09 June 2014

Concluding Convivium Thoughts: Part 2

Five additional Convivium participants also presented high-quality papers. Thus, Eric Hutchinson conducted a close analysis of the works of Vulgate-translator Jerome and Paulinus of Nola to show how leading literary Christians of the patristic period actually made significant use of classical pagan works notwithstanding frequent "Bible-only" asides.

Ph.D. candidate Laurence O'Donnell systematically critiqued the uncritical attacks by the followers of Cornelius Van til on the theological efforts of early 20th-century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck. Even though I grew up in the (very small) world that thought highly of Dutch-American theologian-philosopher Cornelius Van Til, I concluded that Van Til regularly wrote more than he knew. His grandiloquent condemnations of everyone who came before him--from Aquinas to Barth--were rarely persuasive because of an evident lack of serious interaction with original sources. And, sadly, it seems that Van Til epigonies like Scott Oliphant have continued the sloppy trend.

I've posted numerous times on the inside-Presbyterian-baseball phenomenon of the "Reformed Two Kingdoms" political theology. Check here and here for some examples. The Journal of Law and Religion also published my review of David VanDrunen's Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, which you can download by going here. In any event, the Rev. Ben Miller provided a valuable service by analyzing the R2K political theology in terms of the biblical theology of Meredith Kline. While in seminary I fought my way through several of Kline's works with varying degrees of appreciation but, like others, wondered if Kline's idiosyncratic take on redemptive history bordered on a Reformed version of dispensationalism. Miller did a great job of drawing our attention to the unwarranted arguments from silence that characterize some important steps in the theology of R2K's exegetical forbear.

Another Ph.D. candidate, Matt Tuininga, demonstrated comprehensive familiarity with the corpus of John Calvin's writings (including his sermons and commentaries in addition to the Institutes) as he lead us into Calvin's sophisticated distinctions between the concepts of body and soul, the inner and the outer person, and the realms of Church and state. In other words, modern R2K, even when using Calvin's terms, is using them in ways that are grossly simplified and at some points in contradiction to Calvin's evident meanings.

I won't spend much time on the discussion of the visible vs. the invisible church (and the place of baptism) moderated by Joe Minich expect to say that the problem remains unresolved. I suggested that modern neuroscience may offer a way to distinguish true professors of their Christian faith from hypocrites. Stay tuned.

Last in terms of presentations of papers, analyst Brian Auten discussed how journalists and scholars have addressed the bogeyman of Christian Reconstructionism personalized in the figures of Rousas Rushdoony, Gary North, and Greg Bahnsen. That Reconstructionism was never more than a fringe of a fringe in American Christianity failed to deter Left-wing fearmongers from raising the specter of a fascistic Christian takeover of America during the second terms of two-term Republican administrations. If the Republicans take the White House in 2016 and are retain it in 2020, look for a third wave of the "Evangelical Scare" come 2022.

Finally, the concluding remarks of Convivium organizers Brad Littlejohn and Peter Escalante pointed to its dual purposes: to address important contemporary topics within Reformed churches by drawing on the best resources from the entirety of the Reformed tradition and to have a good time doing it. Fueled by good thought and  good food (not to mention good beer and good spirits), the Convivium fulfilled both purposes and I look forward to dropping in on ones in the future.

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