. Freud’s theory does not survive empirical analysis.

First, Freud’s notion of shared sexuality and group sex among alleged primitive societies was a popular theory at the time, but one utterly unfounded and based upon essentially no observable evidence. Corduan noted the notion of group marriage was largely derived from presuppositions about how the origin of religion and social institutions “must have happened” (114-115). The theory itself was put forth by L.H. Morgan and not based upon observation but rather “his support of evolution and Marxist-like social theories in which he construed ordinary social conventions… as late inventions in human history” (116). Some anthropologists in the field bought into the theory and thus allowed their observations to be directed by the theory, rather than using their contradictory observations to revise the theory. In fact, their theory-driven research resulted in confusion over the actual social constructs which they were observing (116ff).

Second, Freud’s analysis of the way religion developed is itself mistaken. The climax of Freud’s story is the cannibalistic totem feast upon the Father figure as a way to honor the Father and begin the worship thereof. But Freud’s story is again bereft of observational evidence. Freud acutally used the concept of the totem feast to try to discredit Christianity with its teachings on the Lord’s Supper (communion/Eucharist). However, totem feasts are, themselves, extremely rare in totemistic societies (133-134). Totem feasts were observed in  only a few societies, but then–as Corduan noted was often the case–the irregular was applied generally and so reporting on the various societies began to rely upon the rarity rather than the norm (if indeed a “norm” can ever be said to apply to wildly diverse practices). Moreover, there is simply no record whatsoever of a cannibalistic totem feast. The very notion was invented by Freud to discredit Christianity.

Freud’s generalized application of an extremely rare and unusual practice to a theory made up through psychoanalysis of peoples who left no record and no longer exist is unfounded. His use of his theory to attempt to discredit Christianity seems to actually teach us more about Freud’s psyche than the actual origins of Christian practice.

Anyway, I’m finding this book highly informative. I highly recommend it. I have found it to be extremely thought-provoking. It is interesting to see how many things we have simply assumed to be true about the origins of religion stem from unchallenged (and unsupported) theories proposed around a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is time to revisit these theories. So far as Freud goes, it seems his bell has tolled.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Is Molina’s God Fallible? A response to James N. Anderson

luis-de-molinaRecently, I responded to James White’s comments on molinism. Shortly thereafter, White had another podcast in which he made several comments on molinism. He also commented favorably on an article by James N. Anderson, which argues that God is fallible. I left a comment over on Anderson’s blog because I frankly think that he misrepresented Molina’s view. Here, I’ll reproduce the comment I left there with a bit more commentary after the block quote to demonstrate that Anderson’s argument, like White’s, really is a misrepresentation.

My comment (edited to make it a bit shorter):

You wrote, “In other words, there are possible worlds in which God actualizes C so that S will choose A, but S doesn’t choose A. There are possible worlds in which God’s eternal decree doesn’t come to pass, because libertarian-free agents do otherwise than he had planned.”

Molina, on the other hand, explicitly held that if we were to choose otherwise, God would have known otherwise. That is, on Molina’s view (and on the view of William Lane Craig), if we were to choose ~A instead of A, then God would have known ~A instead. Molina, in “On Divine Foreknowledge” makes this extremely clear.

Of course, you could argue that the means by which Molina argues that this is possible is itself mistaken, but the argument is complicated and I’m not going to reproduce it here. My main point is the very core of the argument you’ve given simply misrepresents the position of molinists. Molina (and Craig) held that if a creature were to choose otherwise, then God would know it. Period.

Anderson responded to my comment by noting his argument was related to the decree. Now, I’m not at all sure how this saves Anderson’s article from this error, which I think is fatal: his argument just fails to account for molinism on molinism’s terms. That is, his argument is an attempt at a reductio. Thus, he has to grant the system which he is trying to show is self-referentially incoherent its own terms. He failed to do so. Here is Anderson’s argument in a nutshell:

 [T]he Molinist is committed to the claim that although God knows that S would choose A in C, and he actualizes C because he plans for S to choose A, it is nonetheless possible for S not to choose A in C. (Craig clearly affirm[ed] this point a couple of times in his exchange with Helm.) In other words, there are possible worlds in which God actualizes C so that S will choose A, but S doesn’t choose A. There are possible worlds in which God’s eternal decree doesn’t come to pass, because libertarian-free agents do otherwise than he had planned.

Thus, Anderson concludes, on the molinist view, God is possibly fallible. But, as I pointed out in my comment above, Anderson’s argument basically just ignores Molina’s own views about God’s knowledge. I take it from his response to me that he thinks that God’s eternal decree somehow trumps considerations about foreknowledge, and I would think that on a Calvinist system that may be correct, depending upon how one hashes at the details (i.e. on some Calvinists’ expositions of foreknowledge, I have read it is grounded on God’s own action; that is, God foreknows x will happen because God wills x). But of course we’re not here interested on a Calvinist view of foreknowledge or the decree; Anderson is allegedly addressing Molinists.

By now it should be fairly clear where Anderson’s mistake lies: he imports his Calvinistic understanding of foreknowledge and the decree into molinism. But he claims to be critiquing Molina’s views internally; that is, his argument is supposed to show that molinism is self-referentially incoherent because it entails a fallible God. But it doesn’t! It only does so once Anderson has forced the concept of the eternal decree (that is, the specifically Calvinist view of this) as the filter through which molinism must be drawn. But of course that hardly shows that molinism is wrong, any more than filtering Calvinism through an Arminian filter demonstrates Calvinism is incoherent. One must evaluate each view on its own merits; not by presupposing positions which make them false!

There are a few other major difficulties with Anderson’s argument, such as a continued confusion with free knowledge and middle knowledge. See the “technical discussion” below as well as the comments for more.

So to return to Molina and his modern defenders, we find that they affirm in apparent unanimity that if one were to choose to do ~x instead of x, then God would have known ~x to be the case and x to be false. Thus, there simply is no question of a subject bringing about the falsity of God’s knowledge. Moreover, Anderson’s argument also confuses middle knowledge with free knowledge. Once God has actualized a world, it simply is the case that if, in that world, God knows that S will choose A, then S will choose A. Middle knowledge is the moment which considers counterfactuals; free knowledge is the creation of the world and the actualization of those counterfactuals. Thus, Anderson’s argument fails because 1) it fails to actually take Molina’s views into account; 2) it fails to interpret Molina’s views in such a way as to show the view is self-referentially incoherent; and 3) it fails to distinguish between middle and free knowledge.

Technical Discussion in the Comments

Be sure to check out the comments for some great interaction in which Anderson came along and commented as well. It’s a great discussion.

For example, this comment I wrote draws out some of the difficulties with Anderson’s argument further:

Your [I am here addressing Anderson directly] argument is that molinism entails a fallible God. Thus, your argument is that molinism–on molinism’s terms–entails a fallible God. Now, you wrote, “It doesn’t do to say, ‘If S were to choose otherwise then God would have decreed otherwise,’ because that’s dodging the issue.”

First, you misstate the actual premise, which is not that God would have decreed otherwise but that God would have foreknown otherwise; again, this leads me to think you’re not taking molinism on molinism’s terms. Instead, it seems you continue to conflate foreknowledge and the decree. Now, perhaps you simply mistyped that and you meant to say foreknown instead of decreed… in that case:

Second, your argument, again, is to try to show internal incoherence of molinism. In order to do so, you have to grant the premises of molinism. After all, if one wants to show an internal incoherence in a position, simply denying that parts of that position are true will not yield internal incoherence; rather, one must show how the pieces that such a position actually holds do not cohere with each other. Thus, because molinists from Molina to Craig to Thomas Flint (and I think this point is unanimous, though there may always be a “maverick” somewhere, I’m sure) hold that “If S were to do otherwise, God would have known otherwise,” you can’t just deny that premise and say “HA, now see, it is internally incoherent once I’ve denied this premise!” Rather, you would have to show that that premise is itself false.

Now, Molina doesn’t just assert that God would have known otherwise. He does spend several pages developing exactly how it could be the case that If S were to do otherwise, God would have known it–all without appealing to backwards causation. Craig also defends this account in his lengthier work on the topic. Fredosso develops this defense over the course of p 57-63 and 65-68 of his translation of Molina’s “On Divine Foreknowledge.” In the same work, Molina defends his position may be found on p. 119-120; as well as several other places where a whole view of his account provides a lengthier defense.

Thus, it seems to me your argument fails to demonstrate internal incoherence. Molinism on molinism’s terms does not make God fallible.

Third, as far as why I argued you confused middle and free knowledge; the reason is because Molina himself held that because God is eternal and exists in the eternal now rather than as an omnitemporal or temporal being (contra Craig, who defends his position somewhat differently), it is incorrect to hold that once  a world has been actualized, then the creatures world may bring it about that that world is not brought about. Again, this goes back to Molina’s view of foreknowledge and free will. But free knowledge is not middle knowledge and is absolute certainty about the “actualized” world. It is unchangeable. Thus, on this third point, your argument fails not only to demonstrate internal coherence but also to interact with Molina’s actual view. The reason is because your argument relies upon the notion that in the here and now a creature could bring it about that ~x if God knows that X will happen. But both Craig and Molina (and every other major defender of Molinism of whom I’m aware, though possibly not Zagzebski as I haven’t read her view) hold that if God knows x will happen, then, necessarily, x will happen. Thus, the freedom of creatures is found in middle knowledge, and that is how it is preserved. God’s actualizing a world brings it about that in that world, the counterfactuals God brought into being will happen. Again, Molina reconciles this as above (and alongside his view that God is Eternal in the technical sense rather than temporal).

Thus, although interesting, I once more conclude that your argument fails to either address molinism or show that it is internally incoherent.

Links

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James White and Molinism- Confusion about middle knowledge- I argue that James White has made a couple key errors related to molinism. On his most recent comments regarding molinism (his 2/11 podcast), he repeats a key error by saying that in the “exact same circumstances” he chooses differently. In this post, I demonstrate the error of his statement, along with some other mistakes in his critique.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

James White on Molinism- Confusion about middle knowledge

luis-de-molinaRecently, James White (a theologian and apologist) did a review of the debate on the Unbelievable? radio show between Paul Helm and William Lane Craig [accessible here; audio will begin immediately]. I thought that White did a decent job critiquing the synergistic tendencies in Craig’s exposition, but I also felt he failed to grasp the thrust of Molinism. I say this with great respect for White, whom I consider very thoughtful in the areas in which he engages. However, it is because of this respect that I write this with the hope that he–or at least others who wish to engage in this area–may be better equipped to engage with Molinism.* Although there are a number of places I could engage with White’s commentary, I want to focus on three particular areas, along with a fourth, methodological, issue.

Molinism and Free Will

The most problematic area in James White’s exposition came when he argued that free will is essentially vacuous on Molinism. His argument was essentially that the Molinist assertion that God knows what we will do in any given circumstance (the doctrine of middle knowledge) entails: “In this circumstance, this person will always do this” (emphasis White’s). Thus, he argued that Molinism is incapable of preserving human free will, which is ironically what Molinism was intended to preserve.

White based his argument on an example [actually a few examples, but this was most prominent]. While biking, he often came to a certain fork in the road. On one day, he may choose to turn one way, on another, he may choose to turn the other. Here’s the issue: White then said “The exact same conditions…” were in play in the scenario he described. The difficulty should be immediately obvious: White is very clearly mistaken that these are the “exact same conditions.” One day is not “exactly the same” as another day. Period. Thus, White’s objection fails. It fails for another reason, which we’ll explore in the next section, but for now it is enough to point out that White bases this objection on the notion that humans are able to choose differently in similar circumstances. That is, although he used the terminology of “the exact same conditions,” his example is merely that of similar conditions. His objection therefore fails.

Confusion about Middle Knowledge

It pains me to point this out for someone who I value as much as White, but I must object that it appeared as though White was disturbingly unfamiliar with what middle knowledge actually is. He continually objected to middle knowledge, as shown above, by arguing that people should be able to choose differently on Molinism but may not. Now, I don’t know how much White has read in this area, but surely if he’s going to engage with Molinists like Craig, he should–as someone whom I recognize as taking great care to read and engage with primary sources–read and understand Molina [let me be clear: I'm not saying he never has--I do not know what White has or has not read and would not claim to know]. Molina himself answers White’s objections in this regard very explicitly at a number of points in his On Divine Foreknowledge.

First, White is mistaken when he portrays Molinists as holding that middle knowledge determines choice. He has it backwards. It is the choices which “would be made” which determine middle knowledge. If one would have chosen differently, middle knowledge would have had different content. This is absolutely central to Molina’s view, and I’ll just quote him once to prove it. In his exposition of how various church fathers allegedly taught things similar to his own view, Molina wrote, “…when free choice by its innate freedom indifferently chooses this or its opposite, then God will bring it about that from eternity He foreknew nothing else, they [the church fathers he is favorably citing] are obviously teaching not that things will come to be because God foreknows that they will, but rather just the opposite” (180, emphasis mine).

Now whether Molina accurately exegeted these church fathers, and regardless of the objection which clearly will follow such a statement (“How is this possible?”–something Molina himself answers in detail in On Divine Foreknowledge), the clear and plain teaching of Molina is exactly opposite of what White seemingly attributed to him: namely, the notion that God’s middle knowledge determines free choices. Rather, it–even according to Molina–is exactly the opposite. Thus, White’s critique in this regard is simply wrong.

Confusion about Middle Knowledge II

A final difficulty with White’s critique was that he, at at least one identifiable point, confused middle knowledge with free knowledge. White was criticizing Craig by saying “if you’re truly free” you should be able to choose a different thing from what middle knowledge states (such as buying a different car than the Mercedes you wanted).

White’s critique was off base for two primary reasons. First, as shown above, he failed to recognize the absolute core of Molina’s doctrine of middle knowledge: that middle knowledge is not dependent upon foreknowledge. Second, White’s critique fails to recognize that middle knowledge interacts with free knowledge (God’s comprehensive knowledge of all things which will occur in creation). The reason for this is because White argues that one, if one has freedom, cannot “violate the middle knowledge… that was supposedly true.”

Here White seemingly confused the free knowledge of God with middle knowledge. It is true that the free knowledge of God cannot have been otherwise, for it is a result of the decree of creation. However, what White failed to recognize is that free knowledge is posterior to middle knowledge and so the fact remains that on Molina’s system (as demonstrated above), one can, in effect, change middle knowledge which would thus bring about a different state of affairs.

Again, the question is not here how this may be the case. Instead, what I am arguing is that White failed to correctly explain Molina’s position and so his critique actually failed to be centered upon the view against which he was arguing.

Methodological Issue: Philosophy?

I was surprised to see White comment so frequently on how this or that “may fly in philosophy classrooms” but apparently would not fly in the “real world” [this latter is not a quote, but he contrasted philosophy classrooms with the world outside of them]. He repeated this claim–or something similar–a number of times. I’ll keep this brief: White’s own engagement with Molinism was almost entirely philosophical. He continued to bring up the grounding objection (a philosophical objection if there ever was one), and he also pressed the attack by saying that Molinism cannot adequately account for the free will it is supposed to preserve (again, a purely philosophical argument). I was surprised to see this from White because I do really think he is quite a careful thinker, but the bottom line is that in denigrating philosophy while using a number of philosophical objections to Molinism he appeared rather inconsistent. Philosophy is a tool of the theologian, and White himself uses it in a number of ways. I would urge him to drop this kind of tongue-in-cheek dismissal of philosophical reasoning, even within theology. It seems to me he himself finds philosophical objections to theological systems to be of worth.

Conclusion

I commend White for taking on a difficult issue, and I readily admit he has more knowledge on any number of areas than I can begin to claim. I highly recommend much of his work, and even where he and I disagree, I have found him to be thoughtful and challenging. That said, I maintain White is mistaken in a few aspects of his interpretation of molinism. In particular, he doesn’t seem to acknowledge the broader philosophical framework behind the view. He also failed to allow for Molina’s own very explicit distinctions and definitions, and thus his critique actually declared Molina’s view to be the exact opposite of that which Molina actually held. I hope my own critique will be seen not as an attack, but rather as a call for clarification for White and others who hope to interact with Molinism.

*Full disclosure: I am a Lutheran with Molinist leanings, though I reject the synergism Molina himself held to. I view Molinism as a philosophical framework as opposed to a complete system.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

Luis de Molina On Divine Foreknowledge, edited by Alfred Freddoso (New York: Cornell, 1988).

James White, “The Dividing Line,” January 16, 2014. Accessible here. The primary interaction starts a ways into the show.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Theological Colonialism”? On theological issues which are ‘only popular in America’

5vbi-counterpointI recently picked up the latest in the Zondervan “Counterpoints” series: “Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy.” One of the essays, by Michael F. Bird, is entitled “Inerrancy is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA.” I flipped through it and I thought the author certainly had some good things to say. But, I admit that I find the apparent thrust of Bird’s argument is quite mistaken.

The notion that certain theological issues are essentially uninteresting to folks on the other side of either ocean is one I have read (and heard in person) on more than one occasion related to various Christian doctrines. Bird’s own presentation, regarding inerrancy, argues that the CSBI (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a document he is critiquing) demonstrates “An Unfortunate Trend toward Theological Colonialism” (the capitalization is due to this being a section heading). This trend might be discerned thus: “there are thousands of churches around the world that are both evangelical and orthodox and get on with their ministry without ever having heard of the CSBI and without ever using the word inerrancy in their statement of faith” (153-154, cited below).

Very well. Suppose we grant Bird this fact. I’m sure it actually is a fact. But so what? What possible relevance does this have for the truth and claims of inerrancy? Bird’s own conclusion is that, basically, we should not expect evangelicals across the world to saddle themselves with a view that is essentially unfamiliar to them. I think this may be a fair point, but it raises a couple concerns: first, the actual truth value of whatever doctrine is in question; second, concern for continuing to grow in knowledge and faith.

Suppose that you believe a doctrine is of great importance to how one might view other doctrines. Now, someone comes along and informs you that there are people in some area of the world who don’t know about that doctrine or that that area of the world is generally unconcerned with it. Should this somehow lead you to think that the doctrine is unimportant because people outside of your own cultural milieu do not view it as such? Certainly not! It may cause you to reflect upon its alleged importance and perhaps even come to a new view, but the notion that a specific doctrine is largely unimportant to certain groups of people does nothing, in itself, to downplay the actual importance of that doctrine. Nor does it impact the truth value of that doctrine in any way.

Now, at risk of being accused of “theological colonialism,” I am going to also suggest that the apparent disinterest in an important doctrine is less reason to think the doctrine is unimportant than it is reason to perhaps try to inform others of the doctrine’s actual importance. Returning to the example above, suppose the disinterest caused you to reflect upon the doctrine and you concluded that yes, it is actually deeply important. Would you not be concerned that others do not share your conviction, such that perhaps you may feel obligated to inform others about the centrality of said doctrine?

I’m not trying to suggest anyone without concern for inerrancy is ignorant or foolish. But I do think there is something to be said for the notion that a doctrine like inerrancy (or eschatology, or a view of creation, etc., etc.) is something worth exploring and learning about. We are called to expand our knowledge, not be content to sit in the knowledge of the faith we already have. I have become aware of entire realms of theological debates which I didn’t even know existed by reading authors–both international and, yes, American. I have found topics I was disinterested in to be deep, engaging, and edifying. I was subsisting on milk, but I have pursued solid food, and continue to do so [Hebrews 5:12ff]. I hope to continue to be enlightened by international theologians. But I would also hope that international theologians would not dismiss a doctrine because it comes from America.

Finally, is not the very notion that ‘if a doctrine is only of concern to American Evangelicals, then it should be moderated or reigned in’ itself a form of theological colonialism?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Michael Bird, “Inerrancy is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 145-173.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Molinism and Aseity- A knock-down argument against middle knowledge?

stpeters2One of the most recent “Straight Thinking” podcasts–a podcast put on by Reasons to Believe–featured Travis Campbell discussing Middle Knowledge (which is an aspect of the philosophical theological position known as molinism). Middle Knowledge is, essentially, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals–that is, the knowledge of things like “If someone talks about molinism, J.W. Wartick will be interested.” That is a counterfactual because it states something which may be contrary to fact–that is, it depends on some condition to be fulfilled in order to be true (in the example above, it is the occasion of someone to talk about molinism).

On the second part of the interview, Campbell discussed some objections to molinism which he felt made the position intractable. One of the first objections he presented was an objection from “aseity” that is, God’s self-existence. According to the doctrine of divine aseity, God does not rely upon anything else for God’s existence. Now, molinism classically holds that God surveys the realm of possible worlds prior to the creative act and so sees all possibilities related to free creaturely choices. Then, God creates the world God desires. Campbell argued that this undermines God’s aseity because it makes God dependent upon creatures for omniscience–one of God’s essential attributes.

The argument, if sound, has great force. After all, if molinism means one must deny an essential attribute of God, there is a pretty serious difficulty with the doctrine. But does it? Campbell cited William Lane Craig, a leading proponent of molinism, as admitting that molinism entails that God’s knowledge, at least, is in some sense dependent upon creaturely choices. From what I have read of WLC,*  I have found it seems he frequently makes it appear as though molinism presents God as able to choose among any parts of possible worlds to construct whatever possible world God wants. Not correct… but possibly also not Craig’s actual view;* perhaps Craig is only making it seem thus when he discusses molinism in summary. What I’m getting at is that I’m not convinced Craig is as consistent a molinist as, well, Molina (or in modern times, Thomas P. Flint).

Now for the claim itself, I do not think it follows that God is actually dependent upon creaturely choices. And, if it follows from molinism that God is dependent in that way, then it must also be true of any view which holds to foreknowledge whatsoever. In fact, this is where I have a pretty serious bone to pick with any view which denies comprehensive foreknowledge. Unless I am much mistaken–which is quite possible–the realm of possible worlds is a set of necessary truths. That is, each possible world is a complete set of all true propositions for the entire history of that world.*** But if that is the case, then molinism is no different on God’s creative activity than any other view of creation, for God is simply selecting one from a set of possible worlds.

There is debate over how such a set of possible worlds might be populated–does the set of possible worlds come from God, or is it simply a set of necessary truths?** Whatever one’s answer for this, it remains clear to me that molinism is not defective in this area: the molinist simply holds that God selects a possible world from the set of possible worlds. The fact that the molinist emphasizes that these possible worlds include free choices is essentially a moot point so far as aseity is concerned. If there is such a set of possible worlds, then any view of God’s foreknowledge and creation has to acknowledge that God’s creative act is the bringing forth of one such possible world. If there is no such set, then it seems our universe is necessary, which would itself be problematic for the doctrine of creation.

So it seems to me that Campbell failed to make a compelling argument against molinism from aseity. In order for his argument to be successful, he would have to show that molinism’s view of possible worlds is somehow radically different from any other position and then also demonstrate that molinism’s view also necessarily makes God dependent upon creaturely freedom. But of course that would also involve him having to show that the set of possible worlds, on molinism, is itself independent of God. And it seems to me that although perhaps not all molinists hold that God does generate the set of possible worlds, it is entirely possible for a molinist to consistently hold that this is the case: the set of possible worlds is dependent upon God. And, if that is true, Campbell’s argument fails. I conclude that Campbell’s argument fails because it is both incomplete and unsound.

*I have his Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom but I am working through Molina’s work before I transition into it.

**Interestingly, Craig is working in this area for his next major academic work, according to his own discussion of related topics on his podcasts.

***One may hold that a possible world is merely the starting conditions of a world, but I do not see how that distinction could be made coherently. That is, I’m not convinced that a set of possible worlds would not include the entire history of the possible world. Moreover, any who would argue that God has comprehensive knowledge of the future would have to grant that God’s creative act would entail the history of the entire [possible] world.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus” by Adam English – A Seasonably Appropriate Book Review

swsc-english

In the quest for the real Santa Claus, what is discovered more often than not is that he can assume any shape. He can accommodate anyone… (191)

There are many discussions floating around about the “real” Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas. I have a bit of a side interest in the topic because I was never a believer in Santa Claus and so I’ve always been interested in the reality behind the myth. So, when I received The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus
for Christmas last year, I was excited to dive in for the season this year

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work is English’s discussion of the historiographical difficulties related to unearthing the historical Nicholas of Myra. The difficulty with discovering the “real Santa Claus”–Saint Nicholas–is compounded by the fact that Nicholas of Myra (the Nicholas in question) is often confused with Nicholas of Sion (10; 80; 120; 174). Historical accounts of the life of Nicholas have often conflated these two persons, which means historians must extract them from each other in order to make an account of either. English confronts the possibility that Nicholas did not exist–a possibility put forth by some scholars, in fact–head-on by noting the multiple, independent sources for his life. Although Nicholas did not leave behind a legacy of his own writings, the extant evidence, argues English, is enough to acknowledge his existence as well as a historical core of stories about his life (11ff).

English does a great job of reflecting upon the apparently historical narrative while also drawing out the legends and apologetic tales which grew up around the narratives. Throughout the book, he reports a number of stories related to the life of Nicholas of Myra. He reports these stories seemingly in order of legendary development. For example, the famous story of Nicholas’ gift of gold to three women in need (about to be sold into prostitution) received more embellishment as time went on (57ff). However, English does not always do a great job of making the distinctions clear when these various types of tales are discussed. Part of this is probably due to the historiographical difficulties noted above, but it would have been nice for English to at least offer his opinion regarding the stories he related as to which he felt might be accurate as opposed to inaccurate. At some points he does, but at others he simply offers a series of increasingly surprising accounts without any commentary as to the possible historicity of the accounts.

A central part of the work focuses upon the council of Nicaea and the famous incident of Nicholas’ alleged slapping or punching of Arius or a different heretic (Arian) at the event. English argues that it is unlikely that it would have been Arius, because Arius was not a bishop and so likely would not have been present at the council itself  (101-107). Moreover, English believes that a different story, in which Nicholas reasons with an avowed Arian to change his view, is more likely the historical background for the story (107-109). Nicholas’ own place at the council is disputed, but his orthodoxy is acknowledged by all his biographers, and it is likely that he defended the orthodox position at the council itself (107ff).

Apart from his participation at Nicaea, Nicholas also, of course, performed the basic functions of a bishop, which at his time included helping to resolve issues in Myra and the surrounding area (115ff). He helped with the struggle against pagan belief and practice, and at this point some of the stories and legends of Nicholas of Sion were often intermixed with those stories of Nicholas of Myra (120-125).

English’s work also draws out the way that Nicholas of Myra has been adapted for multiple purposes and occasions. Whether this is through the adaptation of his apparently real, historical life to various theological discussions (including Aquinas) or legends which were developed to supplement his legacy and individual viewpoints, Nicholas’ story continues to have widespread appeal.

The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus is an interesting read on a compelling man. Perhaps the most interesting part is the frequent fusion of myth and legend with the historical account. Those interested in the life of the “real Santa Claus” should immediately grab the book for their collection.

Links/Source

Adam English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told- I wrote about the interplay between myth and reality in the stories about Nicholas. I wrote about how the myth of Nicholas actually bolsters the Christian worldview by pointing toward our longing for the ideal.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Women and the Reformation: Hope, Silence, and Circumstance

Marguerite_d'Angoulême_by_Jean_ClouetIt is Reformation Day and this year we are going to reflect upon a topic that is all-too-often overlooked: women in the Reformation. We shall consider the impact of women on the Reformation and the impact of the Reformation upon women from a theological perspective. I admit that covering such a broad topic within a blog post means I am very short on detail. I encourage readers to check out the sources at the end of this post in order to explore further avenues.

The Impact of the Reformation Upon Women

The Reformation brought about some changes for women both theologically and socially. Theologically, the issue of inequality  between men and women socially and spiritually was more widely discussed. Although the concept had existed before, the Reformers largely held to the notion that men and women were spiritually equal. Spiritual equality led some to wonder whether women could perhaps be social equals, or–if that was to far afield–perhaps they could at least be less inequal (Spierling, 181-183, cited below). Seeds for social and spiritual change were sown during this period, but it must be admitted that there was not as much development as some may allege.

For example, Martin Luther’s notion of the “priesthood of all believers” is sometimes taken to mean that women and men could stand alongside each other as spiritual equals in teaching, preaching, etc. However, when Luther himself was challenged on this issue by the Roman Catholics, he answered by making it very explicit that although women could teach in extraordinary circumstances, he believed the Bible mandated that men were in charge in both church and home (Spierling, 186; see Luther’s Works 36: 151-152). Spiritual equality was seen as equality in the eyes of God, not in the roles that men and women actually took on earth. However, Luther also fought against some of the double standards regarding men and women and was outspoken against brothels and other abuses of women (Lindberg, 360-361, cited below).

The Reformers remained influenced by early Christian views of men and women, which were, in turn, influenced by earlier non-Christian scholars whose pre-scientific views of biology and psychology were adopted. Diarmaid MacCulloch traced the impact of Aristotle and the ancient medical expert Galen upon figures like Augustine and Clement. He described the Reformers’ view of manhood and womanhood as viewed through this lens thus:

What Christian theologians asserted about men, women, and sexuality was nonsense, but it was ancient nonsense, and humanity has always been inclined to respect the assertion of ancient wisdom. The… package of ideas also had a lunatic coherence: it seemed to make sense, explained a baffling aspect of human experience, and contained a good deal of room for flexibility of interpretation. No doubt our own medical theories will seem equally lunatic to generations to come. (MacCulloch,611, cited below)

Carter Lindberg’s own discussion of the impact of the Reformation upon women is bracketed by the question: “Was the Reformation a help or a hindrance to women?” He answers, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “It depends.” The Reformers denied that marriage was a sacrament, which allowed, later, for the dissolution of abusive or even loveless marriage. Women also began to become more actively involved in theology, though their voices were often silenced or ignored. The encouragement to leave convents may have reduced the possibilities for single women to have careers in the church or any sort of involvement  (Lindberg, 358-361).

The social expectations for men and women during the Reformation period were shaped by the cultural expectations of “gender” which were themselves handed down to today through the theological writings of the Reformers (Ibid, 360). The concept may be termed “patriarchy” and was theologically adapted to continue to make it appropriate for the culture through the 1800s and into today (MacCulloch, 611).

Women’s Impact on the Reformation 

Women had little voice within the Reformation, largely due to some of the issues mentioned above. However, that is not to say that women had no voice whatsoever within the theological developments of the Reformation. There were several women who wrote theological treatises alongside their male counterparts, though their efforts were often ignored (Spierling, 187, 180-181).

Among these was Marie Dentière, who defended her own authority to teach in Galatians 3:28. Dentière was a noblewoman who defended the Reformers through the use of the Bible and who vehemently encouraged women to leave the Catholic faith. She wrote to defend Calvin during his exile. Women were called to teach and take up their Bibles to defend the Christian faith. Dentière’s defense of women’s capacity to teach was grounded in the biblical examples of godly women, among them the first herald of Jesus’ Resurrection, Mary Magdalene (Lindberg, 360; see also McKinley, 155-159, cited below).

Interestingly, Dentière’s writings spurred other women, Catholics, to speak against her in defense of convents. Jeanne de Jussie was directly called upon by Dentière to close her convent, but responded with a theological defense of convents and an attack on Calvinism (Lindberg, 359).

Other women acknowledged the subordination of women in the church and home, but nevertheless argued that the situation of the Reformation had brought about exactly the types of emergency situations Luther had granted women may teach in. Argula von Grumbach wrote defending Arsacius Seehofer, who had been arrested and prosecuted for “holding Lutheran ideas.” She felt the need to defend Seehofer because no one else had done so. Thus, her authority was granted due to the priesthood of all believers.The emergency situation was brought about by Seehofer’s continued imprisonment and the fact that no men had stood up to defend him.

Thus, Reformation theology was seen as the grounds for some women to speak; even those who acknowledged the categories of subordination found within the theology of the Reformers. Others spoke up due to the wielding of Reformation theology against Roman Catholicism. Still others felt that sola scriptura had led them to discover real, biblical grounds for women to teach.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of Reformation theology, but it must be admitted that the Reformers’ views on women were essentially a product of their societal background. They embraced, rightfully, sola scriptura, but as I have noted elsewhere (Who Interprets Scripture?), this itself raised a number of issues regarding the interpretation and meaning of a text. Moreover, sola scriptura does not entail that one is able to interpret the Bible in a socio-cultural vaccuum. It seems to me the Reformers view of women as essentially child-bearers and home-makers was more a product of their cultural background than something the text of the Bible specifically taught. Of course, that is a debate for a different time.

To end on a positive note, it is worth noting that the Reformers’ teaching sowed the seeds for greater gender equality. The notion of the “priesthood of all believers” should not be abused in order to be taken as an endorsement of women teaching; but it nevertheless did have within it a concept of spiritual equality which provided a basis, however small, for believing that men and women could be spiritual and social equals. Moreover, women began to take up the torch and teach in “emergency” situations and thus provided a basis for others to do the same. Finally, still other women turned to the Bible itself as a justification for their voice alongside that of men. Their authority to teach was, they argued, itself biblical.

Let us continue that Reformation.

Sources

Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Mary McKinley, “Dentiere, Marie” in Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters edited Marion Ann Taylor and Agnes Choi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 155-159

Karen Spierling, “Women, Marriage, and Family” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology edited David Whitford (New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 178-196.

The Image is of Marie Dentiere and is public domain.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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