26 June 2017

"Calvin and the Whigs" Part 3

(You can read parts 1 and 2 of my comments on Ruben Alvarado’s “Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Authority” here and here.)

My final observation will deal with one of the two men who dominate the conclusion of Alvarado’s study of the decline and fall of the Augustinian dialectic that had provided the framework for Western political theology and practice for a millennium. Alvarado discusses Hugo Grotius and John Locke at length but I’ll limit my comments to Locke, whose work more directly influenced the North American scene.

The short-lived ideology of royal supremacy in England had largely evaporated by the 1680s. The historical claims of Filmer’s Patriarcha were no longer credible. And, after the disastrous results of the English Civil War and the failure of Cromwell’s Commonwealth and Protectorate, hopes for a thoroughgoing Protestant reformation of society and politics were only a pipe dream. Nor, however, was the traditional Church of England up for the task of providing a counterweight to Parliament’s assumption of ultimate political power. It thus came to John Locke to provide a supra-historical theory to justify parliamentary supremacy.

In his “Two Treatises of Civil Government” Locke postulated his well-known “state of nature” in which all adults possess, by nature, a panoply of rights emanating from the right of self-defense. Of those, “property became central to the legal order.” Alvarado makes an interesting observation at this point: parental authority, to the extent it continues over adult children, is a function of the right to property:
The obedience to parents which one notices even from children of adult age is not essentially due to an innate parental authority but rather the indirect authority [read: power] parents wield through the disposition of their estate. The demand for obedience in certain matters is often a condition for reception of property by inheritance. It is this power which one so often confuses with parental authority.
The appearance of parental authority is thus collapsed into power over property and the feigned subordination of adult children eventually becomes habitual, a false consciousness, as it were.

By a short extension, parental power over property becomes the foundation of continuing political authority. Each new generation impliedly contracts to accept the existing political arrangement. How so?  “Because estates are subject to the laws of the polity, the acceptance of an inheritance thereby obliges one to submit to the laws of the commonwealth.” And who makes the laws of the commonwealth? The majority. 

One the one hand,
All of this is but the adaptation of the [then] current English parliamentarian and common-law institutional agenda to an a priori natural-rights theory. It is also the sellout of social order to the interests of property; for having eliminated the theocratic moorings of the social order, a new foundation was being established, that of property rights …
But on the other,
[Since] taxes are levied by the consent of the governed, of the majority … the will of the majority supersedes the will of the individual, and the liberty which individuals are supposed to have retained from the state of nature appears to have receded dramatically.
Not surprisingly, we have the tiresome and unresolvable political dialectic of contemporary American politics—individual property rights vs. a majoritarian reallocation of property—all framed in terms of promises of ever-greater economic growth, i.e., more property for everyone!

But what, in Locke’s schema, is the place of the Church? Although a Latitudinarian Anglican himself, in his Letter on Toleration Locke propounded a view that accorded with the Separatist take on the Church, that it was the voluntary gathering of like-minded co-religionists. There was no way that a church so understood could function as a meaningful counterweight to the supreme Parliamentary state:
With his ascription of supreme power to the legislative, Locke fell into the same trap as have all the political theorists following Bodin, who ascribe an absolute sovereignty to a human institution. There is simply no way to stand against that power except by revolution … precisely the situation [Augustinian ---> Medieval --> Reformed] constitutionalism was meant to avert.
Alvarado makes some interesting observations on other long-term effects that the Lockean understanding of legislative supremacy has had. You should read them for yourself. Suffice it to say that “Calvin and the Whigs” is a useful tool in the resourcement of early-modern Protestant thought. While no fundamental change to our current political settlement is in the offing, Alvarado’s book helps explain how we got ourselves where we are.

(For those interested in another review of “Calvin and the Whigs,” feel free to subscribe to AdFontes, the monthly journal published by Davenant Trust.

22 June 2017

Covfefe 2017: Concluding Thoughts

(For previous posts about this year's Convivium go here, here, here, and here.)

A few comments on Joseph Minich's paper "Divine Absence and Classical Theism in the Modern World" will serve as the coda to my brief summaries of the Convivium Irenicum 2017. Minich took as his springboard Dietrich Bonhoeffer's well-known assertion in a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge from prison in 1944:
We cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [translation: "as if there were no God"]. And this is just what we do recognize--before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.
Much ink has been spilled over precisely what Bonhoeffer meant that "we [Christians] must live as men who manage our lives without [God]" and, thankfully, Minich didn't take us into the arcana of Bonhoeffer studies. Instead, he asked us to consider Bonhoeffer's cryptic comment in light of Charles Taylor's sustained argument in "This Secular Age." In one post from my long-running series on Taylor's work, I observed that
Life in a secular age ... suggests that “we have moved from a world in which the place of fullness was understood as unproblematically outside of or ‘beyond’ human life, to a conflicted age in which this construal is challenged by others which place it . . . ‘within’ human life.”  Taylor’s understanding  of “fullness” is that place where life is “fuller, richer, deeper, more worthwhile, more what it should be.”  Of course, for all but a very few believers most of life is not lived in such a place; rather, a “middle place,” or ordinary time, is a stable condition where a routine order of life somehow maintains a sense of contact with the place of fullness.
It seems--according to me and I think Minich would agree--that Bonhoeffer was urging Christians to avoid the short-sighted comfort of such a "middle space" and live, as do their unbelieving compatriots, as if God did not exist but, at the same time, unlike their unbelieving fellows, fully participating in the "fullness" that the weakness of Christ holds forth.

Minich's long-ish paper made many more points of interest and value but you'll have to wait until the publication of the Convivium proceedings to read them for yourself.

13 June 2017

Covfefe 2017: More Miscellaneous Thoughts

(Go here and here to read my summaries of the valuable remarks on contemporary Trinitarian issues by Fred Sanders. And go here to read brief comments on presentations by David Haines and Alastair Roberts.)

Christopher Dorn also addressed the Trinity but his paper discussed how the Trinity did not appear in the Reformed orders of worship for celebration of the Lord's Supper. This lapse is puzzling in light of the centrality of the Trinity in the Eucharistic Prayers of the 4th and 5th centuries and the fully orthodox treatment of the Trinity in the theological works of the leaders among the Reformation. 

In any event, the work of the World Council of Churches in the 1960's attempted to rectify this situation but, like the ecumenical movement generally, this effort of the WCC--some of its best--has failed to "reform" the liturgies of the Lord's Supper in conservative Reformed churches. Dorn's conclusion, with which I fully concur, is that
If contemporary Reformed liturgists and worship leaders conclude that a Eucharistic Prayer misrepresents the gift-character of the Lord's Supper due to its themes of sacrifice, and therefore must be rejected, they should at least ensure that those Trinitarian themes that are in fact consistent with a Reformed theology of the Lord's Supper are embodied in the liturgies that they develop for their worship today.
Paul Nedelisky, now a Convivium regular and analytic gadfly, pressed his audience on the doctrine of divine simplicity (God has no parts even though the relations among Father, Son and Spirit are not identical). Like discussions of the relationships of the persons of the Trinity generally, divine simplicity is difficult to comprehend and has been expressed in philosophical terms that frequently bear meanings that are not "commonsense." Nor can we "read off" divine simplicity from the text of Scripture. Thus, in Nedelisky's words, divine simplicity is neither an essential nor a dogmatic truth. Not false, mind you, but rationally contestable.

It would not be an understatement to report that his audience remained unpersuaded. For me anyway, while it is certainly true that divine simplicity came to be expressed in a historically contingent manner, I continue to believe that the concept of divine simplicity is a necessary truth. Just don't ask me to explain it.

08 June 2017

Convivium 2017: Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

A variety of folks in addition to Fred Sanders presented papers or engaged in roundtable discussions at this year's Covfefe. (Although how Donald Trump knew that was the esoteric name for the Convivium continues to elude us. Perhaps he's preparing a yuge piece on the doctrine of God to present at next year's event.) For my brief summaries of Sanders's lecture on the Trinity go here and here.

Thankfully, Québécois David Haines managed to stick to English while speaking on Natural Theology and Protestant Orthodoxy. In very short, Haines demonstrated that regardless of your stance as a Protestant (biblicist, confessionalist, or historicist), natural theology--that humans can know true things about God apart from special revelation--is a legitimate part of your heritage. Convinced me. In other words, whether based on the virtually undeniable teaching of Scripture itself, the range of Protestant confessions of faith, and the course of church history, natural theology is a quintessentially Protestant doctrine.

Alastair Roberts (blogger extraordinaire here) made several insightful points in his commentary. To be clear, however, what follows is my take on Roberts's remarks and should not be attributed to him tout court.

Evangelicalism's "gender wars" are ostensibly about authority and submission. Who has the elixir of authority, when do they have it, how far does submission go, etc.* But this, according to Roberts, is to misconceive the notion of "authority" in an important way. Authority is not in the first place about who has the God-given right to make a decision when two parties in an authority-submission relationship disagree. Authority is not principally about where the buck stops. Instead, authority represents the shaping, authorial role that the one(s) with the authority have as part-and-parcel of a given relationship.

Roberts's point is easier to see in the parent-child relationship. While a child's misbehavior may occasionally call on parents to exercise their authority in the judicial sense of punishment for a wrong, most of the time a parent's authority is exercised in the daily range of interactions with a child. Sometimes these interactions are explicitly didactic; at others, indeed, most of the time, they are exemplary. And it is the later instantiation of authority that has the far more significant role in shaping the child's life than the relatively rare punishments.

The fiercest critics of typical gender roles would find even this characterization of authority offensive. Yet within Evangelicalism, at least where exegesis and historical theology are taken seriously, a view of authority that is centered on and directed to virtuous practices that only rarely issues in declarative judgment could frame discussions in a less-fraught manner.

* This narrow construal of authority is then read back into the Trinity; hence; social trinitarianism.

06 June 2017

"Calvin and the Whigs" Part 2

Image result for ruben alvarado calvin and the whigs

You can read Part 1 here. It summarizes the first four chapters of Ruben Alvarado's latest book, "Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Theology." What follows covers the next three.

If an Augustinian two-kingdoms approach prevailed even through the Reformation, then what happened? And why? After all, it's been a long time since State and Church saw themselves in a dialectic of justice and blessedness. Sure, even today the Church may appreciate a civil polity oriented toward justice but who nowadays thinks that the modern civil state needs the the Church to educate its citizens in virtue? And in the case when civil rulers cross the line of their constitutional authority, who believes that citizens need the Church to exercise its disciplinary authority and sever their oath-bound duties to those civil rulers? (For that matter, but for naturalized Americans and those serving in the military and certain professions, very few citizens take an oath of loyalty to United States anyway.)

Alvarado identifies the philosophical/theological culprit in fourteenth-century nominalism (specifically its anti-Augustinian semi-Pelagianism) and its sixteenth-century Protestant descendant, Arminianism. Alvarado's analysis of the failure of Huguenot nerve in France and the rise of a entrenched merchant class providing political leadership in the Netherlands is detailed and generally persuasive. That is, "dogma and creed became dirty words for these proponents of an enlightened order in which all men of whatever religion or creed might live."

But why did such a point of view find traction in the face of hundreds of years of fairly consistent Medieval and early-modern Augustinian two-kingdoms political thought? Did a theological rejection of an Augustinian version of divine sovereignty lead to a rejection of the two-kingdoms foundation for a constitutional order? Or was it the failure of that constitutional order, in consequence of the Reformation, the collapse of what remained of the Medieval social order, the discovery of the New World, and the relentless rise of a market economy, that caused the spread of a de-confessionalized civil order generally? In other words, while Alvarado's description of events foregrounds a variety overlooked matters, I am less persuaded that it uncovers the fundamental reasons that made those changes take root "on the ground."

In any event, with the collapse of the historic Augustinian political order, Alvarado does a good job of explaining how state-sovereignty expanded to fill the vacuum left by the demotion of the Church from its role as the sovereign's counterweight. Of course, lots of folks, especially in England, found the Jean Bodin-inspired Stuart pretensions even more offensive than an Augustinian two-kingdoms order and it is to Alvarado's account of the English experience, culminating in John Locke, to which I'll turn in Part 3.

(For some helpful insights on how the post-Reformation Church (Catholic and Protestant) disciplinary practice actually fed the hand of state power, I can recommend Philip Benedict's "Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism." My article, The Puritan Revolution and the Law of Contracts (download here or here) will also provides good secondary resources in this area.)

05 June 2017

Convivium 2017: The Strong Name of the Trinity Part 2

After Fred Sanders outlined the four-step process by which Christians today can grow in understanding the Trinity, he went on to diagnose the sources of present-day Trinitarian disorders. 

Two influential misreadings on the teachings of classical theism come from the theological Left. While Karl Barth himself, in reaction to the anti-Scholastic high liberalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sought to restore insights from the tradition, his epigones have tended to focus on the "neo" of Barth's neo-orthodoxy and have been among the leaders of social trinitarianism. 

Largely dittos for the twentieth-century the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner. Like Barth, Rahner was reacting to the specific neo-Thomist movement that he thought unbalanced. Untethered from his immediate context, Rahner's speculative bent on the Trinity has taken on a life of its own.

Closer to home, contemporary Evangelicalism has long given up the third stage in the process of growing in Trinitarian understanding: catechetical transmission.* For many decades, biblicist Evangelical theologians have read their Bibles without the benefit of the centuries of deep thought that had preceded them. Turns out that the aphorism "Just me and my Bible is shortest route to heresy" can be true even for serious scholars of the Bible. Or, as Sanders put it, recent trinitarian discussion has attempted to bypass the past. In yet other words, last year's "gender wars" in a Trinitarian key evidence efforts at "renewal without retrieval."

Criticism was not Sanders's final word. He left us with the question on which he expects to work for the next year or so: What accounts for the continuing Evangelical critique of certain of the riches of the venerable past of classical theism? More specifically, why does social trinitarianism exert such a visceral pull on many serious Evangelical thinkers?

*Progressive revelation and ecclesiastical doctrinal development are the two initial stages. All three stages should precede stage four: personal appropriation and growth.

04 June 2017

Convivium 2017: The Strong Name of the Trinity Part 1

Yes, another Convivium Irenicum has come and gone. (Concluding posts from previous events can be found here (2014), here (2015), and here (2016).) This year's theme was "The Doctrine of God in the Life of the Church." Convivium sponsor, the Davenant Trust, called keynote speaker Fred Sanders of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University to lead our discussion because of the evident decline among evangelical churches (and Evangelicals generally) in remembering and understanding what the Christian tradition has taught about who God is

Why would anyone come to the conclusion that Evangelicals have forgotten important truths about the God they worship? Well, just last year there was a significant dust-up over the nature of Trinity and the relationship among its persons.

Social trinitarianism, as it came to be known, was invoked by partisans on both sides of the "gender wars" to justify their positions. Some argued that the Son was eternally subordinate to the Father, which meant that God intended in some way that women experienced an "authority deficit" with respect to men who occupied certain roles (husband, church elder, and perhaps one or two others).

Egalitarians among gender warriors were aghast and said, no! The essential equality of the persons of the Trinity entailed an essential equality between women and men in all respects including authority relations. In both cases, the "social" Trinity functioned as little more than a convenient trope to score points in a battle with respect to which the classical understanding of Trinity had no connection.

Fred Sanders had much good to say but I'll focus in this Part 1 on one of his arguments: What characterizes growth in understanding the Triune God? Growth in trinitarian understanding took (and takes) place in four stages:

  1. Progressive revelation;
  2. Ecclesiastical doctrinal development;
  3. Catechetical transmission; and
  4. Personal appropriation
With a bit more elaboration, we see that it requires an examination of the whole of scriptural revelation to recognize that God is characterized by both an essential unity and an essential threeness. In other words, the Hebrew Scriptures emphasize God's essential unity and only hint at God's plural essence.

As can easily be observed, notwithstanding the additional revelation of the New Testament, how we can accurately describe God's unity and diversity was worked out through ecclesiastical history in polemical contexts. With regard to Trinity, this process extended through the first four centuries of the history of the church after which there was a remarkable consensus that extended until modern times.

Catechetical transmission was the means by which this consensus was maintained. Only by intentional teaching and regular confession of the truth(s) of Trinity that the Church had hammered out were the results of four hundred years of hard work preserved and extended as the Church grew in size and geographic scope. And--spoiler alert--it is the lack of catechetical transmission that has contributed greatly to a phenomenon like social trinitarianism.

Finally, the roots and fruits of trinitarian revelation and explanation are (or at least should be) appropriated personally. Contemplation of the triune God can lead to new insights; it need not, however, lead to new knowledge. The depths of biblical revelation and the developments of in the Church's understanding of the implications and interrelationships of that revelation are resources for adoration. Trinitarian doctrine should be appropriated; as new questions arise, it can be extrapolated; but it need not be reinvented. Indeed, even with regard to new questions, regular recursion to earlier stages can usually provide the answer

So much for Part 1. In Part 2 I'll review Sanders's diagnosis of current disorders in trinitarian thought.

29 May 2017

"Calvin and the Whigs" Part 1

Image result for ruben alvarado calvin and the whigs

If the book's title doesn't grab you, how about the subtitle: "A Study in Historical Political Theology."? A potboiler it's not but Ruben Alvarado's latest book makes a significant contribution to answering the question of how, theo-politically speaking, the largely unified front of early-modern Christendom became modern Enlightenment secularism.  (For some observations about other writings by Alvarado go here and here.) For this Part 1 I'll summarize what I take to be Alvarado's principal argument through his chapter 4.

Augustine marks the headwaters for much of Western theology generally and political theology as well. Summarizing The City of GodAlvarado concludes that for Augustine:
There are two kinds of peace, temporal and eternal, which are intimately related in the purpose of God in history. The temporal [City of Man] receives a significance in the Christian life; it is neither useless nor dangerous, but rather is to be put to use in terms of the eternal end [of the City of God]. The fulfillment of such purpose demands an ordered life in society. ... The existence of coercive authority, dominium ... is therefore a part of God's divine order; it was, however, never a part of nature per se but rather a punishment for sin and a necessity for the preservation of order ...
In other words, both cities are legitimate even though only one is ultimate. The City of Man should be oriented to justice; justice is a good; therefore the City of Man is good. The City of God is oriented toward eternal blessedness in the presence of God; blessedness in the presence of God is the greatest Good; therefore the City of God is greater than the City of Man.

The concurrent relationship between the two cities roiled the West for nearly the next 1000 years before one was effectively ushered from the scene. The City of God appreciated a well-functioning earthly city in which to carry out its mission of evangelism and education. In turn, the City of Man needed the divine city to carry out its mission of educational discipline in the virtues of godliness, which would make civil governance much easier.

Both cities, Church and society, had its field of jurisdiction. The two jurisdictions overlapped but differed in ultimate aims. Each of course, represented as they were by real flesh-and-blood (read: sinful) leaders, wanted jurisdiction over the other but despite the best efforts of Popes, kings, and emperors, none achieved anything more than temporary and local victories.

This duality of jurisdiction in the West permitted space for the development of organic and corporate bodies. Over time these bodies--lower feudal authorities, freemen, cities, guilds, universities, etc.--wrangled sets of rights from political leaders higher up the chain (think: Magna Carta). It was, however--and this is a point to which Alvarado regularly returns--the disciplinary power of the Church (culminating in excommunication) that made these covenants enforceable and long-lasting., Thus from before and through the Middle Ages and beyond, oath-bound covenants represented the formal structure of European constitutionalism.

Nor did two-city/oath-bound covenantal constitutionalism disappear with the Reformation. The deeply Augustinian roots of the magisterial Reformers extended not only to much of their general theology, it included their fundamental approach to political theology as well.

Not surprisingly, John Calvin and those who followed in the Reformed tradition carried forward historically-formed Augustinian political constitutionalism. And it is at this point that Alvarado slows down and spends time on one of my favorite works of political theology, the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos frequently attributed to French Huguenot author Philippe du Plessis Mornay. Often characterized as the "double covenant theory," I outlined it as follows for my students this past spring:

King and people promise: (i) that God will be their Lord, (ii) that God will be honored and served purely according to his will revealed in his Word, and (iii) to serve God before all things.
King promises: (i) he will reign to permit the people to serve God and to enforce obedience to God’s law, (ii) he will reign in accord with law of God, and (iii) he will keep the commandments in the book of the covenant

People promise: to obey the king while he rules uprightly.

Two matters should be noted. First, this double covenant account requires the intimate involvement of the civil ruler in what we think of today as "religion." And second, it incorporates a built-in means of of popular resistance to tyranny. Notwithstanding Catholic and Reformed agreement on the form of Augustinian constitutionalism, both matters became problematic for reasons Alvarado describes in succeeding chapters. Which I'll summarize in Part 2.

25 May 2017

"Madame Butterfly" at The Kennedy Center

I'll post only a few words about the production of Puccini's Madame Butterfly we saw this past Saturday evening. We make the trip to the Kennedy Center about every other year to see an opera. Two years ago it was for La Boheme, another masterwork of Puccini. In the interim we usually get our opera fixes in Richmond.

Italian operas tend toward the melodramatic and Madame Butterfly is no exception. Yet it would take a cold heart not to be moved by the power of Puccini's score and the performance of Ermonela Jaho as Butterfly. Whomever is cast as Butterfly must be a soprano of strength and endurance, and Jaho certainly fit the bill. (The part of Butterfly is so draining that the director rotated three performers among the thirteen shows.) As a British reviewer put it here, "Jaho doesn't just sing Butterfly, she becomes Butterfly." You can listen to her in the trailer here for a few seconds.

Everything about the production was top-notch from the other performers, the orchestra, and the spare but meaningful scenery. I wish I could advise my readers to catch a performance but we saw the penultimate show and no more remain. I am confident, however, that Jaho will star in other productions so keep an eye open for one.

18 May 2017

"The Circle"

We can confirm Josh Matthews mixed comments on the recently-released film "The Circle." Adequate acting but poor dialog, unmotivated actions, and an unbelievable conclusion. On the other hand, as Matthews observes, 
This is a movie of potent ideas about our use of technology. It points out how prevalent cameras are and how much we depend on algorithms that tell us what’s good and what’s not. It really wrestles hard with the loss of privacy in a time where everything can be recorded, stored forever, and potentially accessed by anybody.
Technology has always influenced human life, of course, but with the increasingly self-referential nature of the digital world, life in community has become ever more susceptible to manipulation.
I'm not a technophobe. I do, for example, appreciate living in North Carolina in an air conditioned house. Yet, from sex robots to artificial wombs, our existence in intimate relationships is becoming less "natural" even though it's part of our created nature. (Alan Jacobs thoughts here are, as usual, insightful.)
Of course, how any of us will be necessary much less flourish in our labor is increasingly open to question with the progress of artificial intelligence.
Over the past 200 years or so we in the West have become increasingly occupied, and now preoccupied, with lives of comfort and ease. Means of avoiding pain relentlessly drive us away from thinking about the ends (or the end) of human existence.
This is also the case in my academic field of contract law where many attending a conference where I presented an early draft of a paper could not fathom the idea that the purpose of contract law aimed at commutative justice and not increasing net social welfare.
Little more than internet hand wringing, I suppose. I have few answers to the question of stopping technologically-enabled human degradation but can hope that readers who have young children will take seriously the need to keep technology in its place.

14 May 2017

"The Political Disciple"

This past February I posted here and here on the Renew Conference hosted by Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church. Keynote speaker Vincent Bacote has written a short (88 pp.) book titled "The Political Disciple" (Zondervan 2015). Given a busy semester, it's taken me this long to finish it.

Like many in the American Evangelical tradition, Bacote grew up with little consciousness of any connection between Christian doctrine and political life. Apart from a few hot button issues, Christianity was concerned with little more that the doctrine of the atonement, personal holiness, and confidence of a heavenly reward at the end of our days.

Unlike most in the American Evangelical tradition, Bacote is of African ancestry. Thus, for him and his family, matters of racial (in)justice also figured into the political calculus. Yet even here, political action was not deeply integrated into a biblical foundation.

As Bacote continued his education through the doctoral level, however, he became acquainted with Dutch theologian-statesman Abraham Kuyper. (For more than you might want to know about Kuyper read a few of my posts about him here, here, here, and here.) Grounding political action in a robust doctrine of creation as well as the Fall and redemption, Bacote's eyes were opened to a structural approach to framing contemporary problems instead of one that found its justification in a few isolated proof texts.

I won't take the time to work out Bacote's thoughts here because his fundamental approach should be familiar to the many of my readers who are acquainted with or part of the neo-Kuyperian tradition flourishing in North America. (Suffice it to say he chooses race, ineffectual humanitarian action, and the sexual revolution for sustained analysis.) Instead, I will pick up a theme in his book that I've not seen elsewhere in connection with Christian political action: lament.
There are three areas that I will consider.
The first is what some call the long-lost art of lament. Though I have encountered many Christian who have mourned in the face of loss and tragedy, the practice of lament has been a relatively new dimension to my conversations with God. I propose the practice of lament in the face of the frustrations that attend the practice of public engagement because this is a way for Christians to fiercely tell the truth about the heartbreak the world brings us.
[For those who are curious, Bacote's next two areas are "tempering our expectations" and "suffering along the way." No one can accuse Bacote of being a triumphalist!] 

Lament struck a special chord with me because less than a year earlier we had attended a conference titled "Recovering the Lost Art of Lament" lead by Michael Card, a Christian artist-theologian. Lament is certainly a lost art, one that disciples of Christ should employ personally but also corporately. And by drawing our attention to lament in our lives as the political disciples, Bacote has done Evangelicals a great favor.

In brief, I can commend "The Political Disciple" to my readers. Bacote's book would work well for individuals as well as small groups or Sunday School classes.

07 May 2017

"Manchester By The Sea"

The Amazon-produced 2016 film Manchester By The Sea finally arrived on Amazon Prime so we took a couple of hours to watch it. In many respects, it reminded me of Boyhood (reviewed here). Contemporary American lives painted in bleak, aimless, and depressing colors. Some have said it is the saddest movie they've ever seen. While it was dreary, I didn't find any of the characters in Manchester By The Sea sufficiently intriguing  to engage my sustained interest.

Even though I believe Denzel Washington's role as Troy Maxon in Fences (thoughts here) should have won the Academy Award, I can understand why Casey Affleck's performance as Lee Chandler won as Best Actor. Affleck's portrayal of a depressed, inarticulate introvert, whose drunken carelessness had caused the deaths of his three young children, was effective. Both Lee and his 17-year-old nephew (Patrick Chandler, played by Lucas Hedges) for whom he became guardian show progress over the course of the film but not enough to give me much hope for any truly happy futures.

Perhaps my lack of emotional engagement with Manchester By The Sea says more about me than the film. After all, lots of other folks thought the film excellent. In any event, now that it's available on Prime many more will be able to see it, and I can encourage anyone who is interested in a glimpse of "what makes America sad again" to take the time to watch it.