Daily Archives: 9 Aug 2016

Something To Remember

Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows, so is one who deceives a neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Prov. 26:18-19)

After Merit: John Calvin’s Theology of Works and Rewards

9783525552483New from V&R and in the Refo500 Academic Series.  The TOC and introduction can be read here.

The focus of this study is John Calvin’s theology of works and reward, and the approach is to contextualize his thought in light of both medieval theological developments surrounding the doctrine of “merit” and his polemics against the doctrine as he understood it in his day. But this study also strives for something much more. The book, by analyzing this particular part of Calvin’s thought—his doctrine of works and reward—illuminates the whole in fresh ways. It provides a framework for reading and interpreting Calvin’s theology that strives to do justice to the reformational context in which it developed. It is able to do so because Calvin’s polemic against the merit-based soteriology of his “opponents” drives the vast majority of Calvin’s positive theological constructions (as we shall see). So while the book is not a full-on reinterpretation of Calvin, by emphasizing the centrality of this doctrine in Calvin’s historical and polemical context, it does reorganize the constellation of the rest of his teaching somewhat, allowing the various elements of his theology to fall more naturally into place and thus highlighting the function other various doctrines do—and don’t—fulfill.

I appreciate the review volume sent by the publisher.  Raith describes his purpose in a series of useful sentences in the introduction, noting first of all –

In light of recent Calvin scholarship, two particular points require exposition and defense: (1) the uniqueness of Calvin’s position on merit, works, and reward when compared to his predecessors and contemporaries, and (2) the centrality of his polemic against merit in shaping his soteriology (p. 16).

Then to bolster his supposition he cites Calvin himself, who wrote

“He, whoever he was, that first applied [the term merit] to human works when viewed in reference to the divine tribunal consulted very ill for the purity of the faith.” (p. 20).

As Raith continues to describe his project he remarks

The conviction of the present work is that Calvin’s theology is best read as a soteriologically driven enterprise, with his view of salvation being shaped by his polemics against his “opponents’” merit-based view of salvation (p. 22).  … by focusing on Calvin’s overall polemic against merit, we are able to draw together a number of theological loci into a coherent whole (rather than a “system”) that enables the reader to see the inner ratio for much of Calvin’s theology (p. 24)

Then when he launches into the presentation proper he can suggest

My analysis in this book presupposes that Calvin’s soteriology is best understood within a polemical context that consists both of Calvin’s refutation of the scholastic meritorious system as espoused by his contemporary “papists” and “schoolmen,” and of his pursuit of an alternative framework that also includes a positive soteriological role for works and reward (p. 67).

And so along he moves, step by step (take note of the table of contents in the link above) in an effort which is by no means a failed one to show how Calvin’s notions of merit were both influenced by those who came before and influenced those who have come after.  In terms, then, of achievement, it’s hard to argue against the suggestion that Raith has achieved his aim (as stated in the introduction) and that quite marvelously.  This is a brilliant study.  But it has a problem (which though minor is still important to note).  To wit, in a footnote, he writes

For more on Calvin’s teaching on “certainty” in light of Luther’s and Zwingli’s teaching, see Susan Schreiner, “‘The Spiritual Man Judges All Things’: Calvin and the Exegetical Debates about Certainty in the Reformation,” in Biblical Interpretation in the Era of the Reformation: Essays Presented to David C. Steinmetz in Honor of His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. Richard A. Muller and John L. Thompson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 189–215.(p. 83, note).

This is, intriguingly, the only reference to Zwingli in the entire volume and this in spite of the fact that Zwingli had a good deal to say about the topic of Merit and was Calvin’s predecessor in the development of Reformed theology. To leave out of consideration Zwingli’s contributions on the subject is akin to talking about motoring shows on TV without making reference to the BBC’s Top Gear.  Indeed, it seems that Raith’s familiarity with Zwingli’s work is at second hand, from a single essay (if his citation of the same is to be taken seriously).  This is a lacuna which needs to be filled in Raith’s future work.

Not only did I learn a great deal about Calvin’s thought on Merit from Raith (and his lack of interest in Zwingli), I also learned two words which I’m sure I will have plenty of reason to use in the future:  “Damnworthiness” (p. 125) and  “Damnworthy” (p. 141).

I also learned that

Calvin never tires of reminding his reader that when God rewards a believer’s work, he is in fact rewarding himself. Calvin’s participatory understanding of divine-human activity enables him to affirma believer’s particular good work as a work that God produces without negating one of the two actors (p. 144).

Truth be told, I learned a good deal about Calvin from this book and I’m very grateful for its author’s devotion to historical and theological investigation and the thoroughness with which he approached his work.  This volume is a pleasure to read, a pleasure to absorb, and a pleasure to recommend.  And so I do.  But rather than allowing myself the last word I’ll let Raith have it in hopes that his scintillating remark will encourage you to read this book yourself.  You’ll be as happy that you did afterward as a teen girl who has just been asked to prom by the good looking quarterback of their high school championship team and far happier than you have ever been reading the Wrong book.

Whatever we may say about God’s will, it seems true to this author that systematizing
the various pieces of Calvin’s theology on merit, works, and reward remains outside
the grasp of reason as well (p. 180).

Quote of the Day

We will as he guides our heart, we endeavor as he rouses us, we succeed in our endeavor as he gives strength, so that we are animate and living tools, while he is the leader and finisher of the work. — John Calvin

The Bee Stings the Bible+Coffee+Devotion Boasters

This is just so on the mark.

LifeWay Research released a new report Wednesday confirming that Christians who regularly share photos on social media which include both a Bible and a cup of coffee are significantly godlier than those who do not.

The data was gathered from a study of 8,000 Christians from a variety of denominations and backgrounds. It reports “much higher” levels of godliness and holiness among those who share at least one Bible/coffee pic per week, along with “significantly elevated” levels of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

A higher frequency of sharing this specific type of image on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter was positively correlated to greater levels of Christian virtue across the board, with those sharing their quiet times at least once per day achieving maximum earthly Christlikeness.

“This new study makes official what so many of us have long suspected,” confirmed Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research, pausing for a brief moment to check his Instagram notifications. “If you share a lot of pics of your Bible and a cup of coffee—the more often the better—you are one holy Christian.”

Book Reviews: My Philosophy

For me, academic book reviews have as their aim the dissemination of the reviewer’s reading of a volume whose chief goal is to encourage others to read the book or to discourage people from wasting their time with it.

Point by point technical refutations or discussions of books are desired only by persons who are 1- too lazy to read for themselves and 2- too willing to read a semi-book length  review whilst ignoring the book itself and nevertheless passing off their second hand knowledge of the book as though it were first hand encounter.

If a book review is to be useful it should include the main gist of the book along with an overview of the contents and then a bit of personal analysis.  It should, as I said, either whet the potential reader’s appettite or it should warn them away.  More than that is merely providing the lazy with an excuse not to do their own thinking and reading.

The Inevitable Consequence of the #LoveIsLove Mentality

Incest.  And doubtless before long, pedophilia.  And beastiality.  Because in all fairness how can the government, which has said any sort of marriage between consenting adults is legitimate now say that incest is illegitimate?  There is no legal foundation for such a restriction these days thanks to the 9 robed imbeciles in Washington.  And accordingly how long before consenting adult and ‘consenting child’ or consenting adult and ‘tail wagging and thereby consenting’ dog find welcome arms in the marriage license department?

Gay marriage advocates told us there was no slippery slope.  They were wrong and history will prove just how wrong when bigamy and polygamy and incest and any other desire to wed is eventually legitimized.  Because now there’s no reason in law for them not to be.

Monica Mares, 36, and her son Caleb Peterson, 19, of Clovis, New Mexico, face up to 18 months in prison if found guilty of incest, but insist they are ‘madly in love’ with one another.

Welcome to the future.  It’s present.  If these people’s lawyer is at all even remotely clever not only will he get them out of jail, he will take the case to the Supreme Court and he will win.

An Update on the Now 31 Hour AT&T Outage

So the @attcares folk have been trying to help me out- by endlessly asking me to contact them so they can help me with my phone.  I’ve explained that it isn’t my phone, it’s every phone in town that’s on the AT&T network.  They then suggested I call them.  Fair enough.  And IF WE HAD CELL SERVICE I could call them… but I wouldn’t need to because we would have cell service.

So they suggested that I chat them up on their website.  Fair enough.  Although talking about my phone isn’t going to do a thing.  So I went to the website and here’s what I got when I tried to chat them up:


Oh… looks like they’re all busy… talking to people about their phones…  I don’t need to troubleshoot my device.  I don’t need to learn how to use it.  I don’t need to activate it or unlock it.  I need the bloody cell network to work.

I think AT&T is an instrument of the antichrist hell bent on driving me insane.  I am beginning to loathe them.

Here in The Gulag…

Where cell service can only be had from AT&T and accordingly a place low on the totem pole of repair priorities, our cell phones have been unable to access the network for almost 30 hours at this point.  30 hours.  If we lived in NYC or ATL or DC and there were a 30 hour outage someone would lose their job.  But because we live in a rural area and AT&T doesn’t appear to prioritize service to such areas, we’re left without recourse.

This provokes a good bit of unpleasant feelings for AT&T in particular and monopolies in general.  A LOT of unpleasant feelings (bordering on contempt).

I’ve got news for AT&T and other mega corps- #RuralLivesMatter.  And we remember.


The Ideal Schoolmaster and his Fatal Beatings

What If Luther Weren’t The Only Reformer With a Coffee Brand?


Hannity Venerates Ignorance…

But so do his fans.  What’s said of him can be said of them.  Indeed without them there is no him.

“Don’t Judge Me”: An Observation

I don’t judge, I report.  And I don’t argue, I simply explain why I’m right and you’re not.

Snapp Snaps Sinaiticus

James Snapp opines

How important is Codex Sinaiticus as a witness to the text of the New Testament?  So important that it has its own website, which features an English translation of portions of the manuscript’s contents, including the entire New Testament.

And then he Snapps…

Phelps isn’t a Fan… Apparently…


Contra the Bulk of ‘Theology’ Spewed Today…

God does hold people responsible.

God requires an accounting. He holds us responsible. And that is what strikes terror in us, for how can we bribe the judge in this case? Or thinkest thou that God will wink at evil? That is the (I must add it) cursed frivolity of our generation, that it thinks God does not take things seriously. He will not cast off any one because of disobedience. Forgiveness has been misunderstood to mean indulgence. But the opposite stands in the Holy Scriptures. God will cast off the disobedient, for what men sow they must also reap. — Emil Brunner