What if Culture, Like the Heavens and Earth, is Ephemeral?

Just to follow up on what to do about a culture in decay, I couldn’t help but notice what the Psalmist writes in Ps. 102:

25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.

Calvin explains these verses this way:

Here the sacred writer amplifies what he had previously stated, declaring, that compared with God the whole world is a form which quickly vanishes away; and yet a little after he represents the Church as exempted from this the common lot of all sublunary things, because she has for her foundation the word of God, while her safety is secured by the same word. Two subjects are therefore here brought under our consideration. The first is, that since the heavens themselves are in the sight of God almost as evanescent as smoke, the frailty of the whole human race is such as may well excite his compassion; and the second is, that although there is no stability in the heavens and the earth, yet the Church shall continue steadfast for ever, because she is upheld by the eternal truth of God.

Okay, maybe Calvin was like me, mean, a Calvinist and a jerk. Add to that fundamentalist in his understanding of the world’s fleeting nature. But wouldn’t a little more of this paleo-Calvinism help the neo-Calvinists cope when the transformation of culture doesn’t pan out?

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32 thoughts on “What if Culture, Like the Heavens and Earth, is Ephemeral?

  1. But wouldn’t a little more of this paleo-Calvinism help the neo-Calvinists cope when the transformation of culture doesn’t pan out?

    Maybe they didn’t get the memo, it already isn’t panning out. Late modernity is far more amenable to the sort of lives most Americans and Westerners aspire to live to. Even if the culture were to shift toward something more favorable to Reformed Christianity, the shift would likely not be instigated by Christian cultural transformers. I am of the opinion that there are a few critical drivers of culture, and the one most likely to upend modernism will be economic disruption and the broken promise of unbroken cultural and technological progression.

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  2. “I am of the opinion that there are a few critical drivers of culture, and the one most likely to upend modernism will be economic disruption and the broken promise of unbroken cultural and technological progression.”

    Ideas have consequences. If there are consequences they came from ideas. If we rise or fall as a culture it is because our presuppositions are wrong. Our hope is to think God’s thoughts after him in the field of economics. Thinking about economics independent of God is akin to the sin of Adam eating the fruit.

    Did I say that right?

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  3. Speaking of drivers and consequences and ideas, my dad used to tell me all the time, “just do something! Even if it’s wrong!”

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  4. “just do something! Even if it’s wrong!”

    oops

    This Christian command of love is not a program, nor an ethical theory, nor a principle, from which individual moral demands that have universal validity could be developed. On the contrary, any such undertaking would only obscure what is at stake. The Christian command of love keeps directing me to my particular moment, so that I as one who loves can hear the claim of the “You” who confronts me, and can discover, as one who loves, what I have to do. If one still wants a rule, it can be very simply given by reference to the Ten Commandments. For everything they say is, according to the word of Paul (Rom. 13:9), summed up in the one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. And whoever expects something more or greater may be reminded of that dialogue between father and son in Dostoyevsky’s A Raw Youth. In the face of the frightening prospect of a world catastrophe the son asks:
    “Yes, but then what is one to do?”
    “Oh, God, don’t be in such a hurry; it won’t all happen so soon. But, generally, nothing is to be done, that’s the best. At least one then has an easy conscience and can tell oneself he hasn’t gotten involved.”
    “Enough! Stick to the subject. I want to know what I really should do, and how I should live.”
    “What you should do, my dear boy? Be honest, don’t tell lies, don’t covet your neighbor’s house, in a word, read the “I’en Commandments – it’s all written down there once and for all.”
    “Cut it out, cut it out! That’s all so old, and besides, it’s mere words. What’s needed here is some action!”
    “Well, if boredom’s too much for you, then try to win the love of somebody or something, or, simply put your heart into something.”
    “You’re making fun of me! Besides, how can I start with just the Ten Commandments alone?”
    “Merely carry them out, in spite of all your questions and doubts, and you will be a great man.”
    Only one who tries to live by the simple Ten Commandments, who takes the command to love seriously, will understand Christian faith, its crisis, and the overcoming of that crisis. The Crisis af Faith, trans. Eduard Hobbs.

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  5. Did I say that right?

    What’s scary is how right it was. Forgive my concern for you Muddy – maybe I’ve been watching too much Star Wars with my sons, but I must say – Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny…. Three recitations of WLC, and two readings through The Lost Soul of American Protestantism and you should be okay.

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  6. Okay, maybe Calvin was like me, mean, a Calvinist and a jerk.

    You left out in a dinghy behind the party boats.

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  7. p.s. A propos of my last suggestion, if Navin R. Johnson were elected and he behaved like most presidents, we could say “that guy is such a jerk” without falling afoul of Romans 13.

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  8. David, but claiming to have been born a poor black child and recalling singing and dancing on the porch with his family down in Mississippi would be sufficient to lose him any election. But that’s fine, because he still doesn’t need you or anybody–just this ashtray, paddle game, remote control, these matches, this lamp, and that’s all he needs. And this chair, he needs that. What are looking at, what do you think he is, some kind of jerk or something?

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  9. what to do about a culture in decay”
    “Our hope is to think God’s thoughts after him in the field of economics.”

    “the ultimate goal of economics is to improve the living conditions of people in their everyday life.”
    … so we operate in and point to the better ‘culture’ (a group with its own beliefs, way of life, etc.) and it’s King, Jesus…who came to give life, life abundant, and who will establish and uphold His government over His kingdom with justice and righteousness, forevermore.

    Like clothing He will change the current heavens and earth and they will be changed. (Ps 102 26 b) He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe

    We know that the whole creation and we with the Spirit first fruits groan, wait eagerly for our adoption as sons. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Those who see His promises and welcome them from a distance and confess being strangers and exiles on the earth make it clear that they are seeking a better country of their own and gain approval through their faith. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them. There is laid up the crown of righteousness for all who have loved Jesus’ appearing.

    so we say to us all : “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking”

    btw, first for me and for you -don’t think mean jerks are operating in that culture. Though outwardly we are decaying, inwardly we are being renewed

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  10. Add to that fundamentalist in his understanding of the world’s fleeting nature. But wouldn’t a little more of this paleo-Calvinism help the neo-Calvinists cope when the transformation of culture doesn’t pan out?

    The “culture” cannot [and should not] be engaged outside the parameters of the natural law, and since “culture” is indeed mutable, such a discussion is useless without natural law as its starting point.

    CCC:

    1958 The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history; it subsists under the flux of ideas and customs and supports their progress. The rules that express it remain substantially valid. Even when it is rejected in its very principles, it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man. It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies:

    “Theft is surely punished by your law, O Lord, and by the law that is written in the human heart, the law that iniquity itself does not efface.” [Augustine]

    Calvinist International’s Wedgeworth:

    The past few years have seen a number of publications putting forth the thesis that the Protestant Reformation held to a belief in natural law and advocated a socio-political theory known as the “two kingdoms.” This has been construed as a move away from a previous consensus that the Reformation and Calvinism in particular believed that their faith was for all of life and that Christ’s mission required a transformation of culture. That concept, it is argued, should be understood as “neo-Calvinism” and is actually a step away from the Reformation tradition. Complicating the discussion is the fact that this is not merely a historical debate, but indeed a competition between contemporary political programs. In what follows I will argue that the Reformation did indeed advocate natural law and a distinction between two kingdoms, but this was not a precursor to modern political Liberalism.

    And so there is at least a case to be made that once the older Reformed doctrines are properly understood, they will not be seen as irreconcilable with the best representatives of the Neo-Calvinist project. To do this would require another article, but for now we can say that the older doctrines do stand in sharp contrast with the new two kingdoms proposal as well, and that should be telling. The contemporary proposals are not representations of the older view, and the one thing that is certain is that the individuals and churches involved in the Reformation were not without significant accompanying political and cultural reactions.

    http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Theology/two-kingdoms-critique.html

    &c.

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  11. TVD,

    If you wan’t to get the feel for the older Reformed tradition, check out the works of Richard Muller. The Reformed Scholastics most definitely held to Natural Law. I can’t remember the exact work, but he also delves into the Reformed Resistance Theorists. Not everyone here agrees with my own views on political resistance, but I would say that it falls broadly in the NL2K camp.

    DGH’s historical work is concerned with far later subject matter generally than Scholasticism.

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  12. PS

    25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
    26 They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
    You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
    28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
    their offspring shall be established before you.

    My favorite part of the blog post.

    Next.

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  13. Yet while the earth remains, indeed let us bring on the paleo-Calvinism:

    “But it is questioned whether the law pertains to the kingdom of Christ, which is spiritual and distinct from all earthly dominion; and there are some men, not otherwise ill-disposed, to whom it appears that our condition under the Gospel is different from that of the ancient people under the law; not only because the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but because Christ was unwilling that the beginnings of His kingdom should be aided by the sword. But, when human judges consecrate their work to the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, I deny that on that account its nature is changed. For, although it was Christ’s will that His Gospel should be proclaimed by His disciples in opposition to the power of the whole world, and He exposed them armed with the Word alone like sheep amongst the wolves, He did not impose on Himself an eternal law that He should never bring kings under His subjection, nor tame their violence, nor change them from being cruel persecutors into the patrons and guardians of His Church.”

    John Calvin
    Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses – p. 77.

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  14. Frank, but Calvin says Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Christ himself and his apostles acted that out. Only the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics baptized the emperor. Do you really want to go there?

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  15. Dr. Hart, you might want to consider whether it is really “paleo-Calvinism” that you’re after.

    The answer lies in the kingdom is not of (from/source) this world, but it is undoubtedly “in” the world.

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  16. Frank, don’t you mean “in Christendom.” State support for religion did not come until the fourth century. It ended at the end of the eighteenth. Are you really interested in Calvin or Constantine?

    Or maybe, it’s Judah. Just be sure to get into the livestock business before work on the Temple begins.

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  17. Jed Paschall
    Posted April 30, 2015 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
    TVD,

    If you wan’t to get the feel for the older Reformed tradition, check out the works of Richard Muller. The Reformed Scholastics most definitely held to Natural Law.

    Yes, I’m familiar with “Protestant Scholasticism,” thanks, Jed. It seems that some people around here need to brush up more than I for reasons given above. Jordan Ballor is an acquaintance of mine, love his stuff.

    http://calvinistinternational.com/2013/08/02/the-reformations-reboot-of-scholasticism/

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  18. TVD, google is great, isn’t it?

    Try Fesko, likely the brightest mind reformed scholasticism has today, up there with Muller, no doubt:

    An Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism: The Benefits for the Church
    J. V. Fesko
    We do not simply want to admire Reformed Scholasticism and then return it to the dusty library shelf. On the contrary, Reformed Scholastic works can be quite helpful to the church for several reasons. First, the church can benefit from the precision of Reformed scholasticism and use the scholastic method in new theological works. It was Karl Barth (1886-1968), no champion of traditional orthodoxy, who recognized this insight some sixty-five years ago:

    I had come to be amazed at the long, peaceful breathing, the sterling quality, the relevant strictness, the superior style, the methods confident at least themselves, with which this ‘orthodoxy’ had wrought. I had cause for astonishment at its wealth of problems and sheer beauty of its trains of thought. In these old fellows I saw that it can be worth while to reflect upon the tiniest point with the greatest force of Christian presupposition, and, for the sake of much appealed-to ‘life,’ to be quite serious about the question of truth all along the line. In other words I saw that Protestant dogmatics was once a careful, orderly business, and I conceived the hope that it might perhaps become so again, if it could reacquire its obviously wandered nerves and return to a strict, Church and scientific outlook.

    Within the last fifty years there are very few works on systematic theology that scratch the theological surface. Introductions to systematic theology abound. Where are the systematic theologies that wrestle with doctrine with the degree of precision and research that mark Reformed Scholastic works?

    Second, the church can benefit from the thorough nature of Reformed Scholastic works. It was Paul Tillich (1886-1965), another unorthodox theologian, who recognized this benefit:

    It is a pity that very often orthodoxy and fundamentalism are confused. One of the great achievements of classical orthodoxy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was the fact that it remained in continual discussion with all the centuries of Christian thought . . . These orthodox theologians knew the history of philosophy as well as the theology of the Reformation. The fact that they were in the tradition of the Reformers did not prevent them from knowing thoroughly scholastic theology, from discussing and refuting it, or even accepting it when possible. All this makes classical orthodoxy one of the great events in the history of Christian thought.

    As we saw with Turretin’s explanation of predestination, Reformed Scholastic theologians paid careful attention to the history of a doctrine. They were conversant with the theology from every age of the church. This type of thoroughness is something that Reformed theology currently lacks. While many in Reformed circles are familiar with the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, there is an ignorance of Patristic and Medieval theology. Why should we be aware of Patristic and Medieval theology? There are several reasons:

    1. The Reformation has been called a revival of the theology of Saint Augustine, the Patristic era’s greatest theologian. Moreover, many Reformers such as Calvin, esteemed the theology of the Patristic age.

    2. Reformed Scholastic theologians used the insights of Medieval theology in writing their own doctrinal works. Turretin’s use of the scholastic method is certainly evidence of an appreciation for Medieval theology.

    3. If we believe that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1.9; NAS) then we can learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do not repeat them. This can only be done by a study of historical theology from every age of the church.

    4. If we believe that Holy Spirit blows as the wind (John 3.8) then we must acknowledge the fact that God has saved people in every age. This means that there are saints from the Patristic and Middle Ages that we can read and profit from.

    These are all facts that Reformed Scholastic theologians such as Turretin recognized.

    Third, we can benefit from the piety and devotion of the Reformed Scholastics. True, while many of the works of Reformed Scholastic theologians are highly technical and geared for academic debate, there are still those works that have a good blend of scholastic precision and warm piety such as Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service. These three points are certainly things that the church can benefit from in reading and studying the works of Reformed Scholastic theologians. Now, while the scholastic method has many benefits, we should not think that it is the end-all cure for all theological problems. No theological method will prevent heterodoxy from rearing its ugly head.

    Just because a theologian uses the scholastic method is no insurance policy against error. It was Richard Baxter (1615-91), for example, who was one of the most knowledgeable Reformed Scholastic theologians of the seventeenth century. Yet, this did not prevent him from allowing the philosophy of Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), an Italian philosopher who was critical of Aristoteliansim, to influence his theology. More specifically, Baxter argued that the doctrine of the Trinity could be seen in the creation. This was a radical break with traditional Reformed theology that had made the doctrine of the Trinity the exclusive property of special revelation. In similar manner, Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1671-1737), the son of Francis Turretin, gave a greater place to natural reason in his theology. Although he “did not replace revelation with natural religion, he gave rational arguments an equal footing with biblical revelation.” This was a distinct break from his father’s opinions on the subject. It was these types of subtle theological shifts that eventually imploded Reformed theology in Europe. By the mid-eighteenth century professors at Calvin’s Academy were denying doctrines such as the Trinity and the Incarnation because they did not square with human reason. This demise of Reformed theology should not be attributed to the scholastic method but rather the users of the method. Any time human reason is relied upon to excess, heterodoxy is bound to ensue. The Church, however, can use the scholastic method with great profit so long as they do so with the heart of a Berean (Acts 17.10-11) and, as Francis Turretin would argue, with reason held in check by the authority of Scripture.

    Who’s next?

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  19. Calvin—“But as the soul of Christ was set free from prison, so human souls also are set free before they perish.”

    http://www.godrules.net/library/calvin/142calvin_c10.htm

    Martin Luther—“As soon as thy eyes have closed shalt thou be woken, a thousand years shall be as if thou hadst slept but a little half hour. Just as at night we hear the clock strike and know not how long we have slept, so too, and how much more, are in death a thousand years soon past.”

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  20. D. G. Hart
    Posted May 1, 2015 at 7:58 pm | Permalink
    vd, t goes hollywood: “Jordan Ballor is an acquaintance of mine”

    Except Jordan lives in W. Michigan.

    But he is, as are you. His work is stronger.

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  21. Mr. Hart,
    Your public prayers may be disheveled but your prose here got me dancin’.
    Paleo vs neo! Loved it man.

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  22. Dr. Hart, doesn’t make much sense to claim to be paleo Calvinist and regularly reject fundamental tenets espoused by Calvin.

    Better to admit you really are a “neo-Calvinist”, but just of a different stripe from the Dutch strain you critique.

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