You are hereA Response to Virgil
A Response to Virgil
by Samuel Frost
Virgil Vaduva has recently written an article on Planet Preterist entitled, Where Are You?. After reading what I considered to be startling, I decided to let Virgil know that I would be writing a writing a response. Perhaps some things are misunderstood, and I have often told Virgil that sometimes his words come across as unguarded, almost written for the sole sake of getting a response. That is, when analyzed logically (something we "westerners" do), some of these statements crumble under the light.Virgil Vaduva has recently written an article on Planet Preterist entitled, Where Are You?. After reading what I considered to be startling, I decided to let Virgil know that I would be writing a writing a response. Perhaps some things are misunderstood, and I have often told Virgil that sometimes his words come across as unguarded, almost written for the sole sake of getting a response. That is, when analyzed logically (something we "westerners" do), some of these statements crumble under the light.First off, Virgil is again caught in the "west" versus "east" mentality, which is not so much postmodernity as it is modernity. Postmodernity is far more global rather than polar when it comes to understanding mankind. The Scriptures would agree that God made man in his image, and that no man has sank so low as to have no vestiges of this image whatsoever. There is no "eastern" mind and "western" mind as if both of these minds were completely separate, and hence, unrelated things. The east uses money, and money requires mathematics, logic and consistency. If not, then maybe the Buddhist has come up with a new currency wherein you give a man 20 yen and you get back 40 in change!
What some want you to mean is that the West is largely evil and the East is largely more spiritual and in touch. The West are logic junkies, the East are spiritual junkies, tapping into unknown hidden powers of the mind and god, powers that need to be tapped into by the Western Christian – but in order to do this, systematic, rational, logical explanations about (g)od need to be chucked. That's what's at bottom in all of this. It is a dislike for the West in general.
This dislike for the West comes from the ivory towers that have a dislike for Chrisitianity. The two terms, West and Christianity, are virtuously synonymous. Christianity laid the groundwork for a linear view of history (Augustine) and emphasized a logical foundation (Aquinas – borrowing from Aristotle). From this a biblical social order was imagined and Christian theory in economics, politics, etc. was born (Luther, Calvin). The West has never lost these building blocks. By, the way, anyone doubting this picture of things need only consult a history book. The world laments the success of the West – it's domination. Why has it been successful? Well, one need only look at its foundations: the universe is ordered and created; God has given each man an ability to think logically, therefore, speak to him logically, and communication on a global level can happen (missions); history is progressive and is moving towards a great redemptive event culminating in a never ending government of Jesus Christ (eschatology). God never changes and is the One Great Constant that we can bank on.
Now, Virgil comes along and says that the God of the Bible is a "god of inconsistencies." But, before one freaks out on what he may have meant, I had a good mind to analyze his statements further. Virgil wrote, "in fact almost everything we know about God from the Bible is inconsistent with what people thought to be the norm." There are two things here: God from the Bible and what people thought. If one understands that "what people thought" about how a god should behave would be at complete odds with the God of the Bible, then, yes, God acted completely inconsistent with a faulty expectation of the people. The people's expectation was faulty because, as the Bible explains, man has fallen in Adam – cut off from the light and wander in darkness. I do not expect people in darkness to have even the foggiest, correct conception of God. No, God must reveal Himself to these people and correct their bad theology.
If that is what Virgil meant to say, then fine. We can explain the use of the word inconsistency. But, methinks Virgil does not really mean this entirely. Read on, "Ironically, consistency, while being certainly rooted in the noble intention of questing for Truth does appear to be leading the world of Christendom on a path to irrelevance. Almost completely disconnected from the complex and multi-faceted eastern thinking of the Hebrew world, Christians are slowly turning their faith into a set of philosophical principles that can be intellectually provable, with God becoming “a source of philosophical rational principles.”" This is a veiled statement that can easily be interpreted as a direct assault on the West and on logical theology. Note that there is a bit of history here: Christians are (presently) slowly turning their faith….Ahem. Virgil, that happened back with Augustine in the 5th century. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley never rejected a logical approach to understanding Scripture. The Preterist approach to Scripture has been called, rightly so, Consistent Preterism. Preterism is built upon logic and deduction from the statements of Scripture. Preterism champions logic over its "partial" preterist brethren precisely because they can. It is DeMar, Gentry and Mathison that come up with bizarre theories of "double-fulfillment", "partial fulfillment", "already/not yet" fulfillment, and the like. Gentry wrote, for example, that we are already in the new heavens and new earth, but only in a sense, since we are not yet there, too. You read correctly. Now, you can take your heroin injection and try reading that one again.
Let me say this, if consistency is now a bad thing that leads Christians to consistently exegete the pages of the Bible, and then build the results of the labor of doing this into, say, a theological movement that answers tons of questions about history previously left unanswered, then count me in. If consistency is a bad thing, then I don't want to be right. Why is it that the Bible being a source of rational principles bad? Why is that frowned upon? Now, of course, my dear brother Virgil may come back and say, "I didn't really mean those things." That's the way postmodernists get out of things: an appeal to semantics – "it depends on what "is" is." George Will wrote, "Novelist Walker Percy defined a "deconstructionist" as an academic who claims that the meaning of all communication is radically indeterminate but who leaves a message on his wife's answering machine requesting pepperoni pizza for dinner." Say what you mean and mean what you say or don't say anything at all. If not, you're just confusing the rest of us.
See, if the liberal attack on the West can be won, then the God of logic and consistency can be done away with. The Liberal no more has to confront logical consistency. He cannot disprove the existence of God, even the great atheist Bertrand Russell admitted that. But, he can attack the God of the Bible. This God is inconsistent, illogical, and therefore, easily refutable. And, some Christians want to take this and say, "yes, He is inconsistent! That's exactly it." Well, no. You are still not out of the hot water. If we say inconsistent in the way I spelled out above, then yes. But, once we understand that – i.e., once we understand that our picture of God is inconsistent with how God really is – then we can get on with the task of teasing out of Scripture a correct picture of God as He has revealed Himself in the word. "I am not a man. I change not." "He is the same today, yesterday, and forever." "I know the beginning from the end." "I create evil and I create peace." These are just four statements that shatter any other conception of God as we thought. I mean, our view of God is that He is a loving, hippie like flower child, hugging trees and pleading with souls to just give Him a chance. What an inconsistent picture! God creates evil? He knows all things? He never changes? Inconsistent indeed.
Virgil wrote, "The beautiful and relational teachings of Jesus have been rationalized into theological arguments that are provable via intellectual exercises – and this is ironically done a lot even by the most fervent critics of empiricism. Thus Christianity has become all about belief rather than faith. This difference may be slight but it is crucial when we set to project our faith before the world." This is another example of confusion in the academic sense. "Beautiful" and "relational" teachings (doctrines – check the Greek) are value judgments about something Jesus did. This would require a rational appreciation of Jesus' teachings in order to pass such a judgment on them. I am not sure who Virgil has in mind here, but why is it a bad thing to take Jesus' beautiful words and demonstrate them intellectually? The "intellect" is, after all, the mind. The intellect is how we communicate. You cannot communicate "beauty" without the aid of the intellect, for it is precisely the intellect that appreciates beauty. But, this standard anti-West, anti-theology, anti-logic attack never questions it's own presuppositions, and does not think (read, "feel") that it needs to do so. Simply offering an analysis is seen as a Western thing and therefore ipso facto wrong and not to be encouraged. I am sure Virgil will respond in some way to all of this, or maybe not. Maybe I have not "read" him correctly, which is always possible. But, when you look at something that acts like a duck, you call it is duck. Yes, empiricism being what it is, you can never really know for sure that you have a duck on your hands. It could be an ant acting like a duck.
Now, coupled with the last quote from Virgil and this next one, it is going to become apparent that what Virgil is driving at is an attack against Reason – you know, being reasonable like a good Westerner. "In his book Out of the Question into the Mystery, Leonard Sweet outlines the differences between belief and faith. He writes “The Reformation paradigm, which tempts us to replace relationships with reason, is captured in the word belief. It is concerned with right thinking and adherence to a particular way of articulating biblical teaching. It involves systematizing and assenting—and excluding those who don’t fully subscribe to the current fashion in creedal statement. Belief is inert. It is intellectual, defensible, and typically irrelevant.” Wow. There goes the "Preterist" in "Planet Preterist"! This statement is as loaded as they come. Let's look at it, shall we, with eeevvviiill logic!
First, the ole Reformation and its eeeevvviilll-ness comes to the front. We are forced, notice, between reason and relationship. It never occurs to these dichotomists that you can have both! No, they want to divide! I have a relationship with my wife because we reason together rather well. Simple. Here's another evil thing: systematizing. Ooooh. Can't do that. Oh, wait. Am I making sense here? Can you understand this sentence? Does it have a subject – object structure? Have no cat undid water love can't Lennon in hair his? If God can speak a sentence (revelation) or two, and that can be written down into a book, then these two sentences can be strung together (systematized), then you have Westernism. If that's evil, I want to be real evil.
What this is an attempt to separate "head" from "heart." Van Tillians do this, too. Kierkegaard, Rousseau, and Tillich all tried to do this. The Bible never makes this distinction. The "head" is the "heart". It is "the heart that thinks" in the Bible. Brains don't think, minds do.
Now, before leaving this quote, I do want to point something out. It moves from a rather ridiculous critique of the so called "Reformation paradigm" to tossing people out on their ear who do not subscribe to a particular creed. Everyone does this, unless, of course, you want to legalize immigration. If not, back to Mexico! But, that's besides the point. I will be speaking at the upcoming conference in April in Ohio and plan on offering another solution to the tossing people out on their ear one. My point will be this: rather than saying that we need to reject systematizing and theology; logic and consistency; intellect and responsibility, we need to systematize in a logical, biblical way a much more comprehensive grace. The past theologies should be criticized on the basis of their attempt to systematize God, rather, they should be criticized they have not systemically understood the fullness of salvation realized in Christ and the parousia, which, in turn, leads to a much more ecumenical theology. If you want to understand what that means, you must come to the show.
All this talk in Virgil's article pitting "faith" versus "belief" is mere semantics. Faith, belief, trust, assent are all the same things. You cannot "assent" to something unless you "trust" and have "faith" in the "belief" that it is "trustworthy." Take a chair, for example. I "believe" that this chair is "trustworthy" to hold me and I have "faith" and "assent" to the proposition "this chair will hold me" so that I will now sit in this chair. When one begins to analyze what people are trying to say, it gets kind of silly. What they really want to say is that "intellect" is too hard, but feeling is much easier. I don't need to understand the Bible, I just need to feel that I trust in Jesus. Everything else is just mental masturbation.
Virgil continues, though: "You see, in the ancient world, faith was not the subscription to a set of convictions; rather faith was subscribing to a person, and embracing a relationship to that person. It is not the message from Christ that makes us Christians, rather our relationship with Christ and where we are in relation to Him." Wow. I would like to see the "Ancient World Lexicon" that he gets this information. I study lexicons for Ph.D. work and I have yet to encounter one. Let's have some fun here. Faith is not a subscription to a set (sentences) of convictions. Rather, faith is subscribing to a person. Okay. Let's apply this nonsense to reality. Faith is not believing in a set of convictions (laws), but rather belief in a person (Mr. Law). But, there is no person that exists named Mr. Law. So much for that. Is having a set of convictions (laws, principles) in which there is no embodiment of these convictions (person) around mean that these convictions and my faith in them wrong, or somehow bad? What is Virgil saying here?
But, let's go further. Virgil states that having a set of statements about a person is not the same as having faith in the person. This is an old, old attempt raised by the 1920's liberals. Answer this one question: how can I know the person if it is not important to know anything about the person? How do I know that it is a person? What is a person? Be careful, you have to define "person" here, and that means you have to write down a conviction about what a person "is". Again, we should jettison this madness in talking like this and accept the fact that "person", "relationship," "faith", "propositions" all go hand in hand. Only the liberal wants them separated so as to create a world in which he cannot be convicted of anything – a world in which the Bible cannot speak to anything, and when it does so in a systematic way, call it "irrelevant". Virgil, brother, is Christian theory irrelevant to today's world? The stuff you are reading will respond to a resounding, "yes!" It's whole point is to dismantle Christianity in the world, make it powerless in politics (red states), crush it's systematic authority and hurl it to the trash heap of "irrelevant." The only thing Christianity is good for is a feel-good buzz from the cosmic Jesus – but when you start demanding loyalty to this kingdom of His Lord and of His Christ, you are merely acting in way of the "Reformed paradigm", outdated, irrelevant and no longer to raise its head ever again. We are being told that we cannot cast down every argument that exalts itself against the kingdom of Christ. We are, instead, being told to shut up and keep your tree-hugging Jesus to yourself. Let the scientists tell us how the world works. Let the politicians tell us how to govern the world. Let the economists tell us how to spend the world's money. Let the anthropologists and the sociologists tell us how to raise our children and about culture – anything but the Christians! See, you can't systematize a "personal" relationship. It's personal. It's not public. Message: stay personal….get the hell out of the public arena.
Finally, Virgil wants to challenge us, and that is certainly good. It is my judgment, having known Virgil, that he is indeed searching for something new. I don't believe we have to reject logic in order to do this. I don't believe we have to reject consistency. The world is inconsistent, Virgil, not the Christian God. God wants to line the world up to His thinking. We do not have to reject theology. Virgil wrote, "It is God the Person who makes our faith worth dying for, not the theological abstract “God the head of the Trinity.” It is God the all-knowing Person who created Adam and Eve, and longingly asked them Where are you?" Simple questions: How do you know that God is a Person? What is a Person? The Bible never applies the word "person" to God. Person is a Latin term from persona, and was used in the Chalcedonian Creed. How do you know God created Adam and Eve? Are these myths? No science tells you this, only the Bible. Why should I trust the Bible? Do I need the Bible to know that God is a person who made Adam and Eve? Did God ask Adam and Eve, "where are you"? If so, does that not imply that God spoke and Adam understood? Does this not further assume that God can speak and does desire us to understand what he meant when he spoke? Finally, this whole conversation between Adam and God was written down in a Bible. Does this Bible accurately convey information about this person you call, God? Can we understand this Bible so as to write down interpretative sentences about it (theology)? I think the reader gets the point. It's good to get mad…even frustrated. Perhaps the actions of certain Reformed individuals have caused the frustration to set in so much that one gets a bend towards anything Reformed…to the point where they start making no sense. Maybe that's the case here. That's my impression, anyhow.