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Monthly Archives: December 2017

What Can C.S. Lewis’s Sublime Waterfall From His “Abolition of Man” Teach Us Today?

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Post by Nathan Rinne

If I say the “waterfall is sublime” is that an “authoritative statement”? What makes it so?

Maybe we should back up…

What is authority? Maybe we can agree that it is inextricably tied up with concerns about responsibility, knowledge (know-that and know-how), trust, and truth.

That said, is it ultimately something outside of us or inside of us? That is eventually where the question leads.

I’m an academic librarian by vocation, and I get the impression that most every librarian I know thinks that authority ultimately rests “in the receiver of information,” as Bill Badke puts it. In spite of a couple scholarly papers I’ve written against the popular idea among my colleagues that “Authority is constructed and contextual” (see here and here), it seems that even those appreciative of my work calling this into question ultimately think that the statement is problematic but that its “true enough” that they can live with it.

They can’t. None of us can. Because ultimately, truth and Truth gets the final vote. Truth is, in part, that which is the case, is not individualistic, and can create new understandings between us.

To this end, I offer you the following exploration/defense of C.S. Lewis’s sublime waterfall illustration, which I posted today on my academic librarian blog. Even if you think you can dismiss Plato, you nevertheless can’t dismiss Lewis’s important example.

Making the case from reason alone.

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In arguing that there is truth that we all know (see the last few posts on my academic librarian blog, here [“When truth is disregarded, authority weakens”], here [“Aristotle at the library: why philosophy won’t go away”] and here). I recently said, following C.S. Lewis’s classic example from his masterpiece The Abolition of Man, that “we know that waterfalls are sublime — not only that they produce ‘sublime feelings’ in us”*

In response to that statement a librarian colleague said this is Platonic because I am implying that “abstractions have objective reality. Such as the idea that waterfalls are objectively sublime.” (they go on to say “To many of us, our sublime feelings are subjective; they are not a sign of innate sublimeness in whatever evokes those feelings.”)

I will admit that this response, coming from another librarian who also thinks that the phrase “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” is lacking, caught me off guard. Is this necessarily a Platonic statement? If so, why? Could it just as easily be an “Aristotelian” statement?

My NeoPlatonist** friend, Dr. Eric Phillips, said the following in response:

Aristotle was a Platonist to a point, but he went renegade on the question (related to your question) of the separability of the Forms from Matter. His emphasis on the Forms in Matter, and even his insistence that they had to be contemplated in this way, both helped NeoPlatonism to improve on Platonism, but if NP hadn’t also insisted on the transcendence of the Forms, it wouldn’t have been Platonism.

…what’s really at stake in your question about Sublimity-or-sublimity is objectivity vs. subjectivity, and Aristotle was just as much an Objectivist as Plato was. Intellectual content (Form) is in the things already, and is discovered there by the Intellect of the observer. But Plato’s Objectivity is transcendent, thus hardier and more naturally anchored in the Mind of God, as we see in NP.

Plato…

Me:

… my instinct when it comes to the academy… is to stay away from NeoPlatonic assertions… because Aristotle does not deny the forms, but puts them in matter. Here, it just seems to me that one is able to start from our experiences, as existential and historical and evidence-oriented beings, and work from there…

My major concern is that all the classical philosophies seem to get neutered when historicism is understood or experienced as somehow compelling… See, e.g. https://reliablesourcessite.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/5-short-philosophical-reflections-from-hope-to-despair/

 Dr. Phillips:

That’s not a reason to favor Aristotelianism to NeoPlatonism, because NP also holds that we discover the Forms within the objects of our perception. But NP doesn’t end there.

Me:

Yes, that makes sense. It also might make sense then that people consider me to be talking about Platonism, when, in my own mind, I am simply trying to point out that persons cannot stop consistently assuming stability in many of the things in the world of which we speak — even trans-culturally and trans-historically. I don’t even mention transcendent realities (like Forms that exist somewhere outside of us in another realm).

Aristotle…

Do you have a view then about reasons why a person might immediately assume Platonism? Is it because all of us — or perhaps, intellectuals more generally — believe that we all must, from the get-go — be operating from a systematic understanding and/or narrative that we try to convert others to and others try to convert us from?***

Dr. Phillips:

I think people are making the jump to Platonism because they assume Aristotle is one of their own, although he isn’t. …secular intellectuals have out-Aristotled Aristotle, see themselves as part of his branch, and don’t consider how thoroughly he too would scorn them. Also, “Platonist” is a much worse name in their book, because whatever might have been wrong with Aristotle, Plato had it much worse. It’s like calling someone a Nazi instead of an anti-Semite, just to up the ante.

As for assuming that everyone is speaking from a philosophical system that is trying to colonize the world, that’s just the universal PoMo assumption, isn’t it?

Plotinus… father of NeoPlatonism

Me:

Why do they assume Aristotle is one of their own? Are they assuming too much devotion to empiricism in Aristotle (at the expense of a belief in real Essences/Forms)? In other words, they have a post-Ockham view of Aristotle?****

secular intellectuals have out-Aristotled Aristotle, see themselves as part of his branch, and don’t consider how thoroughly he too would scorn them.

By this, do you mean they have put all of the focus on his storied empiricism, and gladly lost the other part?

Also, “Platonist” is a much worse name in their book, because whatever might have been wrong with Aristotle, Plato had it much worse. It’s like calling someone a Nazi instead of an anti-Semite, just to up the ante.

Because he is barely empirical by their standards, and is the Evil Essentialist par excellence. Right?

As for assuming that everyone is speaking from a philosophical system that is trying to colonize the world, that’s just the universal PoMo assumption, isn’t it?

Well, PoMos say there is no truth, and hence this kind of activity is all about power. I do tend to think that we as human beings can’t stop stating what is true about the world and want others to agree with us. We certainly think that there are some things that simply can’t be right and we should be able to convince/persuade others not to believe them. Not everyone necessarily would force everyone to believe what they believe if they could though!

Dr. Phillips:

Yes, you understand me on all three of your questions. Modernists and Postmodernists are used to being on “Team Aristotle” when the annual Plato-v-Aristotle football game comes around, so often all they remember about him is that he was an empiricist and he did science. But to the extent that he was an empiricist, he offers testimony of how empirical observation can discover Form. And they don’t usually think of it in these terms, but they discover Form through empirical observation too. It’s just important to the atheists among them that there not be any Mind higher than theirs with which they might have to compete in understanding that Form and processing its implications. And to say that Form is transcendent is to say that there is such a Mind. (The Prime Mover is not nearly so threatening, because all It does is draw things to develop their own innate potential, whatever that is.)

Me:

What I find really interesting here though is how Rebecca Goldstein seems far less frightening to atheistic types than Thomas Nagel (and his Mind and Cosmos). Maybe this goes to show, however, how Platonism — updated and revised by Goldstein — is not so threatening (just like you say Aristotle is not threatening). But maybe NeoPlatonism is? [See, for example, this article that I wrote, “The Gods of our Brahmins: Thomas Nagel’s and Rebecca Goldstein’s Intelligent Designers,” exploring this topic].

Dr. Phillips:

I don’t know Goldstein except what I just read in your article, but yeah, Old Platonism is definitely less threatening to atheists, because there’s no explicit Hypostasized Intellect, World-Spirit, or One-Beyond-Being. I do think that’s where the system leads, though, if you follow its internal logic. Forms are ideas, and ideas are thinking, and thinking is what a mind does.

Attempting to appropriate Plato while avoiding his God-talk.

FIN

Notes:

*In a library technology conference presentation I made in 2014, I said the following about C.S. Lewis’s approach:

In his brilliant and more or less non-religious book, The Abolition of Man, Lewis basically contended that the [modern scientific and technological mindset] (not his language) had the power to “abolish” man. He made his argument that Western civilization was destroying itself by using a few simple sentences from an English textbook for middle school students.

In this textbook, Lewis points out that its authors, when talking about a waterfall, are careful to point out that we cannot say that the waterfall is “sublime” in itself – that is, intrinsically – but we can say that the waterfall provokes sublime feelings in the one who observes it. Lewis first of all points out that as regards feelings, the word “humble” is a more apt description and from that point on he is off to the races. He spends some thirty pages arguing convincingly that this simple move on the author’s part – where an objective goodness and beauty outside of the human being has been denied – has disastrous consequences for our lives together. In one of Lewis’ more memorable lines he states: “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

**Of NeoPlatonism vis a vis Platonism, another learned friend says: “In broad strokes….Aristotle was a Platonist. Plotinus and Proclus mediated classical Platonism and Aristotelianism to a significant extent, such that while Neoplatonism is similar enough to classical Platonism to warrant its moniker, it is dissimilar enough that most of the perennial criticisms of Plato don’t stick to it.”

*** Listen from around 14:30 for a couple minutes: http://zero-books.net/blogs/zero/zero-squared122-lacans-television/ I almost want to say: “Monsieur Lacan, I see what you are saying. Well, my ‘master discourse’ (patriarchy!?) assumes various good hierarchies in nature and society and the belief that we are all human beings who share much horrific and beautiful common ground.”

**** The endgame of Ockham’s approach where universals  are not connected to things, but concepts (prior to Ockham, universals are distinct from, but inextricably linked to stable forms):

“Ontological individualism undermines not only realism but also syllogistic logic and science, for in the absence of real universals, names become no more than signs or signs of signs. Language thus does not reveal being but conceals the truth by fostering a belief in universals. In fact, all universals are merely second or higher-order signs that we, as finite beings, use to aggregate individual entities into categories. These categories, however, do not denote real things. They are only useful fictions that help us make sense out of the radically individualized world. They also, however, distort reality. Thus, the guiding principle of nominalist logic is Ockham’s famous razor: do not multiply universals needlessly. Every generalization takes us one more step away from the real, so the fewer we employ, the closer we remain to the truth.” (Michael, Allen Gillespie. “The Theological Origins of Modernity.” Critical Review 13.1 (1999): 1-30. ProQuest. 20 Apr. 2015, italics mine)

With Ockham, any sense of “natural teleology” is dulled by his denial of forms and the purely mechanistic science made thinkable by it. “Being is not intrinsically good but is value-free; fact and value are separated.” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, 100)

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Posted by on December 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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No Theistic God, No Notion of Equality

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Thus saieth Liberal Christian Nationalism.

A couple days ago, I said that there are some kinds of inequality among human beings that we should embrace.

There is also a kind of equality that we should embrace, but without the God revealed in the Bible, this is impossible.

No God, No equality. Sorry atheists and Jordan Peterson-esque “Christian atheists”.* You can’t even have equality with every notion of God, or gods, as the case may be. Again, I give you Vishal Mangalwadi, administering some painful truth for our secularist friends:

“A postmodernist would be absolutely right in insisting that the Declaration of Independence was wrong. These ‘truths’ are not ‘self-evident’. Human equality is not self-evident anywhere in the world – not even in America. Equality was never self-evident to the Hindu sages. For them, inequality was self-evident. Their question was, why are human beings born unequal? Hinduism taught that the Creator made people different. The higher castes were made from his head, shoulders, and belly, and the lower castes were made from his feet. The law of karma accentuated these basic differences. The Buddha did not believe in the Creator, but he accepted the doctrine of karma as the metaphysical cause for the inequality of human beings….

Equality and human rights are not self-evident truths. In his original draft, Thomas Jefferson penned, ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and unalienable.” That was the truth. That is why the Declaration grounded the ‘unalienable’ rights in the Creator rather than in the state. The most honest declaration would have been, ‘We hold these truths to be divinely revealed.’ Revelation is the reason why America believed what some Deists ascribed to ‘common sense.’ To be precise, these truths appeared common sense to the American founders because their sense was shaped by the common impact of the Bible – even if a few of them doubted that the Bible was divinely revealed.” (391, 392)”

This is why, in this debate featuring Howard Dean and Melissa Harris-Perry against David Brooks and Robert George – which took place just a few days ago and is well worth experiencing — Robert George, pointing to that Declaration of Independence, is on the side of the angels:

 

Even if we don’t need to insist that God feels and acts the same towards each and every person (again, see yesterday’s post), we can indeed insist that we are all his offspring.

In one sense, it cannot be denied that we are equally His children (please note though: this does not mean that we His children cannot spurn Him).

And that of course, means something. It has implications for you and me. For us.

It gets even more extreme. As I noted in an old post from years ago:

I was listening to lectures from a Roman Catholic apologist and he talked about how we can’t say that human beings are children or sons of God by nature because that is pantheism. I think I have also heard Lutherans say that we can’t call human beings children of God, but from our tradition, it would be because this is reserved for believers, not fallen man in general.*

Interestingly, the Scriptures go so far as to say we are all not just sons of God, but gods ourselves. But it does not shy away from calling all men sons of God either, as Paul points out to the Athenians:

“…he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill…”

(Acts 17:27-29)

That is why God sheds His blood for all persons – especially, the Bible says, those who believe. This is why, the Bible insists, that He desires all persons to repent – to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. This is why it says He has bound all of us over to disobedience – that He might have mercy on each and every one of us.

And all of the above is why I choose to be a Liberal Christian Nationalist as well.

You’ve joked about it, but now deeply ponder it…

Come to Jesus.

FIN

 

* And where, in the history of philosophy, has philosophical faith in “the force of the best reason”, for example, shown that “all humans are created equal and are entitled to equal rights”? Really, which non-Christians philosopher ever said this and what were his/her reasons? Yes, the silence is deafening….). Here, arguments like atheist Michael Shermer’s are shown to be lacking in an immense way (Incidently, Shermer also admits that most of his fellow atheists, like Dawkins, think it is impossible to ground morality in anything objective, or outside of human beings).

** Can we all be offspring of God but not children of God? In Luke 3, Adam is called “the son of God” and in Psalm 82:6 Jesus says “You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.” Man’s “relation” to God was that he was specifically created to be something different than the rest of creation (also note that Luther said people were created in God’s image before the beginning of time [see Luther’s works 1:75]).

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Are Hierarchy, Inequality, and Patriarchy Opposed to the Love of God?

Icon of the evil patriarchy par excellence?

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Regarding the man in the picture (which I know is massively triggering to some persons), we’ll get back to him in a moment.

From a past post:

“I remember hearing a father say to his son: “I love all of you – but I have to, admit my feelings for your brother are stronger”. Why, according to him, was this the case? Because of all of his offspring, he felt that his son’s brother needed his love even more.”

Let me add to that now – this didn’t bother the son. Why? Simply because due to the father’s actions he never doubted that he was dearly loved and valued. He didn’t need to know that his father’s love for him was perfectly equal to that of his brother’s to know this. Just like Hagar so gladly rejoiced in the love of her God — and didn’t need to be Abraham’s or Sarah’s equal — he didn’t need to be his brother’s equal.

We can take this further. While there is no precedent for thinking that God does not favor any group of persons more than any other (well, OK, He did chose the Jews!), we know, for example, that each individual person will not be equally blessed in heaven. Here, perhaps, both God’s attitude and His actions towards this or that person is decidedly different!

How should we respond to this?

I, for one, suggest we not be resentful of those who are ruling cities or many cities! Good thing to start trying to squelch this resentment here on earth, right?

“Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

But wait – we can take this even further. What if God’s actions towards others are decidedly different solely because of the way He has constructed the world? What if, for example, men were to serve as the heads and spiritual leaders for their families and only certain men could serve as pastors? And what if, in general, the rule more often than not would be that He would have men, and not women, serve as the leaders of human beings (yes, there are exceptions to this rule, but it does seem to be a rule)?

These “binaries” (cueing the earlier post today by Matthew Garnett) above are not going to go away. On the other hand, the Christian world today seems obsessed with matters of gender and equality. Citing the image of the body of Christ (surely no one can be unimportant given this truth!), some say, for example, that we must strive for a world in which everyone is “equally important”.

That, for example, is what I heard when I listened to the latest podcast of the notorious (among Evangelicals) Peter Enns. In it, he talks with Carolyn Custis James about “Moving Beyond the Patriarchy”.

It might be tempting for some of us to not even listen to James. Why, we might think, is she throwing in her lot with feminism, clearly anti-man at its core? Why did she not more earnestly look to seek out and meet a good, strong man who found her appealing, courted her, took her as his bride, and was able/willing to take responsibility as a spiritual head of the home? Perhaps then she would have a different view of matters? Has she not simply been influenced by liberal professors and the stories of bitter women, and this has just created a victim mentality in her?

I think this would be too hasty – much like the disciples too quickly judging the man born blind. The Lord does uphold singleness after all — not marriage — as the higher calling and blessing the Christian should strive to obtain (again folks, this “binary” is not going away either). Should we think that every person who ends up serving the Lord as a single – and is content to do so – always strove for that goal?

Ultimately, I think the show is worth listening to for a few reasons: a) some of her content is really good and enlightening ; b) to hear and identify with Carolyn’s personal concerns (and to genuinely understand her, sympathize with her, and think about how you might try to help and encourage someone with her experiences) ; and c) to realize that these kinds of concerns aren’t going to go away – and also that we should not think that they ever really will this side of heaven.

Why? Because God loves hierarchy though hierarchy does not, and never will, function perfectly in a fallen world. The best that we can hope for in the world is hierarchs who care about their subjects as good parents care for their children. As good pastors care for their flocks. As Christians (yes, in the final judgment we are tasked with judging the world, even the angels) care about each and every one of their neighbors.

At the very least, we all need to recognize that there are “power pyramids” where “somebody’s at the top and there are a lot of people at the bottom” – things James evidently believes that the “patriarchy” — and not God — creates. She also says that this patriarchy is not really put forth as the message itself but is the ever-so-significant “backdrop to the message” — and so that, in part, is why it’s hard for us to talk about.

Let’s talk about it.

I’ll start with my two cents: I suggest that this kind of natural and social phenomenon is built into God’s world by design (see Luther’s comments on the fourth commandment – and hear this recent Issues ETC program with Bryan Wolfmueller) – every culture, and not just ours, “does [this] all over the place!” — and even those who try to destroy it end up creating it anew (even if, with the new hierarchy’s decreased competence, it will be far less effective and liable to be overthrown again). Furthermore, there is something decidedly different about the “soft patriarchy” of Christianity vis a vis that found in non-Christian societies (e.g., respect for the education of women [as James mentions] and consensual marriage enshrined in law arose where in space and time…?)*

And – wait for it — I see all of this as related to what is happening with the election today in Alabama. My more thought-out and succinct thoughts about Moore and the frenzy around him can be found today here. Yesterday though, I promoted a post on the Facebook group Confessional Lutheran Fellowship (CLF) from my [online] friend Boo Radley. That post got a lot of comments** before it was removed – evidently for being too political.

My main point, however, was to focus on masculinity in a culture that has gradually – perhaps very gradually — (so much so that we have not realized what has happened) lost the sense of the real value that men bring.

Clip from Boo’s piece (which yes, had an ill-chosen title – he himself admitted that to me):

Judge Moore likes to say, “If we’re going to Make America Great Again, we must first Make America Good Again.” Part of making America good, part of restoring our republic, must be a revival of American masculinity. Roy Moore alone can’t make this happen. But if he wins, perhaps that could help to galvanize the movement. A moment that helps inspire millions to rise up and Bring Back The Patriarchy.

There has been much chatter lately about open secrets. For example, prominent journalist Cokie Roberts recently told us all that “every female in the press corps knew” Congressman Conyers wasn’t safe to ride the elevator with: Really? Well, here’s another open secret: Most of the “men” at National Review are scared of their wives. Jonah Goldberg admitted to it in this recent installment of his new podcast. This is not hyperbole or slander. Listen for yourself: Relevant portion begins at about 21:30.

…it’s not just Goldberg, French, and the gang. For far too long much of the D.C.-centric conservative establishment, the so-called “conservative media”, and the leadership of the Republican Party have (with few exceptions) seemed to be suffering from a testosterone deficiency. They have frequently served as handmaids to the cause of progressivism. They’re afraid of feminists. Afraid of cultural bullies. Afraid of their own shadows. Roy Moore may be many things but, he is not afraid.

Judge Moore is despised not only by Leftists, scared conservatives, and the corrupt establishment. Some Christians on the Right (what currently passes for the Right) see him as the wrong kind of Christian. They have confused the cultural appetites and prevailing moral ethic of their upscale suburban bedroom communities and their hipster-y urban neighborhoods with the patriarchal Christianity of the Bible. I don’t know what Judge Moore did 40 years ago and neither do they. But they will break the 8th Commandment and bear false witness against their brother in order to signal their own virtue to the mob.

…We could be seeing that, as David Limbaugh argues, “the Trump movement transcends Trump”. I hope so. If the future of Trumpism is patriarchal Christianity combined with constitutional conservatism, there just might be a chance to save America.

… I would have preferred to see Mo Brooks in the Senate. But for the sake of Western Civilization and American masculinity, I hope Judge Moore crushes it on Tuesday. Will it happen? Well, like Dr. King, a man can dream.

Regardless of what our politics are, strong men who aren’t afraid and who fight – especially in a good cause – are appealing to us and always will be.

Can you have real religious freedom (and other freedoms) without a predominant Christian influence?

Why? They are always an echo of the One who will return with a sword to take His children home – and administer the perfect justice that we only sometimes want but always need.

FIN

 

* As previously noted: “For example, we might be surprised to hear that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery.”

** The responses to the post on CLF really had nothing to do with the part of the article I quote in this piece. In general, persons had other things to complain about (some reasonable complaints to be sure) or simplistically boiled it down to the idea “that women have always been using their feminine power to destroy innocent men” which was, to say the least, a gross oversimplification.

I think a key point here is that nowadays society in general (including men) tends to want to see women as innocent victims and tends to underestimate their own willing participation in many a situation – and their corresponding willingness to stretch the truth when it suits them. But both men and women are sinners and liable to all manner of temptation.

Individuals from both sexes can, of course, impress us with their character and ability to resist the pleasures of the flesh, the desire for revenge, and the cultural currents (and mob justices!) of their times. And certainly, these are the kinds of people we want in our corner to testify for us and to help us when he need arises.

Image from: http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/10/18/alabama-senate-candidate-roy-moores-take-on-anthem-protests-is-wrong-heres-why

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Deconstructing Law and Gospel: How Postmodern Deconstructionism has Taken the Central Doctrine of Lutheranism Unawares

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The following is another arresting article by Matthew Garnett, posted on FB last night (Monday, December 11, 2017). As I read it I could not help but think about a quote from Karl Marx that I had recently read from Uri Harris, writing at Quillette, both here and here:

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”.

As Christians, we don’t need to doubt that God is in the business of transforming the world in Christ, and that He does this through His people. I suggest that Marx, following Hegel, can only imagine doing this because his thought, like all Enlightenment thought, is parasitic on Scriptural truth. The ancient world — at least the influential thinkers we are aware of — simply did not think this way. All this said, our Lord not only means to change the world in His time and in His way, but for us to have real knowledge. We are to know Him and we are to know His creation as it was, as it now is due to sin, and as it will be again through Christ (we even see some of the firstfruits of renewal now). And we are to have all this with certainty (see, e.g. my posts here and here).

But what is happening now? Matthew Garnett does not use these words, but I will: “Theologians have hitherto only interpreted the Bible in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Because the Spirit of the Age (Hegel) — which demands that man must save the “vale of tears” — is the water in which we swim and in which we must fight.

Here’s Matthew:

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Postmodern, deconstructionism are the waters in which we swim in this day and time. We employ this philosophy almost like breathing when confronted with difficult issues and then appear shocked when the results manifest themselves. Like fish swimming in water – who don’t even know what “water” is – we are immersed in these postmodern waters and often, we’re caught completely unawares as to what we’re breathing in and breathing out. My aim here is to help us understand, in no uncertain terms, just what the post-modern “water” is when it comes to law and gospel. I am attempting to explain to us “fish” what “water” is.

So let’s begin with “deconstruction”.

“Literary Deconstruction” is an approach to literary criticism invented by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. “Literary criticism” is essentially the practice of learning how to evaluate writing. Take any undergrad lit course as an English major and you’re going to be taught how to “deconstruct” literature of all kinds.

Here’s how it works.

Take Mary Bysshe Shelley’s Frankenstein. In this story, we are schooled by Shelley in man’s quest to “play God” by becoming the Creator. Throughout human history (until very recently), “Creator” stands above “The Creature”. Right away, we recognize a binary relationship: “Creator” and “Creature”. It seems clear that Shelley is warning us creatures of attempting to take the role of ultimate creator. The results are literally monstrous.

If we are to “deconstruct” this work, the first step is to invert the binaries. We jettison Shelley’s warnings and elevate the creature above its creator and then proceed to re-read the story with this presupposition. We note the obvious flaws in the creator. We elevate the virtue of the creature.

The next step is blur the definitions of the binary. We might ask, “Who really created whom? Did Frankenstein really create the monster or did his creation really create Frankenstein to become the real monster?” This results in a complete loss in the definition of terms. “Creator” no longer has any real meaning, nor does “Creature”. The meanings of these terms can never be pinned down. They are always “deferred” – what Derrida called “la différance”.

Here’s how Derrida’s “deferred meaning” or “la différance” works. If you looked up the word “creator” in the dictionary, you’d find several other words describing what is meant by creator. According to Derrida, those words don’t solidify the meaning of “creator” but actually blur its meaning. The words to describe “creator” can also be found with other words describing those words ad infinitum.

To be sure, this is a fascinating manner in which to approach literature. But Derrida and his disciples, especially Michael Foucoult, did not merely stop with literature. They extended this principle into politics, culture, and religion. They did this, not because they actually believed in a meaningless nihilism, but as a slight of hand in order to wrest power and recreate culture and society as they saw fit.

Let me give you a practical example of this, how Derrida’s schema has infiltrated out culture, and has wildly succeeded.

Take the binary of “man” and “woman”. One of Derrida’s favorite words was “phallogocentrism”” – a word he invented. “Phal” meaning “male”; “logo” meaning “words” or “speech”; and “centrism” meaning, of course, “central”. So, “Male’s words are central.” Derrida’s aim, with “deconstruction” was to obliterate this notion.

One way to do this was to deconstruct the binary of “man” and “woman”. In order to accomplish this, you elevate the virtues of the woman over the man. In the name of “equality”, you actually so degrade the man as to accelerate the woman. So not only is the man lowered, but the woman is now exalted – hello “Third-Wave Feminism”. However, the deconstruction doesn’t stop there. The definitions of the binary must ultimately be blurred and dissolved. Hello transgenderism. Once the categories of “male” and “female” are lost, according to Derrida and his minions, we are one step closer to what I term as an “egalitarian utopia”.

Put simply, postmodern deconstructionism strikes at the heart of Western culture. It takes the terms and definitions of reality upon which the West has been built and it obliterates those categories. Ever hear someone say something like, “We need to destroy the white, male privileged system! We want justice!”? I’ve actually had people tell me when I’ve presented then with the flaws in their logic, “Well that’s just your white, cis-gendered logic and it doesn’t apply to me!”

Thus now, the waters we swim in are those which no longer privilege logic and reality in order to inform our epistemological conclusions. No. Instead, emotion and subversion are prioritized. For example, we Lutherans say at the end of every article of the Creed, “This is most certainly true.” For the postmodern, the question is not “Is this true?”, but rather “Does this subvert the dominant system of hierarchy?”

So they ask, “Does blurring definitions when it comes to terror attacks subvert?” Answer? Yes it does. “Does destroying the traditional family subvert?” Yes it does. “Does illegal immigration subvert?” Yes it does. And so it goes.

As stated, postmodern deconstructionism can be applied in virtually any arena of thought and life. The trick is to make utility of this philosophy to the end of attacking the heart or the foundation of what you are attempting to destroy. In popular culture, as has been demonstrated, postmodernism has arrayed its armaments at traditional sexuality and the family.

Unfortunately, the specter of postmodernism moves around us like some ghost; using and attacking those who are not on guard against it. In other words, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves using postmodern philosophy to inadvertently destroy even that which we hold most sacred. As stated, we are fish and this is the water in which we swim. As Dr. Gregory Shultz of Concordia University Wisconsin puts it, postmodernism is a disease like Shingles. It lies latent in the blood stream of fallen humanity and flares up as the opportunity presents itself.

One such opportunity is the preaching and teaching of law and gospel. Let me say here that I am convinced that very few pastors are consciously making utility of postmodern philosophy, but like Shingles, it often rears its ugly head unawares. Here the devil, the world, and our sinful nature attack the heart of our theology and here are the practical manners in which we can observe this happening.

Dissolution of the Law and Gospel Binary – Abstracting the Law/ Blurring the Gospel

There are several terms to which our modern culture is allergic, and it is no different for law and gospel preachers. Those terms are words such as “duty”, “responsibility”, “obligation”, and “discipline”. In an effort to “emphasize the gospel”, sometimes preachers will de-emphasize or downplay the law. They realize how important the gospel promises are, but fail to realize that the promises have no context without the law. Thus, by de-emphasizing the law in this way – by toning down the law with softer language – they inadvertently end up blurring the clarity of the gospel.

Practically speaking this is done by referring to the New Obedience (AC VI) and “growth in good works” (AP II, FC/SD IV), in generalities and abstractions. Terms such as “duty” and “discipline” are replaced with words like “love” (undefined) and “vocation” (similarly undefined). Indeed, in our cultural climate, telling someone they have a responsibility to say attend to and study God’s word or attend church is distasteful. Using terms like “love” and “vocation” aren’t wrong or unbiblical, but used to the exclusion of specific instruction in the law, the preaching of God’s commands lose their sting and become blurry. Once powerful and potent terms for describing God’s law are replaced with more culturally palatable terms. Unfortunately, while many well-meaning men are doing this in order to attract more people to the gospel, they are actually deconstructing the heart of our theology.

Examples of Deconstruction in Preaching

• “Live free in the gospel”

Like “love” and “vocation”, “freedom” is a positive, cultural buzz word. It is also a biblical word. However “freedom”, used biblically, has a much different meaning than it does especially in the West. Preachers and teachers who use this word without qualification generally will obscure its biblical meaning.

Imagine this scenario. A gay couple attend Pastor X’s divine service. The gay couple are wrestling with their consciences because of their lifestyles. They are expecting to hear X affirm what they already suspect – that they are living in sin. Instead Pastor X concludes his sermon with, “So go! Live free in the Gospel!”

“That was a relief!” says one man to his gay partner. “Yes,” says the other. “In the gospel we are free to be who we are!” Note well here how an ill-defined phrase, how what is supposed to be a preaching of the law, actually becomes the gospel for these two men and law and gospel is quite nicely deconstructed.

• “You cannot reform the old man” and/or “The new man is perfect”

This is a perversion of Luther’s quip, “Simul Justus et Peccator”. While technically true, this is used to soften the law by saying that doing the hard work of progressing in Sanctification is not really necessary or at least should not be emphasized. After all, if the old man cannot be reformed and the new man is perfect, improvement, progress, or growth is not needed. Now, it is true that the old Adam cannot be reformed and must “daily die” as Luther puts it. Also, in baptism, we are given Christ’s perfect righteousness. Thus, unaware of his bias toward the cultural zeitgeist, the pastor proclaims that improvement and change are not needed for the Christian. However, in contrast to this inadequate preaching, Pastor Paul Strawn puts it this way:

Think of a sapling of an apple tree that we would plant in our yard. Now there is nothing wrong with that sapling, it is exactly what it should be as a sapling. But as it grows into a mature tree, what does it do but provide shade for our lawn, beautiful flowers in the spring, a place for birds to nest, and squirrels to hide, pollen for the honey bees, ultimately fruit, good fruit for us to eat. Now there was nothing wrong with the apple tree when it was a sapling, it was just not fully matured into a fruit bearing tree. Similarly, there was nothing wrong with our New Man when it is created within us, we are baptized, or come to faith in Jesus Christ. But, we must say like the boy Jesus , Jesus according to his human nature: There is room to grow, room to bear fruit, room even to do those things which are pleasing to God.

Over and against this notion, the preacher who claims, “No change needed for the Christian” salves the conscious of their hearers, not with the gospel, but with a deconstructed version of the law.

• “Good works are a gift” and/or “Everything is gift”

Similar to the others, this too has some truth to it. Indeed it is a joy and a privilege to the Christian to participate with God in loving others. God does graciously give us this opportunity and it is helpful for us to see service to others as a gift. That said, it is disingenuous to say that it is a gift or a promise from Scripture. It is not. It is indeed a command. Commands are not bad things, but in current Western cultural milieu, “command” has a negative connotation and it seems that preachers and teachers are heavily influenced not to make anything in the Christian life appear to be negative or difficult.

Thus, they soften the law here by calling what is commanded and in fact demanded by God the Father of his children “gifts”. It is disingenuous because it makes sacrificing ourselves and suffering for the neighbor out to be something that is simply handed to us on the silver platter of the gospel. It is not. While we are given power to obey the self-sacrificial commands of our Father, following our big brother Jesus is not simply something that gets handed to us. It is something that is difficult and requires the utmost discipline.

• “Your good works are pre-destined”

Based on Eph. 2:10, we have at last a genuine misunderstanding of the text. This single verse is often used to encourage people not to trouble themselves with doing good because the fate of every true Christian is to do good works. According to these deconstructionist teachers, these works will simply fall in your lap, again similar to the “good works as gift” notion.

By now, hopefully we’re seeing a pattern here. These teachers use half-truths in order to portray the Christian life as something easy and not difficult. That is a form of good news to most people who formerly thought that if they became Christians, something might be required of them – even if that something had nothing to do with their eternal destiny. Put simply, it is attractive to people to hear that doing good is simply a fated thing; something for which or into which they’ll never have to try or put effort.

To be sure this is a popular “gospel” in our culture which was prophesied of 2000 years ago in, “…..the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (emp. mine)

Concluding Remarks

Fundamentally, deconstructing law and gospel is what has been commonly referred to as “confusing law and gospel”. Its primary problem is that it confuses Justification and Sanctification. Additionally, it makes the law sound like something we already want to do at best or, if that fails, makes the law sound impossible and not to be attempted. Furthermore, and most sadly, it locates elements of the law (i.e. “love”/ “fruits of the spirit”) in the category of gospel and not law.

For all of this, I’ve devised a cliché: “The degree to which one loses the law, he loses the gospel.” The greatest danger in all of this is when law is deconstructed – that is, loses its meaning and full force in the manners described – the gospel also loses its meaning. That is textbook postmodern, deconstructionism. Unfortunately, this deconstruction of law and gospel, just like political postmodernism, results in a most horrifying teleology.

In the vacuum that this softening of the law brings is not merely a trend toward lawlessness, but a trend toward an insipid and dark form of pietism; a pietism where the new law calls what is good, evil and that which is evil, good. It is a pietism where if you dare say that growth in good works is Christian, you are immediately branded a Pharisee and a legalist. Taken to its logical extreme, it demands what is called sin in the Scriptures must be held up as virtuous. Most sadly, the gospel slowly disappears into nothing. Just as surely as secular and political postmodernism leads to a nihilism replaced by an elite consolidation of power (viz Marxism), religious postmodernism – it all its forms – whether intentional or accidental – leads to a nihilistic ethical vacuum that will be replaced by some form of man made law and the true gospel will be lost. For, when postmodern deconstructionism reaches its full flower, there is no forgiveness for those who will not adopt its “ethics” and twisted “morality”.

Instead of this empty and vain philosophy that so permeates our culture, may God grant us so to hear the Holy Scriptures; read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life, which has been given to us in our Savior Jesus Christ.

FIN

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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