RE: Please show respect (was GEN 1-11: Beyond the concordist debate)

From: Tom Pearson (
Date: Fri May 10 2002 - 15:32:31 EDT

  • Next message: Jan de Koning: "Re: In Defence of my beliefs.doc"

    At 05:31 PM 5/9/02 -0400, Jan de Koning wrote:

    >And I don't have enough time to reply to your posting as it deserves. It
    >does deserve a book, not just a short letter like this will be.

    Thank you for your thoughtful words in this post, Jan -- your candor and
    clarity are welcome. And you are too gracious in assuming that my comments
    deserve more than your response (or even a book!).

    >I am sorry to hear that. Morality, ethics etc. depends on your basic

    For what it's worth, there is some current controversy over this point
    among ethicists, including Christian ethicists. Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski,
    who writes from an emphatically theist perspective, suggests (in her book
    *The Virtues of the Mind*) that moral decision-making for the Christian may
    be rooted in more concrete daily activities, like our many distinctive
    social practices, rather than in such subjective and ephemeral mental
    entities, like beliefs. (She also argues that our basic beliefs themselves
    arise from our social and religious practices, rather than the other way
    around). The prolific Stanley Hauerwas also tilts strongly in this
    direction, as does Alasdair MacIntyre -- both of them highly-regarded
    Christian ethicists. It's an interesting debate. For what it's worth.

    >If you leave Christ out of it you depend only on human
    >understanding. I taught mathematics by the way. I don't say that the
    >actions of non-believers are worse than the actions of Christians. I only
    >say, that there is no part of life of which Christ does not say "Mine."

    You indicate here an issue that continues to chafe me. In our engineering
    department, just under half of the faculty are either Moslem or Hindu (some
    of them actively practice their religion). Yet they seem to be able to
    function as ethically as the professing Christians (two of whom are members
    of ASA). Again, one of my colleagues, who teaches eastern religions here
    in this department, is a practicing Buddhist, and is a model of moral
    rectitude. And, of course, there are the usual number of Christians on our
    faculty who are complete rascals; their moral demeanor is always under
    suspicion. What to make of all this? Perhaps that religious beliefs and
    ethical practices are not so tightly connected as many might think. There
    was a time when I resisted that conclusion, but it may turn out to be right.

    >I disagree. Since the whole world was condemned because of the sins of
    >man/men, healing can only come through salvation by Christ. Here again it
    >is clear that we cannot talk very long, since your very basic background is
    >humanistic, based on serving man, not God, talking becomes impossible.
    >Yes, Christians do sin, and do not always (maybe seldom) make the proper
    >decisions. All of us need to be saved by Christ, not just by some
    >accounting or engineering methods.

    I agree completely with your last sentence above. Accounting or
    engineering methods are for the professional practices of accounting and
    engineering, and are disconnected from anything related to salvation in
    Christ. The redemption we have in Christ is the promise we share because
    of Christ's death and resurrection, and is disconnected from anything
    related to the standards of accounting or engineering practice. Does this
    mean that my basic background is humanistic? Well, I *am* a Lutheran, and
    was a Lutheran pastor for seventeen years before moving into teaching. So
    maybe I'm guilty as charged.

    >These are not just "technical" decisions, not even for you. "Professional
    >practice" is founded on principles as well. In a so-called Christian
    >country, basic ethics and practice is usually based on a long history of
    >Christian ethics in that country. Not everyone may be aware of that, but
    >history will show that. Also, there are different philosophies about these
    >things, which would take much time to discuss, and cannot possibly in a
    >short note written by me.

    I wonder about this particular argument. It seems to me that a good many
    reputable scholars (Jaroslav Pelikan, W. H. C. Frend, Bart Ehrman, Rodney
    Stark, Judith Herrin among them) have furnished evidence that, aside from
    the core proclamation of the Church on the reality of Christ crucified,
    much of what developed as Christian thought and doctrine was absorbed from
    the surrounding culture. We all know how Greek concepts shaped some
    central teachings of Christianity (e.g., the Trinity, the two natures of
    Christ in one person, the soul, etc.). Perhaps it is the Christian
    community that imbibed ethical principles from its surrounding environment,
    rather than the other way around?

    >Christianity is more than compassionateness. Of course, we all will
    >struggle with what Christ would want us to do. And what we must do in His
    >name, is do the right thing in His name in God's creation. There is no
    >other possibility for a Christian.
    >To be honest, I think it is dangerous to the utmost to keep part of your
    >life outside the rule of Christ.

    When I learned to drive a car, I learned (in ways that I cannot easily
    separate) both technical proficiency and driving etiquette -- an ethic of
    driving, one integrated package. I was not making any effort to keep part
    of my life outside the rule of Christ; rather, I was drawing on other
    principles and strategies that are directly involved in learning how to
    drive a car, and how to drive it well (including *ethically* good
    driving). There is no effort here to banish Christ, simply to recognize
    that a great many of our activities --including our professional and
    technical activities -- are defined by standards that originate within the
    practice of those activities themselves.

    Jan, you said at the beginning of your remarks:

    >As I have written in other postings: nothing is outside the rule of
    >Christ. So, yes, if you do not believe that there is no use of

    Perhaps you are right. Perhaps we cannot discuss this fully, since we may
    be operating inside different parameters (but different Christian
    parameters, I trust). In an earlier post, you mentioned the work of
    Kuyper, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd as being helpful for you. I haven't
    read any of the first two, and only a little of the last. I obviously have
    much to learn about a position that I find intuitively uncongenial, just as
    you also evidently find my outlook hard to understand. But again, I do
    appreciate your efforts to point out what might be my blind spots.

    Tom Pearson

    Thomas D. Pearson
    Department of History & Philosophy
    The University of Texas-Pan American
    Edinburg, Texas

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