Archive for January, 2009

Live Blogging The Reading Club (1)

I’m at the Carpenter’s, about to continue our Ideas Have Consequences reading group and discussion. It’s a little thin tonight, just a couple of us guys and Mr. Carpenter. I’m taking up Mr. Carpenter’s suggestion and live blogging this session for the benefit of the few that aren’t able to come (and anyone else that reads).

7:16 – Discussion about current going-ons in evangelicalism. Talking about other stuff too… classic antinomianism and its current adherents. Cherry pie and ice cream are served.

7:30 – Discussion about first chapter. Essentially, Weaver wants to show that the metaphysical dream of each individual and society is essential for the good of both. This metaphysical reality must be taken, essentially, on faith. It is the idea of the transcendent taken by the instrumentality of faith. These are extremely Platonic ideas, directly applied to modernity and consequently postmodernity in our age.

7:39 – Weaver takes some negative examples to show what he is arguing against. “The barbarian living amid culture” and the Philistine… think the Geico caveman. A very primitive individual living amongst society, one who is in contact with culture but doesn’t properly interact, but rather profanes it. 

7:40 – Weaver than takes the American frontiersman as an example. As the frontiersman moved east, they began to trust their senses and their own judgment, and thus lost their appreciation and apprehension of the forms. They gradually became unable to interact at the level of the abstract. In a sense, this is to a degree endemic to America because of its roots.

7:43 – Language is incredibly important in the midst of understanding all of this. Distance from language or a given text is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it’s quite good. The metaphysical dream that each individual has gives them the ability to properly place language within a context, and thus gives them the opportunity to interpret the language in a text. Just as the American frontiersman sought immediacy from his senses, so modernity seeks immediacy to interpretation. Postmodernism actually does a good thing in being willing to not get an immediate answer to interpretation, but also subverts the interpretation process by denying that a metaphysical dream can deduce the actual interpretation of a text.

7:49 – Side discussion. American Arminianism seems to have some of its birth in the American frontiersman. Arminianism thrives in the 1920s because throughout the 19th century people were acting upon their own volition that eventually trickled into the religious thinking of the common man.

7:55 – Discussion. America has a sense of the forms, its just that those forms (freedom, justice, etc.) seems to be embodied in particular things, not in transcendent ideals. Barack Obama’s speech on Tuesday seems somewhat indicative of this. Even though something transcendent is invoked (grace, faith, etc.) these things really have no substance since the interpretive method is postmodern. What they mean to one person means something completely different to another. In fact, some of his rhetoric would sould decidedly pre-modern, if it were not for the tacit understanding that he speaks as a representative of and to a postmodern people.

8:00 -Discussion over Weaver’s statement on page 19: “We do not undertake to reason about anything until we have been drawn to it by an affective manner.” Weaver brings this up to disparage it. Mr. Carpenter brings up that this is what Piper seemingly does by interpreting Edwards. He believed Piper thinks affections fall outside and precede reason. I’m not convinced this is what Piper propounds; we’ll be looking into and discussing this further at another time. Talking about a progression of the mind to the affections to the will: it seems Edwards starts with intellectual apprehension, moves to the affections, and then to the behavior.

8:23 – Bob Jones Sr. famously thinks this goes from intellectual apprehension to proper behavior to the proper affections. Piper (and I) disagree with him, and with the place of initial orthopathy in the classic (i.e. movement-based) fundamentalist mold.

8:30 – Edwards later moved away from a monolithic opinion on this order, especially as he viewed how these things were ordered in his wife’s life. An emotional change is both seen by others and felt internally. This is “common sense” realism. But the fact that emotions are there doesn’t mean something has honestly changed internally.

8:36 – Moving onto the second chapter, Distinction and Hierarchy. Essentially, this is the Incredibles. Saying that everyone is special is the same as saying no one is special. Current trends in culture aim to destroy all distinctions in social status, but in doing so destroys society at large, as any metaphysical dream must be sacrificed in the process. “Jacobin” is a term he uses continually; essentially this is one who seeks to level the social classes. It references a social club that was at the radical edge of the French Revolution. A comment is made: our new President is essentially a Jacobin. These believe that human nature is essentially good, so we must unbridle humanity to naturally grow into and express that good that is in them. 

8:43 – There are two things that society descends into at this point… the brutality of anarchy, which must be overcome by political despotism, or the brutality of consumerism, which is a form of despotism. Who gets to be at the top? The one who consumes and gives return for the most. We seem to be (in America) at the level of the brutality of consumerism. 

8:49 – Talking about how Weaver addresses education. He says that without a metaphysical dream to guide education, the educational system will only serve to tear down the system. How this happen in America’s system? Everything is geared towards production and consumption; thus the schools only become a tool to increase the appetite. There’s no way to equip the students to think about the abstract if no metaphysical dream is upheld. Weaver is a teacher at the University of Chicago, the same home of John Dewey (the father of the public school system), so in a way he’s essentially critiquing his employer.

8:54 – Side discussion. “Preparative preparation”… a new one on me, Mr. Carpenter. Talking about how schools are challenged to teach because students come in with different levels of preparedness. This is difficult at Northland, due to having a wide variety of incoming students. Some have learned just to take in information and be discerning in private, whereas others learn by discussion in public. 

8:58 – Carpenter makes jokes about pressing ideas against each other. Great, Mr. C. 

9:00 – Last bit of discussion for the night. Weaver spends a good deal of time critiquing the middle-class, the new “bourgeoisie.” The middle-class tends to seek to empower the nanny state in order to increase its own size and privileges. Why? Because when society destroys distinctions, the telos of culture becomes comfort. This is what the middle-class run culture seeks. 

9:09 – Finishing up. To summarize: the degradation of society involves the destruction of the metaphysical dream and its subsequent replacement by the pursuit of relativism as embodied in the obsession with particulars. It also involves the tearing down of cultural distinctions so that all might be equal. This is the culture of comfort that we find ourselves in today, because this lack of distinction causes society to lean towards comfort as a goal, since there aren’t any higher ideals to which to aspire.

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Of Infinite Importance

What is of primary interest in a technological world is technique, for that, after all, is how we manage everything else. In the kingdom of God things are different. It is not that we do not do things, but that our doing is rooted in our being. Who we are is more fundamental than what we do. Character is more basic than action. Being mastered by God is infinitely more important than having the know-how to manage the church.

– David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant

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The Subtle Sovereign (4)

Romans 12:1-2. Quoted endlessly by those in pulpits who want the Christian to make the “decision for Jesus,” or “take the next spiritual step,” or perhaps “rededicate your life to the Lord.” The point of the passage seems to be much more complex than that, but these calls are not wholly without merit. Starting in verse 36 of chapter 11, Paul summerizes much of what he’s just said throughout chapter 11: 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Within this context we must understand 12:1-2. All things are from Him… through Him… to Him. Everything finds their origin in Him. Everything is sustained by His power. And everything finds their purpose in Him. He is the center of all of history. This is reality. And our purpose is wrapped up in Him. This is how I take Romans 12:1-2… in order that He might receive glory forever, and in order that He would not just be Lord but be seen as Lord, we are commanded to live as a sacrifice. 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

Our little place in this reality of all things being for God. We are from God, through God, for God. And this looks like us living as a sacrifice. I think it’s really important to see the passage that way. Rather than just us laying down our lives once and then we never have to worry about it (something many assume the aorist verb for “present” denotes here), we are to live as a sacrifice every single day. 

What does this have to do with the world and worldliness? The contrast is competing realities. One is true reality… “from Him, through Him, to Him”, and the other is a counterfeit reality, called “this world.” Literally the word means “age.” Do not be conformed to this contemporary age. The word can also be translated as “world,” as it sometimes is in the NT. But think about it with me. This transcendant, eternal reality where everything centers around God, compared to the passing, temporal reality that stands in opposition to this true reality.

This age wants us to deny any one of those three truths about God. The world wants us to deny that God is the origin of all things. The world wants us to deny that God is the sustainer of all things. And most of all, this contemporary age wants us to deny that God has created all things for a purpose… namely to bring glory to Himself. To be conformed to this world seems to imply these things. The opposite of the reality mentioned in 11:36. 

Do we succomb to the passing? To the lie that God isn’t sovereign? Don’t be conformed to this world. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The mind is the battleground here. How do you deny in thought, word, or deed that God is the origin, sustainer, and purpose of all things? This denial, in any form, is the heart of worldliness.

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