21 May 2014

Vain, Wretched Creatures

Having discussed briefly the occasion of Dryden's writing of Religio Laici, we now get to turn to the piece itself.

Remember that Simon's Critical History raised the ire of both traditionalist Catholics and Protestants. It met flames in Paris, prompted by Jacques-Bénigne Bousset, and the few copies that made it to England in 1678 received just as "warm" a welcome.

It's not clear as to when or how deeply Dryden became familiar with Simon's work (was it as late as 1682 when the first English translation was produced?), but in any event, he set out to write Religio in order to reason his readers "into Truth"—a particularly Anglican version of it, in contrast to the claims of Deists, papists, and the non-conformists surrounding him. True, reason is dim light (l.1), but nevertheless it is a guide (l. 7); it simply pales before the blinding light of supernatural revelation (ll. 10–11). Put another way, Dryden's view of faith and reason and tradition is quintessentially Hookerian; that is to say, there is a hierarchical ranking when approaching matters of faith and practice: (1) “What Scripture doth plainly deliver”; (2) That which may be concluded “by force of reason”; and (3) That which “the church by her ecclesiastical authority” thinks and defines as true.
How can the less the Greater comprehend?
Or finite Reason reach Infinity?
For what cou’d Fathom GOD were more than He. (ll. 39–41)
Starting with the caveat that finite reason cannot reach the infinite (a version perhaps of the Reformed notion of finitum non capax infiniti), Dryden begins his section against the Deists. We won't spend much time covering this part of the poem, suffice to say that he thinks the Deists are self-refuting—the truths they assert are arrived at only after faith had shown the way for their reason:
These Truths are not the product of the Mind,
but dropt from Heaven, and of a Nobler kind.
Reveal'd Religion first inform'd thy Sight,
And Reason saw not, till Faith sprung the Light.
Hence all their Natural Worship takes the Source:
'Tis Revelation what thou thinks Discourse. (ll. 66–71)
A fine example of early modern presuppositional apologetics, yes? He then wonders if the Deists think they're all smarter than Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Seneca, or Cicero, none of whom saw these truths so well? The implication is clear: the Deists are borrowing from revealed religion in their extrapolations from the natural world. "Vain, wretched Creature, how art thou misled / To think thy Wit these God-like notions bred!" (ll. 64–65)

Dryden then moves on to assert how in the end the Deists stand lost, forsaking as they have all the essentials of salvation revealed to us in Holy Scripture (the incarnation, the sacrifice, the atonement, etc.). And then he allows the Deist one objection: the problem of pluralism. What about those who never "saw the Light" (l. 183) of God's Messiah revealed in the scriptures? Dryden's answer is fairly typical among the latitudinarians of his day (which is a widely misunderstood term, not least since its meaning changed over time; cf. Griffin's Latitudinarianism in the Seventeenth-Century Church of England). He has hope, hope that God's "boundless Wisedom, boundless Mercy, may / Find ev’n for those be-wildred Souls, a way" (ll. 189–88). It's the chief objection to the Christian faith in an increasingly spherical and undiscovered world in a heliocentric solar system; so Dryden wonders, "Who knows how far transcending Goodness can / Extend the Merits of that Son to Man?" (ll. 194–95) But reason ("Charity") alone doesn't afford him this speculation, St. Paul grants him the impetus as well: In his paraphrase of Romans 2:12–16, Dryden sees a direct correlation to those . . .
. . . who follow’d Reasons Dictates right;
Liv’d up, and lifted high their Natural Light;
With Socrates may see their Maker’s Face,
While Thousand Rubrick-Martyrs want a place. (208–11)
Perhaps this pushes the envelope a little (not least in his Catholic or Remonstrant interpretation of Rom 2), but that many theologians and thinkers during this time faced the new pluralism and answered it similarly is a matter of fact.

Next time, we'll dive into Dryden's "digression" about Simon's Critical History and his Roman Catholic claims.

19 May 2014

Finding the Pure Language of God

One of the intents of Jesuit priest Richard Simon back in the 1670s–80s was apologetic in nature: the Old and New Testaments as they've come down to us could not bear the weight of the formal cause or principle of the Protestant Reformation, sola scriptura (while both scripture and tradition work together in the life of the church, scripture wields the primary authority, and thus is the final arbiter in matters of faith and practice), which had already by the time of the seventeenth century come to bear much schismatic rot as well as devolved more and more into the practice of solo scriptura (tradition has no bearing upon the church’s interpretation of scripture). Simon wrote:
There is no one, Jew or Christian, who does not recognize that these Scriptures were the pure language of God. . . . but since men were the guardians of the sacred books, indeed of all other books too, and since the first originals have been lost, it is in all ways impossible that there have not been many changes, as much because of the length of time as by the negligence of copyists. (Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament, Rotterdam: 1678, p. 1)
By raising doubts in particular about the integrity of the Hebrew text—due to the redacted emendations of the public scribes who came along after the original authors—thus allowing for certain inaccuracies in the minutiae of detail (such as didactic abbreviated renditions of certain events, dischronology, etc.), Simon concluded that scripture should not be viewed as presenting an inerrant chronological history, setting forth the full history of Israel. As an offshoot of this conclusion, he sought to expose the Christian’s need for a teaching authority upon which these doubts could be put to rest. Enter: the magisterium of the Catholic Church (or the collegiate episcopal magisterium of the Orthodox Church). Such an authority could helpfully clear away the crisis of interpretation caused by this thicket of textual problems revealed through the application of proper (higher/source critical) hermeneutics. Protestants, by contrast, did not have any sure means with which to restore the "lost originals" of scripture or to know which translation or interpretation most closely approximated the Bible's "original" texts.

Woodbridge's 1685 ed. of Histoire
In the debates that followed—both with traditionalist Protestants and Catholics and radicals like Jean Le Clerc (the father of Red Letter Christianity), Simon stood in the much more moderate position of appropriating Augustine (who held like the traditionalists that the Spirit accommodated the cultures and language of men to convey God’s meaning—but without error), arguing for divine inspiration, but then pushing the envelope toward higher criticism with his views about the "errors" contained in the church’s received holy text. With respect to intellectual history, it’s easy to underestimate Simon’s reach and influence: Modern biblical criticism in many ways started with Simon in France and only then worked its way into Germany. Ask most Old or New Testament scholars today in what geographical locale the majority of their studies focused. Germany will most likely be their answer. France may not even show up.

Even though much of what Simon wrote wasn't necessarily new (e.g., Ezra's denial of total Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch; Cappel's work on vowel points and accents in the Hebrew text; Morin, who followed Cappel in his depreciation of the Masoretic text; and La Peyrère's pre-Adamite theory, to name a few), he nevertheless stands out precisely because of his modern (Enlightenment) position: Unlike earlier commentators who failed to exegete apart from their church's doctrinal presuppositions, Simon would, in "perfect neutrality," simply translate and interpret unbeholden to any particular tradition (it's amazing how long this sort of approach has enjoyed influence).

But back to the main point of this post, which is really just a longish introduction to get to some poetry, namely, John Dryden's Religio Laici. In 1682, right on the heels of the English translation of Simon's Histoire, Dryden wrote Religio, dedicating the piece to "an ingenious young Gentleman my Friend; upon his Translation of The Critical History of the Old Testament, compos'd by the learned Father Simon." In the poem, Dryden takes on Deism as well as Roman Catholicism, in favor of Anglicanism. I want to get much deeper into his response in coming posts, particularly as it relates to the issues raised above about textual instability and ecclesial authority.

But for now, whether or not you think the text of scripture is unstable, inerrant, or whatever, on what basis do you place your belief about scripture’s authority (assuming you have this belief)? The answers, depending (perhaps ironically) on your tradition, are invariably: the authority of the church (whether magisterium, creed, or confession), the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of the scriptures themselves, the basic historical reliability of the texts, and any combination of these. Did I miss any?

Dryden's Religio Laici and the Question of Authority: Series Overview

"Finding the Pure Language of God"

"Vain, Wretched Creatures"

"Strange Confidence: On the Infallibility of Tradition"

"With Great Zeal, and Little Thought"


08 May 2014

Reading Genesis 1–2 with Richard Averbeck

In Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages Richard Averbeck wrote that his attempt to present an "honest reading of Gen 1 from a literary, exegetical, historical, and theological point of view" is not "a matter of somehow finding more time in Gen 1 to accommodate the vast ages of evolutionary science." Affirming something like a division of labor, Averbeck noted that as Old Testament scholars "we are not scientists," even if the "discoveries in physical sciences most certainly cast a long shadow over the conversation."

Averbeck picked up that conversation again this past semester at TEDS, first by briefly walking through his current interpretative work on Genesis 1–2, and then by fielding a few questions concerning the ramifications of that work.

At the outset, Averbeck noted that exegetical debates on this topic often produce far more heat than light. It seems that no matter how irenic, how careful, one's interpretation is, it will polarize and offend.

Averbeck then recalled how for many years he had taken a literal day approach to the Genesis 1 creation narrative (and the often-attendant view that creation occurred recently), but the more he came across the various creation accounts throughout scripture (e.g., Psalm 104), the more he realized these other inspired accounts actually can help us to better work through how we should be reading Genesis 1–2.

Beyond the biblical canon, Averbeck brought his knowledge of ancient Near Eastern texts and culture to bear on the discussion. In answer to the anxiety this may cause some evangelicals, Averbeck argued that knowing the world in which this portion of the scriptures were written, including its own pagan versions of creation, helps to shed light on the biblical text in ways that both clarifies its context but also challenges many of the common assumptions of that ancient culture (for example, that Israel's God Yahweh alone is the creator God of the cosmos).

Averbeck likened Genesis 1:1 to a title, a snapshot, a kind-of introductory remark about God's creative activity, while the rest of the narrative (up to Gen. 2:3) unpacks that fact in terms of the observable world, that is, from a human perspective. It's driving home the point, in short, that "Yahweh did this." The days are also better seen as literary constructs, Averbeck said, rather than literal, 24-hour days, in order to bring home the importance of the pattern of 6/7—six days of work and a day of sabbath, both as a reflection of God's creative work and as a witness of faithfulness to the one, true God of Israel in the surrounding pagan culture.

Another particularly interesting point had to do with Averbeck's take on where the "image and likeness" of God is located in humankind. Too often we push the image of God into to the realm of metaphysics, or hyper-spiritualize it, Averbeck said. But it's concrete, rooted in this physical world. To be created in the image of God is to be erected on earth as the creator God's statue, meant to extend his wise dominion.

Also of crucial importance to Averbeck's view is his insistence on a historical Adam and Eve, without which, he argues, significant portions of scripture would make little sense (for example, Rom. 5). He noted that the "historical markers" in Genesis 2, such as the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, point us in the direction of seeing the first pair as historical figures.

Averbeck then wrapped up with what he deemed to be one of scripture's major themes, introduced in Genesis 4:26 (the end of the section beginning at Gen 2:4): It's the only solution given in the midst of the plight we see unfolding in these early chapters of scripture, and it is one that is often highlighted throughout the canon: "Calling upon the name of the LORD." The rest of scripture essentially tells the story of those who do and don't follow that charge, eventually culminating in the one who did so perfectly, even unto the point of death, for the sake of the whole world.

05 May 2014

Paul and Union with Christ via Con Campbell

This is not a book review (I have to read it in full!). That may come later.

One of the perks at work consists in attending presentations or lectures that strike my fancy, schedule permitting. Last week, Associate Professor of New Testament Con Campbell gave a presentation on his award-winning book Paul and Union with Christ (read the TOC and Introduction).

In this book, Campbell offers (according to the publisher) "a thorough exegetical exploration of the Greek phrases Paul used to express the idea of union, or participation, with Christ, and injects solid biblical insight into ancient and recent debates on the topic. His careful handling of the Greek text flows into theological and pastoral reflection on the importance of the believer’s union with Christ, and thus also serves as a helpful reference tool for students, scholars, and pastors to consult its treatment of any particular instance of any phrase or metaphor that relates to union with Christ in St. Paul's writings."

During the presentation, Campbell noted that since the Reformation the phrase "union with Christ" was often thought to have only one meaning. But he demurs, arguing that the phrase has multiple emphases, depending on its context. They are:
  • Union: spiritual, nuptial, modeled on the mutual indwelling (perichoresis) of the Trinity—it's real (though spiritual, i.e., effected by the Spirit) and corporate
  • Participation: sharing in the events of Christ’s mission—law-fulfilling, dying, rising, ascending, ruling, etc.
  • Identification: belonging to the realm of Christ rather than the old realm of Adam
  • Incorporation: built together into the body of Christ, the temple of God
Campbell was subsequently asked if he came to any conclusions while working on this book that surprised him. He answered:
  1. How Paul's "union with Christ" is inextricably and incessantly trinitarian. The Father is in Christ and by the Spirit we are in Christ. In other words (if I take his meaning correctly), "union with Christ" is shorthand for "union with the Holy Trinity."
  3. On the issues of justification and imputation: Are we justified via imputation or union? Campbell said he held to the former prior to this study. But the Pauline corpus clearly assumes that we are justified via our union with Christ—not through imputation (see pp. 399ff.).

    Where, then, does this leave the doctrine of imputation? It still has a place theologically, argues Campbell, in that it protects the idea that the righteousness with which we are given is an alien righteousness, i.e., not self-generated or infused. But "en Christo" allows us to better understand that Christ's righteousness now belongs to all those who are in union with him. To be sure, there is a legal and forensic element to justification (so long as we don't construe it as a material transaction in which righteousness can be passed around a courtroom), but primarily it has to do with a declared status—a vindicated status. Being raised with Christ, we now share in that vindication.

    Campbell went on to say that a lot of the contemporary debate is built on false dichotomies and mischaracterization. He found that for the early Reformers (not least both Luther and Calvin) it was obvious that justification is mediated via union with Christ (He cited Mark Seifrid's article "Luther, Melanchthon, and Paul on the Question of Imputation" as a helpful and clarifying work in this regard). In short . . .
    Imputation ought to be understood as the unmerited reception of a righteousness that belongs wholly to another, and this reception of 'alien' righteousness is facilitated through the 'un-alienation' of two parties; once believers are joined to Christ, his righteousness is shared with them. In this way, imputation and union with Christ coexist, with one flowing from the other. (401)
Check out Campbell's own take on his work:

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