27 July 2015

The Aesthetics (!) of Contract Theory: Part 1

For too long I've been getting easy pageviews by posting about student loans. (By my rough count, I've posted on student loans upwards of 40 times.) Thus, it's about time I get to something important like the intersection of aesthetics and contract theory. Or rather, it's time to post a few times about an article by Efi Zemach and Omri Ben-Zvi by that title, which you can download and read for yourself by going here.

Zemach and Ben-Zvi captured my interest because most contemporary contract theory is framed in terms of efficiency. Regardless of its appearance of mathematical precision, law and economics--by far and away the leading framework for contract theory for the past 30 years--is little more than what J.S.Mill characterized as a glorified pig's philosophy. Which kinda works for contracts because folks regularly use them for rather piggish purposes.

On the other hand, a relatively few folks find the center of contract theory in some form of neo-Kantian autonomy while fewer yet (like my erstwhile colleague Kenny Ching) find the paradigm for contract theory in Aristotelianism as reworked by Thomas Aquinas; in other words, virtue theory. There are evev a very few reliance-theory holdouts, to whom Zemach and Ben-Zvi direct some sustained attention.

On yet another hand, a significant number of generally right-minded folks frame their contract-theoretical work around three poles of this trilemma (efficiency, autonomy, and virtue) in what is commonly known as contract theory pluralism. For examples of my pluralistic endeavors download Principled Pluralism and Contract Remedies (here) or Mission Possible: A Paradigm for Analysis of Contractual Possibility (here) or even Consideration in the Common Law of Contracts: A Biblical-Theological-Critique (here). Zemach and Ben-Zvi 

Utilizing an aesthetic approach seemed like a breath of fresh air on what has become an intractable discussion. My intrigue was initially disappointed. Zemach and Ben-Zvi quickly disclaimed applying serious aesthetic theory to contracts. Instead, they explained, they use "aesthetics" as another primarily cognitive (or pre-cognitive) form of analysis "by understanding aesthetics as the space within which jurist make pre-theoretical commitments that shape the way they experience the structure of legal discourse." Or, in a more poststructuralist vein, aesthetics "determines how one experiences oneself as already situated in certain (contingent) space." Almost gibberish.

In my opinion, one can skim Part II of Zemach and Ben-Zvi's article without great loss. There are some interesting insights, like the authors' admission that their aesthetic analysis is just as embedded in their pre-theoretical commitments as any other starting point: "We briefly discuss the claim that our discussion of aesthetics begs the question since our explanation of aesthetics is also informed by a certain aesthetic." Yet they hasten to add that "this is true--but unimportant." Why? Because "aesthetics are [merely another] way of being in the world and cannot, by themselves, make anything correct or incorrect." Are they certain about that?

After concluding their rationale for not writing anything at all, Zemach and Ben-Zvi go on in Parts III, IV, and V to deploy their aesthetic analysis to the autonomy, reliance, and utilitarian theories of contract law. Sadly, they disregard virtue theory. While occasionally misbalanced in application, we here see the authors perform valuable work as they get at the pre-theoretical "takes" characteristic of these theories. Then in Part VI, they take on pluralism(s) to mixed reviews. But more of all of this in subsequent posts.

24 July 2015

Yet Another Student Loan Post

Go here to read a post about the debacle that is for-profit higher "education." In short with the collapse of Corinthian College and the very public complaints by its students that they borrowed lots of money for nothing, the federal Department of Education has put in place a mechanism for loan forgiveness. Bloomberg has a more detailed report here.

As I remarked in a post from three years ago:
It has been practices of the federal government (such as subsidizing student loans at the outset and later removing any limit on the interest rates that it would subsidize) and intense lobbying of Congress to limit additional oversight of for-profit schools that has exacerbated this sorry state of affairs. Rent-seeking and agency capture at their finest!
 Or again, from two years ago:
Why are we ("we" meaning the Federal government, which guaranties most student loans) handing out student loans like candy at Halloween? I've posted herehere, and hereabout our corrupt and irresponsible current system in which private lenders have no skin in the game and, together with venial (often for-profit) college administrators, lead unsuspecting young 'uns to undertake debt for no useful purpose.
Student loan forgiveness represents a double subsidy. Not only is the federal government making loans without inquiry into the ability of the borrowers to repay, it now forgives repayment of the money that has already been lent. The second half of the subsidy thus credits those student borrowers who got the least for the taxpayers' dollar. A rather perverse incentive one might say.

(If anyone knows what came of the momentary convergence between President Obama and Senator Rubio on the subject of addressing for-profit schools, let me know.)

20 July 2015

A Closer Look at the Student Loan "Crisis"

I put crisis in scare quote because Adam Levitin doesn't believe there is one, at least not as commonly understood. Read his post here.

My occasional posts on student loans have focused on their use by for-profit and other schools as a means to subsidize substandard education (here and here). I have also explored the challenges of discharging student loans in bankruptcy (here and here).

Levitin takes a macro-level approach and concludes there's no student loan crisis as the word crisis was used in connection with sub-prime mortgages:
Student loan debt is highly concentrated within the population and is generally structured in a way that does not create sharp liquidity crises: long (and often deferrable) maturities, no sharp repayment shocks, and often offers established repayment and forgiveness programs.
In other words, student loans do not put at risk the edifice of America's financial system. Student loans do, however, put at risk America's long-term capacity for credit-financed (and is there any other kind?) growth:
The real concern with student loans is not an acute liquidity crisis, like a mortgage payment resets or a massive surge in defaults, as with underwater homeowners.  Instead, the systemic danger from student loans is a debt overhang problem in which consumers' consumption habits are altered by the constant drag of debt service. That's not a "crisis" yet, but it's a problem that needs to be addressed before it becomes one.
America's economy is driven by consumer debt. Without the capacity to incur debt, consumers won't consume as much and corporations and their employees, suppliers, etc. will face slow growth. In turn, this will depress the prospects for employment of everyone. In other words, a vicious cycle.

What to do about the problem isn't clear to Levitin: "It's not obvious to me how to fix the student loan debt problem; there are drawbacks to all of the proposals around. But we'd do far better addressing the problem now than in a decade or two, when it starts to really weigh on the economy."

Shutting off the spigot seems like a plausible solution but that's hardly feasible politically. After all, government-backed student lending is one of the prize entitlements of the middle class. Thus, I can confidently predict that nothing meaningful will happen.

How's that for going out on a limb?

13 July 2015

If Not the Declaration, Then What? The Cultural Genealogy of SSM in America

Last week I posted a friendly critique of an argument that judicial acceptance of a Constitutional right to same-sex "marriage" found its warrant in the principles of America's Declaration of Independence. You can read it here.

To be sure, the Declaration tilts toward a political philosophy of natural rights but I argued that tilt was not as pronounced as some have suggested. In other words, the original American audience of the Declaration would have understood it in terms of the long-standing tradition of British Protestant constitutionalism of which natural law with duties as well as rights embedded in a broader order was part. (More about that here and here.) I concluded that post as follows:    "[Political] liberalism may have contained within it certain seeds of its own destruction but the flowering of those seeds owes as much to historical contingencies as it does to the liberal tradition as such."

What are the historical contingencies that caused the natural rights tilt of the Declaration to flower into a right to same-sex "marriage" particularly and maximal sexual autonomy generally? Thankfully, addressing this question is easier than at first it might seem. Alastair Roberts has written an exceptionally cogent post Before Obergefell: Some Thoughts on How We Got Here (download here). My burden here is to highlight Roberts's review of the relevant social and cultural history of the past two hundred-plus years and add a few of my observations.

First, our understanding of the nature of sex has changed:
The character of marriage has changed under many influences. Medical, technological, and economic influences have been among the most powerful of these. Contraceptive medication and other contraceptive devices, coupled with greater access to abortion, have facilitated the growing detachment of sex from procreation. It has normalized a situation where society regards the default form of sex as "safe"—sterile and, ideally, STD-free. Sex that is open to the possibility of procreation is a break from the default form of sex, either a failure of responsibility or a determined act of choice. It is no longer regarded as just natural.
Sex is no longer understood as inherently connected to procreation. Not all sex before the invention of the Pill led to new life, of course, but the connection between the two was too obvious to have needed much explication. However, "as sex in all of its standard forms is now sterile by default, it has become homogenized, the only criteria that continue to matter are consent and pleasure." Sexual activity oriented to pleasure and limited only by consent "creates the conditions for a proliferation of non-marital sex. No longer perceived of as the responsible context for sexual relations, marriage gradually becomes a mere lifestyle choice, rather than a set of governing cultural norms."

With the change of marriage as institution to marriage as lifestyle, the presence of children is no longer tightly bound to marriage. Children too are a lifestyle choice. Marriage is no longer the precursor to marriage nor marriage to children who become a mere option, and an expensive one at that.

Second, "marriage has also been changed by the related forces of capitalism and the state." With respect to his first point, Roberts observes that "marriage and the family is no longer a primary site of production, whether of material goods and services, or of community and society." Over a century ago, "production of goods and services migrated from the cooperative economy of the home to the industrial workplace." Division of labor leads to division of hearth and home and further individualizes the self-understanding of married persons that in turn subjectivizes their understanding of the meaning of marriage. If marriage is oriented neither to the purpose of having and raising children nor the goal of economic stability, it end up being "all about me."

Concerning his second point, Roberts characterizes the family-displacing role of the modern nation state as follows:
Mass mobilization of the population for the purpose of the national economy led to men and women being pushed into the workforce in an increasingly undifferentiated manner. The wider communal, social, welfare, and pedagogical functions once largely performed by families were steadily taken up by the state and its agencies.
As I read him, Roberts is not arguing that the state has actively sought to displace marriage and family as the basic units of society. Instead, the individualized aspirations of those living in a consumer capitalist economy (where "individual choice and autonomy are dominant and foundational cultural values") and the demands of the capital-controlling corporations devastate the family and thus "open" social space such that the state seems to be the last, best hope of social stability. 

Next, Roberts makes some interesting observations about the every-expanding notion of equality:
The values of egalitarianism and individual choice have been integral to the movement towards same-sex marriage. The notions of "equal" marriage and the right of every individual to marriage as a lifestyle choice expressive of their love appear self-evident to most persons within our society. These values of equality, individual choice, the pursuit of pleasure, and self-expression—the values of liberal capitalism—are sacred and any threat to them will be treated as heresy.
Equality as understood in classical liberalism had to do with equality before the law. Until well into the nineteenth century, social, sexual, and familial equality were beyond the remit of liberalism. Did liberalism nonetheless contain within it the seeds of the sorts of "equality" that turn all institutions and even virtues into lifestyle choices? Perhaps, but I continue to believe that but for the fantastic growth of ostensibly non-teleological economic and scientific systems, the reality of legal equality would not have spilled over into all aspects of society.

In any event, in view of the changes in the understanding of sex, the dis-integrating effects of corporate capitalism, and the expanding notions of equality,
Marriage, as it functions for the proponents of same-sex marriage, is regarded more as a form of expressive lifestyle choice for individuals, rather than a vocation and set of cultural norms imposed upon wider society. Any set of cultural norms that marriage might impose upon prospective spouses or upon the society more broadly are resisted. Marriage must be a pure choice.
And, if marriage is pure choice, then same-sex "marriage" ineluctably follows. Indeed, same-sex "marriage" is a positive good because it adds to the choices of lifestyles available and what, in a world of neo-classical economic theory, can be better than more ways in which to satisfy subjective wants and thus increase net social welfare? Which explains why 
so many large corporations have jumped onto the gender-neutral marriage bandwagon. Gender-neutral marriage is not only good for business, firmly situating corporations on the progressive "right side of history," it is a vindication of liberal capitalism’s social ideology.
While I might quibble with Roberts's straightforward identification of liberalism and capitalism, I do not disagree that large-scale corporate accumulations of capital--and the means of social and political control that follow from those accumulations--relentlessly grind to sand all natural forms of social order because "they undermine freedom of choice and expression." And freedom of choice directed to nothing more than individual satisfaction is the efficient cause of corporate profitability. (For more on the telos of the corporation go here, here, and here.)

I have done little more than scratch the surface of Roberts's lengthy post. I strongly recommend that my readers go to the source and read him for the elaboration of these and more points which go far to explain the "why now" of same-sex "marriage."

09 July 2015

Better Late Than Never. Or, Why Thomas Jefferson Is (Not) Responsible for Same-Sex Marriage

On the occasion of the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (that is, roughly a year ago), I posted one of my most frequently read pieces, A Slightly Less Lockean Independence Day?. That post focused on an interesting text-critical observation about the punctuation of the original Declaration and its possible significance.

For something more substantive about the Declaration, you could look to my argument that The Pursuit of Happiness [i]s an Anti-Conservative Principle. This is of piece with my regular posts about the shortcomings of libertarianism as a world-and-life view. (Which can be distinguished--although not entirely separated--from libertarianism as a political philosophy.)

But all of this is preliminary to the following comments about Ruben Alvarado's pre-Independence Day 2015 blast, The State of (Dis-) Union. Alvarado argues that recognition of a Constitutional right to same-sex "marriage" is as American as apple pie because,
The root of the problem is the natural rights paradigm [which characterized the Declaration] that has been put at the heart of Western legal and political institutions since the 17th century, and which from the start was made the cornerstone of the American republic. Simply put, the document signed 239 years ago tomorrow ratified the state of affairs that would eventually produce same-sex marriage.
How could it be that Jefferson and others put in motion an understanding of humanity's ends (life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness) such that same-sex "marriage" is its historical (and, indeed, logical) conclusion?
What is this mechanism? The mechanism of subjective right: the individual will, shaping and determining its environment according to its wishes, for its ends, to which it is entitled. This becomes the ultimate source of law. The proper relationship of law and rights, expressed in the doctrine of objective over subjective right, so laboriously elaborated in the centuries of Christian Roman jurisprudence, was reversed in the 17th century; and that inversion, made popular by the appeal to a common humanity so as to supersede religious conflict, gave birth to the jurisprudence which in straight-line trajectory has brought us to the point we are at today, and is poised to take us far beyond.
If I can be permitted to restate Alvarado's argument it is that natural rights abstracted from natural law are at the root of our current Constitutional contradiction. Free floating "rights talk," untethered from moorings in the nature of human beings is not, according to Alvarado, something as recent as Jefferson or even John Locke. Indeed, it goes back much further in the Western tradition to Hugo Grotius and includes one of my favs, Samuel Pufendorf. Liberalism, even as classically understood, falls under Alvarado's ban. (For some props about Alvarado's other works go here and here. He's regularly quite right.)

Two comments about natural rights thinking. First, there's much to be said for Alvarado's concern about the notion of rights in the abstract. Nonetheless, drawing from Nicholas Wolterstorff's excellent book "Justice: Rights and Wrongs," I've poked around the foundation of rights here, here, and here and ultimately agree with Wolterstorff that there is a legitimate place for "rights talk." Even without buying into the all the quiddities of the Western tradition of natural rights, there is a foundation for rights in humanity's creation in the image of God. Alvarado may well agree that rights exist but I'm not as confident that he would agree they have warrant except insofar as they arise in the full-blown context of that tradition. Yet even without a proper metaphysical and anthropological foundation, rights exist.

Second, I'm a bit more partial to the liberal tradition than Alvarado (although I'm less Whiggish than John Witte). You can read my article, Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition (download here) to find out why. For a shorter version, check the post by Peter Escalante here with which I am in substantial agreement.

In short, classical liberalism through the end of the 18th century had more in common with the pre-modern political theology of Christendom than it did with the revolutionary and secularizing "progressive" trends that gained traction over the course of the 19th century. Liberalism may have contained within it certain seeds of its own destruction but the flowering of those seeds owes as much to historical contingencies as it does to the liberal tradition as such.

08 July 2015

"From Hate to Healing"

To celebrate the 38th anniversary of our wedding, we attended a prayer vigil last night hosted by Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church, where we are members. You can read a brief news account in our local paper here

The vigil in response to the murders of the nine black individuals at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina was sponsored by a wide range of local churches. The makeup of the approximately 500 in attendance roughly reflected the racial composition of the City of Suffolk.

I am generally skeptical of the long-term significance of large one-off religious events. With this one, however, my hopes were buoyed by the range of substantive biblical remarks, serious prayers, and apparent commitment of those who spoke. 

Together with the numbers in attendance, the gravity of the event suggests this prayer vigil may mark a fruitful beginning of local action to better express the unity of Christians in Suffolk with respect to racial matters.

07 July 2015

An End-Around: The Latest Twist in the Family Christian Stores Bankruptcy Saga

If at first you don't succeed, play a different game.

Several weeks ago I had posted here and here about the decision of Bankruptcy Judge Gregg to reject the contention of the management of Family Christian Stores that a a bid by an entity controlled by Richard Jackson, former owner and one of the largest creditors of FCS, to buy the assets of the foundering company, was the highest. (For a director's cut of earlier FCS posts go here, here, and here.) The judge's job was made difficult because the bid competing bidders, who proposed to liquidate the assets of FCS, was subject to a variety of contingencies. In other words, while the liquidation could have netted creditors more than the Jackson bid, it ultimately could have generated a smaller recovery.

In any event. FCS was scheduled to go back on the block this week.

But hold the presses! FCS has now filed a Plan of Reorganization!!

Reorganizations of retail firms have become scarcer than hens' teeth over the past decade. (Michelle Harner explains why here.) Reorganization requires the submission of a Plan and Disclosure Statement, a hearing on the adequacy of the Disclosure Statement, balloting, and then--assuming the creditors vote in favor of the Plan--a hearing on its confirmation. This process is neither cheap nor quick so why, one might wonder, has FCS made an about-face and taken the road less travelled?

The short answer is, the route of reorganization gets rid of the threat posed by the liquidation bidders. The disgruntled bidders are not creditos; they will not vote on FCS's plan. Yet, the creditors who believe a liquidation bird in the hand is better than a reorganization one in the bush will vote against the Plan. Then what?

Creditors vote by class. Leaving aside the possibility of gerrymandering, a class is deemed to have supported a plan if more than one-half of its members holding more than two-thirds of its debt vote "aye." Dissenters are bound.

But there's more. Even if they're outvoted, dissenting creditors can still object to confirmation of a plan. Two bases for objection might be credible in the case of FCS. To be confirmed, even with the vote of all classes of creditors, requires the Bankruptcy Court to find that the Plan was proposed in "good faith" and that it is in the "best interests" of all creditors, including those who voted "no."

I won't prolong this post except to point folks who are interested in the "best interests" test to my article addressing its application in Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, Municipal Bankruptcy: When Doing Less Is Doing Best (download here).

06 July 2015

Hensler vs. Lee: From the Firing Squad to the Frying Pan

It's not often that I get to set up a battle between an erstwhile and a soon-to-be colleague but Louis Hensler's response here to Kevin Lee's essay here is too good to pass up.
Let's start with Campbell Law School professor Lee's essay. 

Titled "The Firearm and the 'Culture of Death': Foundational Presuppositions and Fundamental Questions," Lee summarizes his argument as follows:
The Catholic Bishops have renewed their concern over the role of firearms in forming a “culture of death” in contemporary America. This essay considers what is demanded by a consistent understanding of the Culture of Life/Culture of Death distinction that John Paul II developed in Evangelium Vitae. It suggests that the right to keep and bear arms comes with substantial responsibilities. It concludes that the regulation of firearm possession and use must be a part of any decent legal system, since firearms are potentially destructive not only for the victims of firearm violence, but also for persons who use them and for the culture in which they are present. The good of the victim of gun violence, the gun owner, and the society as a whole must be considered in determining morally appropriate firearm policies.
Regent professor Louis Hensler Assistant Professor Ching
counters with a close reading of the relevant encyclical and observes that the Pope used the expression "culture of death" in a specific way: "John Paul focuses his attention on a particular form of attack on life: attacks affecting life at its most vulnerable, earliest and final stages. John Paul writes of abortion and euthanasia." In other words, simply draping one's position with the mantle "culture of death" does an injustice to John Paul's deeply analytic consideration of a narrow set of phenomena.

That John Paul's encyclical does not address gun violence does not, of course, render his analysis of abortion and euthanasia irrelevant. It does, however, suggest that much more work needs to be done before applying the label "culture of death" to activities--gun manufacture and ownership--that do not, in themselves, cause anyone's death.

The immediate object of abortion is the death of the unborn. The immediate objects of guns are manifold. Some objects of gun manufacture and certainly gun ownership are indeed illicit but many are not. Labeling an activity "culture of death" may be evocative but in itself lacks the kind of analysis necessary to persuade.

05 July 2015

It's Only a Matter of Time

I've previously posted about the travails of Trinity Western University, a Canadian Christian University. TWU's offense is its Community Covenant that limits sexual intimacy to heterosexual marriage. (See a few of those posts here, here, and here.) One might think such a proscription is unremarkable albeit a bit unusual in these contemporary times. One might even think this policy is particularly prudent given the numbers of female university students who are victims of sexual violence. But, then, one would not be familiar with how the Ontario Superior Court views the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights.

You can read about TWU's latest setback in the courts here. The three-judge panel held that prohibiting TWU law graduates from practicing before the bar in Ontario clearly violates the institution's freedom of religion. Nonetheless, a policy against same-sex sexual intimacy might cause some students to “essentially bury a crucial component of their very identity, by forsaking any form of intimacy with those persons with whom they would wish to form a relationship.” And when these two rights collide--freedom of religion and the freedom of maximal sexual autonomy--religion loses.  (To be fair to Canada, you can read my comments about the contrary decision of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia here.)

No matter that there are plenty of law programs at universities other than TWU, programs that have no problem with the conduct that so excited the Ontario court. On the contrary, the court wrote, uniformity of toleration of perversion is “a value of fundamental importance to our country. It is a value that state actors ... are always entitled to respect and promote."

But, "It's only a matter of time"?

Before the same result obtains south of the border, that is. Contrary to my earlier insouciance, it won't be long before non-ecclesial Christian organizations in the United States are faced with the choice between foregoing prohibitions on non-marital* sexual conduct and accreditation or other forms of state licensing necessary to carry out their activities. When that happens, we can expect a swift and significant reduction of the vibrant pluralism that for so long characterized American educational, social, and business forms of communal life.

*I continue to use marital to refer to the long-recognized and relatively permanent natural relationship of male and female and "marriage" to what the Supreme Court and many others mean by it.

26 June 2015

Libertarianism Redux

I'm in the midst of a move so this post will be a bit more lighthearted than most.

H/T to Jordan Ballor who posted a link to a wonderful piece by Russell Kirk,  Dispassionate Assessment of Libertarians. You can read the whole thing for yourself--it's only eight pages--here.

I've previously posted about the the foibles of libertarianism and why I'm not one. Sadly, I lack the rhetorical skills of Russell Kirk so I'll let him speak for himself.

While I'm not sure about the accuracy of this observation, I couldn't let it pass:
With respect to libertarian eccentricity, the dream of an absolute private freedom is one of those visions that issue from between the gates of ivory; and the disorder that they would thrust upon society is already displayed in the moral disorder of their private affairs. [Omitting delightful but scurrilous assertion about the sexual orientation of libertarians.] In politics as in private life, they demand what nature cannot afford.
More to the point: Why are out-and-out libertarians forever in want of political success?
The libertarians are rejected because they are metaphysically mad. Lunacy repels, and political lunacy especially. I do not mean they are dangerous: nay, they are repellant merely. They do not endanger our country and our civilization, because they are few, and seem likely to become fewer. [Not much of a prophet was Kirk.] ... There exists no peril that American public policies will be affected in any substantial degree by libertarian arguments; or that a candidate of the tiny Libertarian Party ever will be elected to any public office of significance: the good old causes of Bimetallism, Single Tax, or Prohibition enjoy a more hopeful prospect of success in the closing years of this [twentieth] century than do the programs of libertarianism.
A couple of thoughts. First, the metaphysical madness of libertarianism is matched by its anthropological vacuity. Without an credible account of human nature, there is no particular reason to valorize liberty. Natural rights without natural law are little more than exhortations.

Second, and somewhat more dispassionately than Kirk I hope, few living libertarians fit the ideal type sketched in his article. Most politically engaged libertarians like Randy Barnett are virtue ethicists of a sort. So too George Mason professor Todd Zywicki. The foundational resources for the virtues in a consistent libertarian system may seem few but I am thankful that libertarians, like the rest of us, are only inconsistently consistent.

25 June 2015

Props To Matt Tuininga

Likely you were pleased there was no "Convivium 2015" in the title of this post. At last, you thought, no summaries of some inside-cricket discussions of natural law, theology, and theologians. Curb your enthusiasm. I blogged about the subject of this post in connection with last year's "Convivium 2014." Read it here. Matt showed up again in a post about natural law theory that you can read here. Indeed, Matt attended Convivium 2015 but didn't present a paper.

Tuininga should be forgiven for his lack of a written piece of scholarship because the week following the Convivium he was on the floor of the annual Synod of the Christian Reformed Church where he sustained a final round of questions before receiving unanimous approval to join the faculty of Calvin Seminary as assistant professor of moral theology. You can--and actually should--watch the one+ hour session on YouTube by going here.

Not many Protestant seminaries still have a professor of moral theology. My single class in Ethics at Reformed Theological Seminary was unusual in that our professor spend over half the semester teaching  neoclassical economics and the rest on apologetics. Interesting stuff, mind you, but not the sort of a full-orbed approach to the host of contemporary ethical issues one might hope for.

I am convinced that Matt will do a great job of training generations of Calvin Seminary graduates in a Christo-centric approach to ethics. Not one that ignores the law (revealed or natural) but one that sees the ethical application of all law through the lens of the ascended Christ. And more than the application of law, ethics in Tuininga's vision is the outworking of the Christian's (and Christians collectively) new nature in union with the ascended Christ through Holy Spirit.

The Seminary and Synod could not have made a better choice.

24 June 2015

Convivium 2015 Part 7: The Last and the Least

I won't promise not to post anything else on this year's Convivium again sponsored by by The Davenant Trust and The Calvinist International (follow TCI's Twitter account @ReformedIrenics). It will be, however, my final post on the papers that were presented. (You can find a convenient list of all the papers here.)

Last but not least among the presentations was one by Joel Carini, currently a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Joel titled his presentation "Protestantism and Political Liberalism." It was, in short, an effort to read John Rawls's final work, Political Liberalism, through the lens of a Reformed Two-Kingdoms approach to the place of the Church and Christians in the world of contemporary late-Liberal polities. I truly wish I could say more about Joel's presentation but by late in the second afternoon of presentations, and a day and a-half of great conviviality,  I found myself less attentive than I like to admit. But never at a loss to promote myself, interested readers can find my paper, Principled Pluralism and Contract Remedies (download here) in which I spend a couple of pages considering the inadequacy of a Rawlsian justification for--of all things--awarding damages for breach of contract.

Least, at least in the person of its presenter, was the paper by Ruben Alvarado that suffered greatly from Ruben's regrettable absence. In lieu of a presentation by someone who knew what he was talking about was a bare reading by me. I had read the paper, "Abraham Kuyper vs. Philipp Hoedemaker: Rival Models of Reformed Political Theology", beforehand and found it very insightful on an issue of ecclesiology of late nineteenth/early twentieth century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. 

Hoedemaker was Kuyper's contemporary who believed Kuyper's departure from the state church unnecessary and who strongly criticized Kuyper's conceptual separation of the church as institute from the church as organism. In Hoedemaker's opinion, Kuyper's conceptual separation both depreciated the work of the church as institute and lead to its politicization by practically prioritizing the organism concept. I won't belabor my readers except to state that I found in Alvarado's paper an answer to a question about a peculiarity of Dordt College, my undergraduate alma mater, that had been lurking in my subconscious for almost 40 years.

All in all, another great round of intellectual stimulation and personal camaraderie. Everyone should consider buying the book of papers when it's published later this year.