I will back away from Charlie Sheen-like delusions before putting Paul Helm in the 2k camp — he is a philosopher, after all. But he does raise precisely the sort of common-sensical observations that have for a long time been missing from all the chatter about transformation and w-w:

In the dust raised by the current renewed appreciation of the Reformed doctrine of the two kingdoms, through the work of David Van Drunen and others, it is sometimes asked, in adopting the doctrine of the two kingdoms, what becomes of the divine cultural mandate? In the hands of Abraham Kuyper and the neo-Calvinists, this mandate has become the work of the kingdom, as distinct from the church, and part of the Christian’s endeavour to transform society by promoting Christian this and that: Christian education, politics, art, literature, care for the environment, and so on. This has become a familiar theme, some being sanguine about the prospects of such transformation, stressing the place that such endeavours have as an expression of God’s ‘common grace’, others from the same stable stressing the ‘antithesis’ between Christian cultural endeavours and those of the secular world. These attitudes have no more than the status of private opinions, the relevant attitudes and actions being neither commanded by the word of God as a part of Christian worship or conduct, nor required by the state.

To add ‘cultural transformation’ to Christ’s command to his first disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, would (in Calvin’s view) jeopardise Christian liberty, and no doubt we could add that it would be to privilege the educated middle-class Christians over their blue-collar fellow believers. A command, or a kind of culturally-correct pressure on Christians to transform society, could amount to a new law, and if it came to that it would infringe the spirituality of the church and the liberty of Christians.

But one might think of such ambitions as a matter of Christian liberty within society. If someone thinks that what they paint is ‘Christian painting’, then fine. There ought to be nothing to stop them painting in this vein, whatever they take Christian painting to be. Like choosing to paint the new baby’s bedroom pink. Neither kind of painting is commanded or forbidden so neither the colour of the baby’s bedroom nor the painting of a ‘Christian’ still life is a God-given requirement of Christian discipleship. Each may be done to the glory of God. As may sweeping a room. (I Cor. 10.31)

Independence Day After Glow

This is the first Independence Day in recent memory that fell on a Thursday, thus giving the week more of a Thanksgiving Day rhythm than the typical federal holiday pattern of a three-day weekend. Which is to say that life appears to be slow on Internet and the street.

So while we Yanks are still in an autonomous mood, here are a few more considerations about Calvinism and the American Revolution. Paul Helm offers a minor correction to the point made here that American colonial Calvinists were likely following John Locke more than John Calvin. His conclusion is sufficiently mild that Christian nationalists and 2kers might both claim Helm’s agreement:

Yet it can be argued that for all his personal conservatism, there were, in Calvin’s view of civil society, enough chinks and fissures through which a case for rebellion against civic injustice could be developed. Calvin himself was certainly not an advocate of rebellion. Far from it. But what of those who came after? That this is the road that some Calvinists trod can be seen from Quentin Skinner’s The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Volume 2: The Age of Reformation.

Whatever Calvin taught, and however later Calvinists justified their politics, some scholars have actually looked at the citations of the American founders to see which authors they were reading and following. Almost thirty years ago, Donald Lutz came up with the following scorecard:

1. Montesquieu
2. Blackstone
3. Locke
4. Hume
5. Plutarch
6. Beccaria
7. Trenchard & Gordon
8. Delolme
9. Pufendorf
10. Coke
11. Cicero
12. Hobbes

Everyone else on Lutz’s list of 36 “Most Cited Thinkers” comes in at less than one percent. For those curious, Calvin did not make the cut. (I have to admit that some of these names were obscure to me, hence the links. For the record, Delolme and Beccaria find no results at American Creation, while Trenchard & Gordon do. Our smart guy TVD is not responsible for the posts on T&G.)

Lutz also compares the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in their citations of groups of authors. The Federalists (Hamilton, Madison, Washington, Adams) cited Enlightenment figures 34% of the time, Whigs 23%, and Classical 33%. They did not cite the Bible.

In contrast, the Anti-Federalists (who? i.e., Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Luther Martin) cited the Bible 9% of the time, Enlightenment 38%, Whig 29%, and Classical 9%.

No smoking guns here, but maybe a few matters to ponder while smoking a stogie on the hammock.

What I'm (all about ME!) Sayin'

While looking through the blogs today I came across a couple worthy of highlight.

In keeping with the theme of the realities of contemporary Roman Catholicism, Samuel Gregg’s piece on Vatican II and modernity might be of interest (especially to CTCer’s who whitewash dilemmas from church history). He seconds a point I often make that Rome’s decision to open itself to the modern world came at one of the worst points in modern history. Do you really want to open yourself to feminism, deconstruction, the Beatles, and suburbia? Here’s an excerpt:

Vatican II is often portrayed, with some accuracy, as the Church opening itself to “the world.” This expression embraces several meanings in Scripture. God loves “the world” (Jn 3:16). Yet “the world” can also mean that which opposes God (Jn 14:17). At Vatican II, however, the world took on yet another connotation: that of the “modern world.”

Curiously, you won’t find a definition of the modern world in any Vatican II text. But modernity is usually a way of describing the various Enlightenments that emerged in the West from the late seventeenth-century onwards. Among other things, these movements emphasized applying instrumental and scientific rationality to all spheres of life in the hope of emancipating humanity from ignorance, suffering, and oppression.

Given the often-vicious treatment inflicted upon the Church by many self-identified moderns—including Jacobins and Bolsheviks—Catholics were often wary of anything asserting to be modern. It’s untrue, however, that the pre-1962 Church was somehow closed to modernity’s genuine achievements. This quickly becomes evident from cursory reading of encyclicals written by popes ranging from Leo XIII to Pius XII.

Nonetheless, many Catholics during the 1950s and 60s were tremendously optimistic about possible rapprochements between the Church and modernity. And that includes the present pope. In a 1998 autobiographical essay, Joseph Ratzinger recalled his hopes at the time for overcoming the gaps between Catholicism and the modern mind. A similar confidence pervades Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II document that specifically attempted to approach modernity in a non-antagonistic manner. Yet even in 1965, many bishops and theologians (including some associated with efforts for renewal) were warning that Gaudium et Spes’ view of modernity was excessively hopeful, even a little naive.

Of course the modern world has witnessed tremendous achievements since 1965. Its technological successes are the most obvious. Even diehard traditionalists find it awkward to be uncompromisingly anti-modern when needing dental-care. Likewise the spread of the economic modernity associated with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations has lifted millions out of poverty at a historically unprecedented speed.

The warnings, however, about undue optimism concerning modernity turned out to be quite justified. The cultural and intellectual chaos that erupted in the late-1960s should have been proof enough. Since then, we’ve witnessed what might be considered an ongoing crack-up on modernity’s part.

Then on a different subject, prayer, Paul Helm registers reservations about the amount of detail that we put into our petitions. I have wondered about this for a long time, especially in those small group gatherings where you almost faint from the descriptions of medical conditions and procedures. Helm is addressing public worship but his point about prayer works just as well for the prayer closet (does any reader actually have such space?). Here he goes:

I don’t know how it is with you, but I cannot cope with times in services of worship when the minister or leader invites the congregation to ‘spend a few moments of quiet praying for someone in special need’. My mind starts to think about anything or nothing except a person I know of who’s in need. It’s rather like someone who says ‘Don’t think of a white horse’, an invitation that it’s impossible to accept.

We could spend a few moments reflecting on the view of public worship that it is implied by the ‘periods of silence’ invitation, of whether it is appropriate to think of public worship as involving the sum of the private devotions of the people who are present. Ought we not rather to think of public worship (as a general rule) as common worship, as in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’, as expressing in public the common, communal needs and aspirations of Christian people? But instead of thinking out loud along these lines I would rather spend these few minutes thinking out loud with you about what I shall call The Affliction of a Failure of Concentration.

Here’s my suggestion – not a novel one, but still, I think, worth airing and emphasizing – that praying, and particularly that branch of praying that is called petitioning or asking, including of course interceding for others, is not primarily, or even, a matter of acquiring and processing information, and then presenting it in bite-sized pieces to Almighty God. It is not a condition of responsible and genuine Christian prayer that it is ‘intelligent’ i.e. well-informed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the provision of information. I have spent much of my adult life as a teacher and writer, engrossed in the world of ideas and arguments. I expect the students I teach to be able to absorb, understand, weigh and produce information. The more the merrier. But the point is that not all speech is primarily informative, and most certainly Christian petitionary and intercessory prayer is not primarily informative. Fellow-prayers in the prayer meeting may learn all sorts of things about Mr Smith when he prays publicly. But the living God is in a rather different position from our fellow worshippers in the pew. Does he need educating? Is he ignorant of any detail? Has he overlooked any of the needs of his people?


Edwards Is Not the Answer

Paul Helm has posted his assessment of Religious Affections. Here is a longish excerpt:

In order to get where he wants to go, to establish that true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections, I think it is fair to say that Edwards is forced to considerably widen the scope of what ‘affection’ means. An affection is, after all, nothing more or less than an affect. In the text, there is a contrast between faith and sight, and references to love, and faith (or belief) and joy. Belief is obviously the key. Christians believe in one whom they do not see, and they love him, rejoicing in him with great joy. Their belief affects them in certain ways, for they feel intense love and joy, and perhaps publicly express these feelings. The joy that they feel is the expression of, perhaps a public expression of, being affected by what and who is believed and loved.

Faith and love are virtues, theological virtues, as they used to be called, the fruit of the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal. 5 22-3) An overlapping list is also provided by Paul in Colossians. ‘Put on, then, as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other….above all these put on love…’ (Col. 3. 12-4) Here we must remember that such virtues may lead to expressions of affection, in the sense of passions of emotions, but they may also be present, strongly present, in the absence of ‘sensible’ affection. The emotions or affections that express patience, or kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control may be very varied, as varied as the circumstances in which they are called forth. One can easily conceive of situations in which , for example, kindness, is expressed in dogged determination. Think of a daughter whose life is consumed with the care of an invalid mother, or the behaviour of caring parents with an autistic child.

In fact, some of these virtues listed by Paul – kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience or self-control, seem to be the exact opposite of affections as Edwards would have us understand them, in which ‘the blood and animal spirits are sensibly altered’. They are, or similar to, what Edwards’s contemporary David Hume referred to as the ‘calm passions’. It may even seem that the Apostle is contrasting these virtues, the calm ones, with those that are often publicly expressed in an agitated way, for the lists we have noted have a distinctly ‘calm’ feel to them. A person may be affected by the work of the Holy Spirit, possessing his fruit, in ways that are focused and undemonstrative, which lead to restraint and constraint, which lead to the development of an undeviating routine. They need not be ‘raised’ as Edwards puts it. In his definition and his defence of affection and its place in true religion Edwards fails to remind us of this, but appropriates the term for his own political purposes. Putting the matter bluntly, his definition is an attempt to press the hysteria button.

So when he writes of ‘the religious affections of love and joy’ (95) he is, I suggest, taking liberties with these central Christian virtues in order to advance his thesis. In telling us that ‘the affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclinations and will of the soul’, he is equating vigour and sensibility with self-consciousness and exhibitionism. That is a mistake. Paul tells us that true virtue may consist in self-forgetfulness. It is impossibly hard to derive Edwards’s claims about true religion, that it in great part consists in holy affections, from Galatians 5 or Colossians 3 without requiring that every effect of the work of the Holy Spirit in the promotion of virtue is ‘vigorous and sensible’. Had he taken these other passages of Paul as his text Edwards would have been forced to write a different book.

Vigor and sensibility are essential to Edwards’s basic idea of an affection. Having established, in a way that will be familiar to readers of his work The Freedom of the Will, that the inclination or will is moved by either pleasedness or aversion, he goes on to claim that there are degrees of such aversion or pleasedness, rising to such a height ‘till the soul comes to act vigorously and sensibly, and the actings of the soul are with that strength that (through the laws of the union which the Creator has fixed between soul and body) the motion of the blood and animal spirits begins to be sensibly altered; whence often time arises some bodily sensation, especially about the heart and vitals, that are the fountain of the fluids of the body…..and it is to be noted, that they are these more vigorous and sensible exercises of this faculty, that are called the affections’. (95-6) But Edwards cannot have it both ways. A holy affection cannot both be a vigorous and sensible affect in this sense and it also be the case that true religion consists in them, not at least according to Paul, or James.


The Religious Affections is an important book, but in my view it would be unwise to take its teaching on what true religion consists in very seriously. It is a book about the importance of emotion, expressed in a public, visible way, being the measure of true religion. Its significance lies in its influence upon the evolving character of Protestant evangelicalism, as a phenomenon that identified itself (as David Bebbington has pointed out) partly by activism and conversionism: revivalism, massed choirs, large gatherings of people, the penitent bench, the centrality of the public testimony, and so on. Edwards’s Protestantism was of an older kind, but it nevertheless contained elements which, in other hands, contributed to developing the distinctive features of modern evangelicalism.

Does this make Helm a high-church Calvinist? Or is it simply the case of someone spotting the difference between the quest for visible and outward piety and the inward and less showy sort that attends faith?

Another possibility — the date. Do the Brits observe April 1?

(Thanks to our southern correspondent.)