Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Panel Discussion at Augustine College

Recently, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at Augustine College on the topic of the Protestant tradition in the 20th and 21st centuries. Two other presenters were Anglican and evangelical, respectively. I was asked to address four questions.

1. What distinguishes the way in which Reformed Christians live out their faith in the 21st century?

(What follows are my notes.)

When I thought about this question, two clusters of thought came to mind:
  •  the idea of worldview
  •  the idea of office (i.e., the office of all believers)
Over the past 100 years or so, Calvinism, my tradition, has been thinking a lot about worldview. This is not to say that others have not thought and written about it, but we have, as well.

A. What do we mean by “worldview”?

(The following on worldview depends heavily upon Ryken, Goheen and Bartholomew.)

Your worldview is the structure of understanding that you use to make sense of the world. It is what you presuppose, the way of looking at life and your interpretation of the universe. It is the framework of beliefs and convictions that gives a unified perspective on the meaning of human existence. It is the story we tell to answer such questions as these:
  •  Why is there anything at all?
  •  How can we know for sure?
  •  How did we get here?
  •  What are we here for?
  •  Why have things gone so badly wrong? 
  •  Is there any hope of fixing things?
  •  What should I do with my life?
  •  Where will it all lead in the end? 
Generally, Calvinists structure their worldview around four foci:
1. creation…
2. fall…
3. redemption…
4. consummation…
The Christian worldview differs radically from those of: Hinduism, Pantheism, Evolutionary naturalism…

Your worldview will affect how you live your life: work, play, marriage, view of sexuality, your view of life itself (cf. abortion, etc.)…

It will affect your opinion of and use of the material stuff around you. You will acknowledge that God has created it, that it’s good stuff, but it’s not permanent, and something better is coming.

A very practical way in which Reformed believers of my tradition seek to live this out is by way of the Christian day school movement. Pretty well wherever you find groups of Reformed believers, you will find independent (i.e., of the state) day schools, from K – 12. These schools try to do what this college is trying to do, to prepare children and young people to live in a secularized society. To be able to withstand the secular world view and, at the same time, to be salt and light within that society.

B. The other idea which is important for Reformed Christians is the idea of office. Martin Luther taught us about the office of all believers, but Calvinism has also thought about this. (These reflections on "office" come from a conversation I had with my brother John.)

Reformed thought makes a distinction between the special offices in the church (either two [elder and deacon] or three [minister, elder and deacon]) and the office of all believers. Re: this latter office, the point is that all believers have an office and calling. When we pray “Thy will be done,” then we are asking God to grant that we may carry out the duties of our office and calling as willingly and faithfully as the angels of heaven. The focus there is on the general office of all believers, rather than the special offices in  the church–although, of course, we want faithfulness there too.

Reformed people talk about office in terms of man having a threefold office, that of prophet, priest and king. God created man in righteousness, holiness, and with the knowledge of God and his creation.

These three categories: righteousness, holiness and knowledge, are related to the three offices:
  • righteousness: king
  • holiness: priest
  • knowledge: prophet.  
These three categories (of righteousness, holiness and knowledge) are further related to the three categories of ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology.
  •  Ethics asks: what is right and wrong (the matter of righteousness and the office of king are concerned with ethics); 
  •  aesthetics asks: what is beautiful (holiness and the office of priest was concerned with making life beautiful); 
  •  epistemology asks: what and how do we know (the office of prophet has to do with knowledge). 
Reformed Christians grapple with these questions and seek to come with good and wholesome answers for themselves and others.

2. What are the challenges facing the various Reformed denominations today? (Perhaps focus on one or two specific ones)

Egalitarianism and evolutionism:

A. Egalitarianism chafes against the notion that there is a distinction between the special offices in the church and the office of all believers. It says to the pastor who is called to preach the word of God, “That’s just your opinion.” It says to the elder, called to shepherd people’s souls, “Who are you to tell me how I should live?” Egalitarianism says: we are all ministers. It incorrectly collapses the office of all believers into the special offices of the church whereas they should be kept distinct: all Christians are called to the office of all believers, but not all are called to the special offices in the church.

Egalitarianism also says there are no differences between men and women. Whereas scripture teaches that men and women are equal though different (and have different callings in marriage and church), egalitarianism says men and women are equal and the same (at least as far as the calling to office in the church).

This is a challenge that the Reformed denomination are grappling with, and different denominations reach different conclusions.

B. Evolutionism (you know what that is). Again, various Reformed denoms. are grappling with this issue and reaching different conclusions. Within the Reformed world, you will find churches that hold to a six literal-day creation about 6,000 years ago to churches that accept the ideas of theistic-evolution and a multi-billion year old universe.

My denomination tends toward the more “conservative” view of creation.

The challenge is to retain a high view of scripture while seeking honestly to answer the hard questions. The issue here, is, what is the Bible? and which hermeneutical principles will we apply in our understanding of the Bible and the application of it?

3. How do Reformed Christians approach the relationship between faith and reason?

In my tradition, there have been two ways of working out the relationship between faith and reason.

You know the distinction between fides qua and fides quae:
  •  Fides qua ("faith by which") is the faith by which a person is moved to respond to God. (Subjective faith)
  •  Fides quae ("faith which") is the faith which is held by the Church through revelation. (Objective faith)
There has been the approach whereby one’s subjective faith is the engine that drives his search for understanding. I think this can be captured in Anselm’s theological method of fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding–the motto of Augustine College). If I understand it well, the fides there is fides qua (subjective faith). This tradition has been employed in the Reformed tradition.

There is another method in my tradition which can be captured by the Latin, fides quadrat intellectum (also FQI). A quadrat is a square used to measure things. Here the fides is fides quae, objective faith. The faith (revelation, scripture) is the objective square used to measure knowledge and learning.

A worthwhile objective is to employ both.
  •  Applying only the former while ignoring the latter could result in one’s intellectual inquiry not being sufficiently anchored or rooted. You end up with a lot of  “I thinks” and “it’s my opinion.”
  •  Applying only the latter while ignoring the former could result in one’s intellectual inquiry being cold and external. It might also use the Bible as if it were a textbook governing all the various disciplines of thought.
The goal would be to start with “the faith” as it was objectively given in revelation, and from there to proceed as a living, breathing and active believer to all the disciplines of knowledge and inquiry.

Everyone wants to be balanced (and everyone thinks they are balanced). I think it best to strive for a balance between objective and subjective faith. Both should equally inform our reason and reasoning.

4. What is the response of Reformed Christians to the once advancing and now entrenched secularisation in society? 

We ought not to retreat from the world but continue as prophet, priest and king, speaking prophetically, pursuing holiness and living righteously, busy in all the spheres of life.

As prophet, priest and king, in the office of all believers, we need to make good epistemological, aesthetical and ethical judgments based upon the objective Word of God once revealed, and to do so as living, thriving believers who live for Christ in this world.

We need to retain the supremacy of the Word of God and, at the same time, continue as confessional churches. I mean, then, the ancient creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian, Chalcedon). As well as the Reformed confessions that were born during the Reformation.

End with speaking about the reasons for confessions…