“So through a series of complicated circumstances, we have come to the last point, which concerns the handlers or marketers of the text. We see that text of Scripture now established by the neutral Academy, and is afterwards packaged, copyrighted, marketed and sold by hustling and enterprising entrepreneurs. The Church today has no authoritative role in the process whatever. When it comes to the Word of God, the modern Christian Church fancies herself as a shopper only — a consumer. Our collective interest in these spiritual things is simply one more itch for Adam Smith’s invisible hand to scratch. We think the Church’s duty is to send parishioners off to find the Bible section in the Christian gift center, right next to the case of small glass figurines, and there to make a dutiful purchase” (Mother Kirk, p. 58).
“Nothing is both more disturbing and more exciting than the irresistible resurgence of the Christian text, at a time and place when it is least anticipated” (Girard, Job, p. 166).
One undercurrent beneath the Federal Vision business is a hidden difference in epistemological assumptions. The Hellenistic method strips accidents away from the thing, looking for essences. The Hebraic way of definition adds layer upon layer, looking at the thing from as many different angles as possible, and in as many situations as possible. Peter Leithart talks about this latter way of knowing in his book The Kingdom and the Power, and there is also a section on it in Angels in the Architecture.
This leads to an assumption on the part of the former that once you have a “definition,” it is time to stop, and defend that orthodox definition against all comers. We can see this tendency in the definitions of the visible/invisible Church, or with statements about “outward” Christians and Christians “inwardly.” But I have no trouble with these distinctions, as far as they go. Yes, there are Christians outwardly and Christian inwardly. But I then want to take this matter under discussion and look at it from numerous other directions, trying grasp the whole by means of addition. In contrast, the Hellenistic approach to definition (and I am not using this pejoratively; there is an important place for this kind of definition) seeks to understand by means of subtraction. How much can we take away and still have the thing we are talking about? But the temptation is then to disallow other approaches, approaches that may operate with a different set of descriptive rules. The Hebraic way gives us man worshipping, man playing, man eating, man making love, man working, man sleeping, and man writing poems. The Hellenistic way gives us a featherless, bipedal carbon unit.
For the Hellenistic approach, a true Christian is one who is one inwardly, period, stop. And this is true. But I also want to say that we have inward Christians and outward Christians, faithful Christians and adulterous Christians, temporary Christians and Christians forever, slaves and sons, wheat and tares, sons of Hagar and sons of Sarah, washed pigs and washed lambs, fruitless branches and fruitful branches, Christians who die in the wilderness and Christians who die in Canaan, and so on.
Now if someone of the other party thinks that I am essentially doing the same thing he is doing (that is, picking one and one only out of this list in order to make it the “true” definition), he has every right to be concerned. For example, if we are limited to one, then inward/outward is one of the best metaphors. But it is a metaphor, and needs other metaphors. If I were to isolate “fruitless branches and fruitful branches” to the exclusion of all others, and make it “the definition,” then I have become an Arminian. I think that this is what our critics are worried about. But we are not seeking to substitute; we are seeking to layer.
“For many centuries, the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement . . . And then, suddenly, the relationship changed. Even before the Renaissance, Europeans were beginning to make significant progress in the civilized arts. With the advent of the New Learning, they advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving the scientific and technological and eventually the cultural heritage of the Islamic world far behind them. The Muslims for a long time remained unaware of this” (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? pp. 3, 7).
“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
Growing Dominion, Part 105
“He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Prov. 18:9).
This passage illustrates well the nature of sins of omission. When someone vandalizes something, we can readily see that this is a species of mindless theft. The thief takes something away, but he does not take it away for himself—he just takes it away from everyone by destroying it. In a similar way, when an employee is slothful in his work, he is destroying his employer’s time. This is a form of stealing, and the fact that many workers don’t think of it this way does not lessen the destructiveness of what is happening. This passage says that work not done, which could and should have been done, is tantamount to destroying that same work if done by somebody else. Let us say that one employee is goofing off, arriving late, and wasting time in pointless conversation. Over time, this amounts to one widget not being made that otherwise would have been made. (This illustration is occurring in a widget factory.) This text says that such laziness is comparable (“brother to”) taking a widget that an industrious employee actually made, and destroying it. Laziness is simply quiet vandalism, quiet theft.
“Other Puritan poets, accepting the metaphoric world, worked their way toward metaphor and ended their poems with it. Taylor often begins with metaphor and is left to work his way beyond it and sometimes back to it” (Daly, p. 165).
“By the 1700s, moreover, ‘art’ and ‘artist’ had subtly acquired new meanings. The good or great artist was now understood to possess more than high technical competence, and he had gradually come to feel a special kind of self-regard. The graphic artists particularly demanded freedom of action; when commissioned they would no longer tolerate being told ‘don’t change or add anything.’ They had become ‘inventors’ and in a couple of centuries would be called ‘creators.’ Genius at first meant ingenuity; later it meant superhuman powers” (Jacques Barzun, The Culture We Deserve, p. 29).
“The receonstruction of the autographic text is a task outside the competence of science, and any attempt to submit the task to scientific canons will only result in increasing confusion. A process of scholarly reconstruction here makes sense only when undergirded with faith in the living God who controls the flow of all historical events. If, in order to be ‘scientific,’ we eliminate this God from from our considerations, the end of the road will be no text at all, or radical confusion about the text” (Mother Kirk, p. 56).