The Talmud in Calvinism

Writing in Christian Hebraists and Dutch Rabbis, Aaron Katchen discusses the Dutch Calvinist appropriation of the Talmud in Biblical exegesis. He quotes the the famous Dutch theologian Johannes Coccejus, as saying:
…it is a new thing I am attempting, namely, to show that a knowledge of the Talmud and of the talmudic writers is of extraordinary help in the elucidation of the New Testament.
Before that, though, quoting Grotious’s view from the De jure that:
the Hebrew writers can contribute not a little to our understanding of the meaning of the books belonging to the old covenant,
Coch continues by saying that the Talmud, the “Doctrinalis,” or the “authorized teaching” of the Jews, as he refers to it at this point, has its usefulness for the understanding of the law in all its facets: ceremonial, natural, and that fixed by convention (“positivus”).
Where, but the Jewish Talmud, can the learned traditions handed down by our forefathers be sought? Indeed, these are relevant, whether for a fuller understanding of Mosaic law, ritual as well as judicial and moral; or for an illustration of exotic (?) laws; or for shedding light on accounts of the Jewish commonwealths [e.g, Josephus(?)]; or, what is most important, for confirmation of the account in the Gospels, where there is abundant mention of Jewish customs, law and traditions.
Katchen, 68-69

Foundational Thinkers

In the theological circles that I identify with there are many streams of thought which converge in the current conversation. I would like to briefly identify some of the great thinkers, past and present, who define that conversation.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Eugen Rosentstock Huessy (ERH) was a German Christian thinker. Peter Leithart discusses him in this article, which I will quote here.

The scope of his life’s work is impressively unclassifiable. He disdained the disciplinary confinements of the modern university, and the disdain shows. He wrote on language, religion and the Bible, calendars, time, and grammar. He published a massive history of the Western revolution and a three-volume Soziologie, as well as a monograph on his academic specialty, medieval German legal history. When he came to America, he took a chair in German language and culture at Harvard, but he could have taught sociology, law, philosophy, comparative religion, or any of a half dozen other disciplines. Harvard didn’t know what to do with him. Since he talked a lot about God, they sent him to the divinity school.

Openly orthodox, Rosenstock-Huessy was also a remarkably progressive thinker, embodying what Chesterton, one of Rosenstock-Huessy’s favorite authors, described as the adventure of orthodoxy. This is evident particularly in his meditations on time, and the fundamental temporal orientation of his work. He observed that institutions, ideas, and systems have their day—and then something new is needed: “Philosophies have their time. It is a misunderstanding to attribute a perennial character to any particular philosophy. Philosophy is the expression of a zeitgeist. Philosophies must be buried at the right time. The Jesuits know that Thomism is dead.” He spoke of the world entering a “Johannine” age of history, an age of the Spirit that would move quite differently from the earlier ages of the Church: “each generation has to act differently precisely in order to represent the same thing. Only so can each become a full partner in the process of Making Man.”

I have not read ERH myself, but need to and hope to find the time to in the future.

René Girard

Rene Girard is a French philosopher famed for his theory of “mimetic rivalry” and his discussion of the scapegoat mechanism in society. Perhaps a portion of this interview will serve to summarize his views:

NPQ: Is Christianity superior to other religions?

Girard: Yes. All of my work has been an effort to show that Christianity is superior and not just another mythology. In mythology, a furious mob mobilizes against scapegoats held responsible for some huge crisis. The sacrifice of the guilty victim through collective violence ends the crisis and founds a new order ordained by the divine. Violence and scapegoating are always present in the mythological definition of the divine itself.

It is true that the structure of the Gospels is similar to that of mythology in which a crisis is resolved through a single victim who unites everybody against him, thus reconciling the community. As the Greeks thought, the shock of death of the victim brings about a catharsis that reconciles. It extinguishes the appetite for violence. For the Greeks, the tragic death of the hero enabled ordinary people to go back to their peaceful lives.

However, in this case, the victim is innocent and the victimizers are guilty. Collective violence against the scapegoat as a sacred, founding act is revealed as a lie. Christ redeems the victimizers through enduring his suffering, imploring God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” He refuses to plead to God to avenge his victimhood with reciprocal violence. Rather, he turns the other cheek.

The victory of the Cross is a victory of love against the scapegoating cycle of violence. It punctures the idea that hatred is a sacred duty.

I have his book “Violence and the Sacred” but have not read it yet.

Cornelius Van Til

Finally, there is the great Cornelius Van Til. Van Til is well-known for being a pioneer of presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. He stressed the antithesis between the believer and the non-believer. Van Til said this of his own method:

My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance- character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.

 

 

Against Antinomianism

A central characteristic of the churches and of modern preaching and Biblical teaching is antinomianism, an anti-law position. The antinomian believes that faith frees the Christian from the law, so that he is not outside the law but is rather dead to the law. There is no warrant whatsoever in Scripture for antinomianism. The expression, “dead to the law,” is indeed in Scripture (Gal. 2:9; Rom. 7.4), but it has reference to the believer in relationship to the atoning work of Christ as the believer’s representative and substitute; the believer is dead to the law an an indictment, a legal sentence of death against him, Christ having died for him, but the believer is alive to the law as the righteousness of God.

– R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 2-3

 

Molly Worthen on Al Mohler

Molly Worthen is an up and coming scholar/writer. She has an interest in theonomy and reformed theology, but she is coming at them from a very mainstream place, attempting to describe them for a larger audience. She has a new article here about Al Mohler. Some of her past pieces include articles on:

New St. Andrews College and Doug Wilson

Mark Driscoll

R. J. Rushdoony and Reconstruction

She’s doing the writing that I wish I could do if I had time and credentials!

UPDATE

Here are some reaction’s to Worthen’s article, all from blogs that I don’t read and have never heard of, but I put them here for archival purposes:

A Long Profile in the Wrong Direction

Justin Taylor on the Christianity Today Cover Story on Al Mohler by Peter Lumpkins

Dr. Mohler and “Stalled” Church Planting

Thoughts On Christianity Today’s Profile of Albert Mohler

Christianity Today’s Piece on Dr. Mohler: Not Liberal Enough

 

 

 

What to do after the Healthcare Defeat?

Many Christians are asking what is to be done in light of our latest defeat and the expansion of the Messianic State. Conservatives have lost every single battle of my adult lifetime and are forever retreating, even when in power. Back in the 1980‘s in an essay called “Rebellion, Tyranny, and Dominion in the Book of Genesis” from the book “Tactics of Christian Resistance”, James Jordan exegetes Genesis and its implications for Christian politics. His bottom-line is that right now we are in a situation where we must wait with patient faith, mature, and achieve power only in the distant future. Note that you should probably read the whole essay and understand his exegesis to understand his conclusions. An extended quote follows; Jordan writes:
 Is the “New Right” really “ready to lead”? I doubt it. The New Right has not yet figured out the message of the book of Genesis. It continues to think that reformation will come through the acquisition of political power. By looking to the state, New Rightists (and old conservatives as well) make themselves statist. […]
Many conservative Roman Catholics thought that John Kennedy would help turn things around. They were disappointed; Mr. Kennedy apparently spent too much time doing other things to ask what he could do for his country. Mainline conservatives then trusted Richard Nixon, a man knowledgeable in international affairs, to turn things around. They were disappointed; Mr. Nixon’s conscience was not sufficiently seared to permit him to act like a Democratic Party politician, guilt-free. Bible believing Christians had high hopes for Jimmy Carter. Need we add that they were disappointed by the decisions made by Mr. Carter’s mother, sister, and wife? And then the whole New Right got behind Ronald Reagan, who by his appointments betrayed them before he even took office, and has now signed a bill, updating social security, which directly taxes the churches.
[We could add the two George Bushes, New Gingrich and Sarah Palin to this list, we never learn. – Joel]
[…]
Frankly, I believe that in all of this God has, as always, been gracious to us. Are Christians in this country ready to take charge? Heaven forbid! Virtually none of them knows the first thing about the law of God, by which they are called to govern. Most of them do not even acknowledge the sovereignty of God. Few have any experience in governing, since their churches have no courts, being at best mere preaching points (where they have not degenerated into spas and literal circuses). The most powerful New Christian Right people are personality-cult oriented, one-man shows (and by shows I mean shows: radio shows, television shows, and the putting on of shows).
[…]
This is not to despise the New Christian Right, or to argue that we should not exercise our (remaining) liberties as Americans to pressure the larger governments toward more Godly actions. We need to remember, however, that there is only so much time and energy alloted to each of us, and essentially that time is far better spent acquiring dominion through service than in power politics.
We may contrast three different approaches, which are not mutually exclusive, but which are of varying value at present. First, there is the effort to change laws by getting people elected to office. That has not been very successful so far, and the reason is that the vast majority of Americans essentially like things the way they are. That’s why things are the way they are – it is what the people want, and it is what they deserve, and so it is what God gives them…
Second, there is the effort to go about our business as quietly as possible. We submit to the “powers that be,” not to any law that such powers may happen to enact. We do not recognize their right to make laws, for to do so would be to grant them absolute power; but we recognize that God has given them power, and we are not to contest that power as such. We practice deception where morally necessary, and that includes preserving our capital, protecting our households, and rearing our children, as Genesis makes clear. If we are taken to court, we fight in that arena for the right to conduct Christian lives, as Paul did in the book of Acts.
Third, there is the effort to develop a Christian subculture, building up the churches as true courts and sanctuaries, developing Christian arbitration and reconciliation commissions, Christian schools, Christian medical facilities, and the like. These latter two methods are the primary ones for our times. […]
When we are ready, God will give the robe to us. That He has not done so proves that we are not ready. Asserting our readiness will not fool Him. Let us pray that He does not crush us by giving us such authority before we are ready for it. Let us plan for our great-grandchildren to be ready for it. Let us go about our business, acquiring wisdom in family, church, state, and business, and avoiding confrontations with the powers that be. Let us learn to be skillful in deceiving them and in preserving our assets for our great-grand-children. For as sure as Christ is risen from the grave and is ascended to regal glory on high, so sure it is that his saints will inherit the kingdom and rule in His name, when the time is right.

Biblical Theocracy

James Jordan says:

The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is now king of the entire world, and that all nations are to be discipled. Israel was the model discipled nation, and now all nations are to be discipled. Israel’s history relates typologically to all the world now, as we are put into the olive tree. Everything God told Israel, including the Law, is typologically normative for all the world, for all nations. I call this “Biblical theocracy.”

The gospel is not theology or ideas. It is not experiences. It it not even the church considered merely as some kind of annabaptist worshiping community in the midst of a world that will never be changed. The gospel is a new creation, a new world. It is Christendom. It is theocracy. This is not “theonomy” as Bahnsen defined it, but it is close enough that it looks like it to many people. And the practical implications of Biblical Theocracy are often quit similar to “theonomy” as regards the discipleship of nations, because typological application is still application. And just as the early church directly challenged Caesar’s purported lordship, there is a need today for the prophetic people of God to directly challenge modern ideas of law and democracy and insist on the crown rights of King Jesus.

Hans Kung downgrades the Bible

I am sort of reading Hans Kung’s book Does God Exist? When it comes to theologizing Kung parrots the tired liberal line that peaked in the 60‘s. I am reading it because he does a good job of outlining various philosophical high points in recent history that I am too ignorant of.
Kung seems given to the notion, at least at the time of the writing of this book, of an advancing secularism. He mentions the “modern process of secularization and emancipation…” This ‘modern process’ strikes me as a widely-held fallacy of modernist Westerners writing in the post-war period and seems to still hold sway in the minds of the plebs in America. Quite to the contrary, much of the world is becoming more religious all the time.
Kung embraces evolution and sees that doing so necessitates abandoning the Biblical account of Creation and the Fall. He writes:
With regard to the origin and evolution of the world and man, has not science established the very opposite of such a perfect original state of the world and man: that there is no place in the scientific understanding of the world for a story of paradise and of the sin of a single human couple, if this is understood as a historical account and not a statement of principles?
Kung of course embraces higher criticism. In discussing Blaise Pascal he wishes that higher criticism had been embraced earlier:
A precondition, of course, for a different approach would have been a new critical understanding of the Bible in the light of the discoveries in astronomy and physics and increasingly in biology and medicine.
This doubt in the Bible is of course nothing new. It is everywhere present in modern thinking and has infected every corner of the Church. People want to be taken seriously by the world and the Academy and so they abandon the embarrassing notion of Creation in the Bible, never mind that Jesus himself said “the Scripture cannot be broken” which is about as high a view of Scripture as you’re going to find and it comes from a pretty reliable source! Contrast Kung’s surrender of the text to scientism with James Jordan’s thought in his Through New Eyes:
Moses, educated in all the learning of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22) – which was thoroughly “evolutionary” in its commitment to a “scale-of-being” philosophy – was doubtless as surprised at Genesis 1 as any modern philosopher would be. No impersonal forces here! No gradual shades of “being” from animals to man with all sorts of things (satyrs, sphinxes, etc.) in between. No huge cycles of time. Just a series of immediate personal acts, in a brief span of time, initiating linear time. This was not what Moses had been taught by his Egyptian tutors.
Jordan takes the text seriously, Kung doesn’t.

I am sort of reading Hans Kung’s book Does God Exist? When it comes to theologizing Kung parrots the tired liberal line that peaked in the 60‘s. I am reading it because he does a good job of outlining various philosophical high points in recent history that I am too ignorant of.

Kung seems given to the notion, at least at the time of the writing of this book, of an advancing secularism. He mentions the “modern process of secularization and emancipation…” This ‘modern process’ strikes me as a widely-held fallacy of modernist Westerners writing in the post-war period and seems to still hold sway in the minds of the plebs in America. Quite to the contrary, much of the world is becoming more religious all the time.

Kung embraces evolution and sees that doing so necessitates abandoning the Biblical account of Creation and the Fall. He writes:

With regard to the origin and evolution of the world and man, has not science established the very opposite of such a perfect original state of the world and man: that there is no place in the scientific understanding of the world for a story of paradise and of the sin of a single human couple, if this is understood as a historical account and not a statement of principles?

Kung of course embraces higher criticism. In discussing Blaise Pascal he wishes that higher criticism had been embraced earlier:

A precondition, of course, for a different approach would have been a new critical understanding of the Bible in the light of the discoveries in astronomy and physics and increasingly in biology and medicine.

This doubt in the Bible is of course nothing new. It is everywhere present in modern thinking and has infected every corner of the Church. People want to be taken seriously by the world and the Academy and so they abandon the embarrassing notion of Creation in the Bible, never mind that Jesus himself said “the Scripture cannot be broken” which is about as high a view of Scripture as you’re going to find and it comes from a pretty reliable source! Contrast Kung’s surrender of the text to scientism with James Jordan’s thought in his Through New Eyes:

Moses, educated in all the learning of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22) – which was thoroughly “evolutionary” in its commitment to a “scale-of-being” philosophy – was doubtless as surprised at Genesis 1 as any modern philosopher would be. No impersonal forces here! No gradual shades of “being” from animals to man with all sorts of things (satyrs, sphinxes, etc.) in between. No huge cycles of time. Just a series of immediate personal acts, in a brief span of time, initiating linear time. This was not what Moses had been taught by his Egyptian tutors.

Jordan takes the text seriously, Kung doesn’t.

The Essence of Theonomy

Theonomy boils down to this statement, made by an old friend:

If Christ is God, and if Christ is Lord, then His Lordship extends to all areas of inquiry: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. And so, the assumption, if one affirms ethical absolutes, is necessarily one of “theonomy” broadly construed in opposition to autonomy, as Cornelius Van Til indicated. Therefore, the question is whether one is a “consistent” theonomist or an “inconsistent” theonomist.

…one better presuppose a theonomic ethic (in a broad sense not necessarily ala Bahnsen), or otherwise, one is left without ethics, and therefore, without Lordship. The details of a theonomic ethic need to be determined through careful exegesis. But, what we cannot do is say that God has no claim on how we are to live – whether privately or publicly; he does have a claim, and that claim is a theonomic (God’s law) claim.

And, given Romans 13 and other passages, the notion of justice is never abstracted from God and His character, even if public justice is in view. Consequently, public justice exhibits a theonomic dimension.