Victims All

Branden Henry thinks that some (many?) Americans are in denial about race relations in the U.S. Take, for instance, the white supremacists who marched last summer in Charlottesville:

Playing the Victim – This, right here, is what we witnessed in Charlottesville. Grown white men marching against Jews and Blacks because the white men believe they are being replaced. These same folks who cry foul when minorities attempt to be treated as equal are the same folks who tend to ignore the genocide of the native people of this continent, as well as ignore the long-lasting effects of slavery, Jim Crow, etc. on black persons. These people remind me of the husbands I work with who get angry at their wives when their mistresses are discovered. It is absurd and downright shameful.

Henry has a point. Thinking that whites have had it anywhere near as bad as descendants of slaves is folly. But has Henry considered what happens if economics (class) trump race? What happens if we experience forces even larger and more powerful than structures that perpetuate racism? Finding critics of capitalism who see it as sufficiently powerful to shape (or even change) human nature is not difficult.

Consider this:

My argument in Desiring the Kingdom is that, in fact, the vast majority of our action and behavior is “driven” by all sorts of unconscious, pre-cognitive “drivers,” so to speak. Those pre-conscious desires are formed in all sorts of ways that are not “intellectual.” And so while I might be fueling my mind with a steady diet of Scripture, what I don’t realize that is that all sorts of other cultural practices are actually forming my desire in affective, unconscious ways. Because of the sorts of creatures we are, those pre-conscious desires often win out. This is why it’s crucial that Christian spiritual formation – and Christian worship – is attentive to a holistic formation of our imagination.

Or this:

Nike seems well aware that the good life can be on display on the living icons that are today’s celebrities.

I’m using Smith’s book in my classes to teach my students about how culture shapes us to be particular kinds of people–people that perhaps we did not know we were before we thought about it in class. We’re learning just how substantially we’ve been shaped by culture, rather than how much we think we’re immune to outside influence. Contrary to how we might imagine ourselves, we’re not autonomous, deliberative, rational, choice-making creatures. Often, we’ve been habituated into certain ways of being and doing in the world, before we’re even aware of it. You were saying the Pledge of Allegiance before you had much of a choice in the matter. And by the time you had a choice, you simply would have chosen to keep doing it because you would have been habituated into the story of why it was good to do so.

Learning about this phenomenon of our cultural formation is a strategy to help us think about how we might participate in the counter-formative efforts of influencing the world in manners that are faithful to the ways of Jesus, rather than damaging and destructive ways of culture. Consumerism–the sort that Nike seems able to foster–is often damaging and destructive. It makes us competitive–we start comparing ourselves with each other and our relationships get bent way out of shape. It messes with our desires to the extent that our sense of satisfaction becomes insatiable and we know no contentment. It even replaces religion, and we end up chasing transcendence by means of consumption.

Or this:

In the late nineteenth century, argues Leach, advances in industrial technology, the availability of electricity, and the newly available means to pool vast amounts of capital made production much cheaper and hence threatened to flood the market with goods. This worried capitalists greatly. Marketing consequently acquired the purpose not merely of informing potential customers how a given product might fulfill their existing needs, but of creating new desires. As one proponent of the new culture, Emily Fogg Mead, wrote, it was imperative that Americans be awakened to “the ability to want and choose.” What was needed was a moral reeducation, the replacement of traditionally religious values with consumer values.

Thus, one of the new breed of merchants, Alexander Turney Stewart, was hailed by Harper’s Bazaar for freeing Americans “from the guilt of having wealth and desiring money.” L. Frank Baum, who was not only the author of The Wizard of Oz but a pioneer in the creation of the display case and show window, counseled hedonism: “To gain all the meat from the nut of life is the essence of wisdom, therefore, ‘eat, drink, and be merry’—for tomorrow you die.” To inculcate the ability to forget the past was a key aspect of the needed moral reeducation. Harry Selfridge, superintendent of Marshall Field’s, exhorted his staff “to forget the past, and deal more and more with the present.” Likewise, Mead “urged businessmen to penetrate the home, break down the resistance of ordinary housewives, and ‘forget the past’ in their pursuit of profits.”

That’s why we need churches that ordain women and podcasts that use the latest audio software to teach us how to resist such cosmic forces.

Or, it could be that people actually have agency and make calculations all the time — based on reality, like, even though I really want the BMW I don’t think I can afford those car payments. Or, as much as I’d like to wear Joseph Abboud suits all the time, that might not be the right look on campus (and may be a tad more expensive than piecing together items from Jos. A. Bank and L. L. Bean).

I do understand that consumerism creates certain desires. But we are not 16-year olds with dad’s credit card. Some people make better decisions than others. Capitalism and big business have not turned us into victims. Even fans of Bojangles sometimes crave a meal at Waffle House.

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Liberal Education After the Fall

Must a student be baptized before pursuing the true, good, and beautiful? That questioned occurred after reading Fr. James Schall’s summary of Tracy Rowland’s lecture on Roman Catholic education.

For Rowland and Schall, the Trinity informs the study of everything and so Christianity is at the foundation of any genuine education:

…the basic Catholic approach to education is that there “exists a relationship between the human intellect, the theological virtue of faith, and the transcendental of truth; there also exists a relationship between the human will, the theological virtue of love, and the transcendental of goodness, and there exists a relationship between the human memory, the theological virtue of hope and the transcendental of beauty.” The transcendentals—one, being, good, true, beautiful—are predicates we can apply to everything that is. They reflect in our being the inner relation of the three persons within the Trinity.

It is possible to pass through schools, even at the graduate level, and not really learn much of truth or of what is important. This result can happen also in Catholic schools. Thus, we need graduates who actually have “Catholic intellects, Catholic wills, Catholic imaginations, and Catholic memories.” They need to be conjoined in a proper order of soul. We want to know the truth, to control our own disorders, to imagine what can enlarge our vision. A Catholic memory will know of its saints and their foibles, of glories and tragedies.

But I wonder why a Christian approach to education, one that takes Genesis 3 and the triumph of Augustinianism over Pelagianism seriously, wouldn’t first start with fallen human nature and the incapacity for those, either unregenerate or unbaptized (depending on your communion), to see the Trinity in the true, good, and beautiful because unbelievers are turned in on themselves. In other words, doesn’t a Roman Catholic view of education presuppose that professors and students are baptized and belong to the same communion?

Schall goes on to explain that Rowland acknowledges that not all students have the same intellectual capacities:

This is not an evil, but an aspect of a common good that makes it possible to participate in a broad range of goods and fruits of labor, and insights of others. Some will be more gifted intellectually than others. Some will have greater hearts, be more insightful, or possess skills or virtues that are good. Not everyone is a genius. Indeed, studies show that only about twenty percent of students are able to grasp subtle abstract points of knowledge. The teachers and schools must know and attend to the differences.

An educational egalitarianism that presupposed that all students have the same capacities, talents, and discipline will probably end by teaching very little to neglect the real needs and skills of actual students. Some students will be more attracted to truth, others to goodness, others to beauty, and still others to all sorts of practical and unexpected things. “Human lives can turn into narrative wrecks if educators produce people who can think at high levels of abstraction but are emotionally retarded or who lack sapiential experiences, or who conversely are emotionally sensitive but have no intellectual framework with which to make judgments about their inner life.”

But imagine the narrative wreck that comes with a failure to acknowledge that students can’t understand the Triune God without a prior work of grace, that all students try to suppress the truth in unrighteousness apart from God’s saving work.

If Christian education is going to be redeemed, doesn’t redemption need to be part of the conversation?

Is Grace Everywhere?

So Mark Jones keeps telling us and since we have no way to comment at his blog we will once again adopt the role of servants serving servers by opening up comments here.

First, Jones says that lots of Reformed theologians, backed up by Richard Muller — apparently Jones favorite strategy for finding room to affirm a contested point — said grace existed before the fall and that Adam needed grace to comply with the Covenant of Works:

Most seventeenth-century Reformed theologians understood grace in a more general sense than simply equating it with redemptive favor. But they did make important distinctions on the grace of God before and after the Fall, such as the way Adam possessed the Spirit in contrast to how we possess the Spirit.

Anthony Burgess argues that Adam needed help from God to obey the law and then notes, “Some learned Divines, as [David] Pareus…deny the holiness Adam had, or the help God gave Adam, to be truly and properly called grace.” Pareus believed that grace only comes from Christ to sinners. Burgess shies away from the dispute, but he does insist that Adam could not persevere “without help from God.” . . .

Richard Muller has suggested that not only does the language of “voluntary condescension” rule out human merit, but that the “presence of divine grace prior to the fall was a fundamental assumption of most of the Reformed thinkers of that era.” The evidence cited above sustains Muller’s contention.

“Voluntary condescension” (WCF 7.1) was consistent with the idea, espoused by William (“Exception to WCF 7.1”) Bridge, that “out of free love and grace [God] was pleased to condescend to enter into Covenant with man.”

Great. But if Adam had the Holy Spirit then how did he sin? Did God remove the Holy Spirit and thus make Adam susceptible? If so, is God implicated in the introduction of sin among his creation?

Also, I wonder if Dr. Jones has considered what the Confession of Faith says about Adam in his state of innocency:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls [e], endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image [f]; having the law of God written in their hearts [g], and power to fulfill it [h]: and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change [i]. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures. (4.2)

If you had to describe this as gracious or natural, I am pressed to understand why someone would choose grace. And why did the divines, some of whom did (I gather from Dr. Jones) talk about Adam being endued with the Holy Spirit, fail to mention that in the Confession? When you look at the proof texts (supplied by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church anyway), you don’t see much that would add support to Dr. Jones’ formulation on grace before the fall:

d. Gen. 1:27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

e. Gen. 2:7. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Eccl. 12:7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Luke 23:43. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Matt. 10:28. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

f. Gen. 1:26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Col. 3:10. And [ye] have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. Eph. 4:24. … and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

g. Rom. 2:14–15. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.

h. Gen. 2:17. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Eccl. 7:29. Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Yes, I do understand that the references to the Christian putting on the “new man” is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit. But surprise (and beware the valleys and mountains). I am not Adam who was without sin. I need grace and the Holy Spirit to live in a holy manner. If Adam did, what does it say about the inherent goodness of human nature at creation?

Jones’ flattening continues when he likens Christ’s experience to that of the believer:

Jesus was and is the man of the Spirit, par excellence. Christ’s obedience – all of it – was done in the power of the Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the “immediate operator of all divine acts of the Son himself, even on his own human nature. Whatever the Son of God wrought in, by, or upon the human nature, he did it by the Holy Ghost, who is his Spirit” (Owen). . . . The Second Adam, Jesus Christ, possessed the Spirit in greater measure and was, as far as I am concerned, the greatest believer who ever lived.

For good measure, he adds a quotation from Bavinck (on the virgin birth, mind you, not on Christ’s human nature):

At this point it is important to note that this activity of the Holy Spirit with respect to Christ’s human nature absolutely does not stand by itself. Though it began with the conception, it did not stop there. It continued throughout his entire life, even right into the state of exaltation. Generally speaking, the necessity of this activity can be inferred already from the fact that the Holy Spirit is the author of all creaturely life and specifically of the religious-ethical life in humans. The true human who bears God’s image is inconceivable even for a moment without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…. If humans in general cannot have communion with God except by the Holy Spirit, then this applies even more powerfully to Christ’s human nature.

Does this mean, as one Old Lifer asked me by email, that the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s life is comparable to mine and that we can think of Christ’s life of sanctity like the work of sanctification in the believer? Remember what the Confession says about sanctification:

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

And is Jones aware that he may be straying into Roman Catholic territory in the way he construes the two Adams and their natures? That may seem like a stretch but if you follow Bavinck on Adam’s original righteousness as the Reformers conceived it, you may want to counsel Dr. Jones back from the ledge. First, Bavinck acknowledges that Adam’s righteousness was a free gift of God and “only possessed . . . by and in the Holy Spirit.” But Bavinck is aware of the danger of flattening:

Granted, between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in man before sin and in the state of sin, there is a big difference. Now that indwelling, after all, is “above nature” (supra naturam) because the Holy Spirit has to come to humans as it were from without and is diametrically opposed to sinful nature. In the case of Adam that entire contrast did not exist; his nature was holy and did not, as in the case of believers, have to be made holy. . . (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, 558)

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in systematic theology to think that the same contrast between Adam and us applies to Christ and us, or that Christ’s righteousness was not above nature but natural to the righteousness of an unfallen human nature.

To construe this original righteousness, furthermore, as gracious in the sense of having to right what was defective, is also a mistake of important proportions for Bavinck. He explains the nature of the dispute between Rome and Protestants over Adam’s original nature:

The dispute concerned the question of whether that original righteousness was natural or, at least in part, supernatural. . . . they used this term [natural] to maintain the conviction that the image of God, that is, original righteousness, was inseparable from the idea of man as such and that it referred to the normal state, the harmony, the health of a human being; that without it a human cannot be true, complete, or normal. . . . [Man] is either a son of God, his offspring, his image, or he is a child of wrath, dead in sins and trespasses. When that human being again by faith receives that perfect righteousness in Christ, that benefit is indeed a supernatural gift, but it is supernature “as an accident,” “incidentally”; he regains that which belongs to his being. . . (551)

For good measure, Bavinck adds that if Adam’s original humanity was incapable of obeying God’s commands, you wind up having to do what Roman Catholicism does and add grace to Adam’s original constitution:

From these two ideas, the mystical view of man’s final destiny and the meritoriousness of good works, was born the Catholic doctrine of the “superadded gift” . . . . The heavenly blessedness and the vision of God, which is man’s final destiny — and was so for Adam — can be merited ex condigno only by such good works as are in accord with that final destiny. . . . The righteousness that Adam possessed as a human, earthly being by virtue of creation was not, of course, sufficient to that end. So for Adam to reach his final destiny he too needed to be giving a supernatural grace, that is, the gratia gratum faciens (“the grace that renders one engraced or pleasing to God”), the image of God. (539-40)

Of course, simply quoting Bavinck doesn’t make any of this so. But what is instructive about Bavinck is the danger he sees in talking about grace before the fall or Adam in his original righteousness needing something extra to obey God (or by implication discussing Christ’s holy life as analogous to a believer’s sanctification). Would that Dr. Jones in his historical surveys would be that cautious.